Sharp LC-46DH77E £999
13th May 2009 | 08:00
Sharp's 46" offering is a value 1080p whopper that rewards careful tweaking
Sharp has long been regarded as one of the foremost LCD experts, but has never quite captured the popular imagination in the same way as some of its rival megabrands. The LC-46DH77E looks to rectify this with its full HD credentials, stylish piano-black finish and competitive price tag.
The big draw is, of course, the 1080p panel resolution. This means that the set will be compatible with the highest-spec video available now and for the foreseeable future.
Elsewhere, there isn't that much to get worked up about, with an obligatory image engine (Sharp's military-sounding Trident system) promising all sorts of exciting things, including 100Hz frame rate and 10-bit signal processing, a typically huge claimed dynamic contrast ratio, and a mildly stingy three HDMIs.
LG and its fellow Korean, Samsung, have redrawn the template for user-friendliness over the past year or so, and the Sharp's system looks and feels rather dated by comparison.
Sharp's bland menu architecture arranges everything under a series of tabs and is reasonably unambiguous and easy on the eye. That said, anyone used to the effortless, no-brainer systems of some rivals might find the approach here a trifle cold and uninviting.
It is deep, though. Anyone brave enough to venture beyond the usual set of pre-sets and basic settings (contrast, colour, brightness and so on) can choose from among some impressively comprehensive fine-tuning options, including saturation, digital noise reduction and six-colour hue adjustment.
The remote control, meanwhile is logically arranged and labelled, but the keys are rather small and unresponsive, so sometimes you have to 'aim' it at the set to make any channel or volume changes.
As befits a set with such scope for tweaking, the quality of the performance is directly proportional to how much time you're prepared to spend fiddling about in the sub-menus.
Left on the default settings, the image will remain competent, if uninspiring, and plagued by those old familiar LCD irritants including smearing, poor colour blending and inadequate darkness levels.
A little bit of adjustment reaps significant rewards. Even something as simple as settling on the pre-set you like best (Movie, in our case, by a mile) can make a big difference.
With a few touches from the setup menu, performance nudges a full five points with a lovely rich, natural palette, surprisingly smooth motion handling and astonishing detail resolution that only seems to break down when you are really close to the screen.
Freeview looks about as ropey as it almost always does, with blocky artefacts and general wobbly instability demonstrating the limits beyond which even the most sophisticated scaling cannot go.
Movie discs, on the other hand, after a fiddle with the settings, look gorgeous. DVDs, such as our test copy of the visually spectacular Australia, could pass for HD, with masses of detail and vast apparent depth capturing the yawning, dusty panoramas with some verve.
Actual HD, meanwhile, looks amazing, with technical thrill-rides such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban getting the full eye-popping treatment. Colours are accurate, edges are well defined and noise almost entirely absent. The only spoilers are the limited black levels and the occasionally visible backlighting.
The speakers are of the 'invisible' type and, while it is impressive that they produce anything even approaching a respectable noise, they are far better suited to the modest demands of TV broadcasts than to hectic, bass-heavy movie soundtracks.
But since no one buys a 1080p TV just to watch super-size versions of Cash in the Attic or Midsomer Murders, we'll go easy on the underpowered audio on the assumption that you'll probably be pairing it with a Blu-ray deck and external amplification.
A grand, or less if you shop around, is no mean price for 46 inches of TV, making the Sharp one of the better value, super-sized screens around.
That said, if you're looking to spend this sort of money, LG's recent 47LG7000 is comparably priced (give or take a hundred quid or so), and is not only a bit bigger, but also far more imaginatively featured, easier to use, possessed of arguably superior picture performance and is prettier, to boot.
On the other, other hand, if you can't go higher than £1,000, aren't that impressed by near-pointless gadgetry like Bluetooth connectivity and don't want a TV larger than 46in, then this could be for you.
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