Sharp LC40CT2E £649
7th Jun 2010 | 09:15
This Freeview HD telly offers fantastic value for money
Sharp LC40CT2E: Overview
Dedicated Freeview HD boxes currently cost around £150, so to find the Sharp LC40CT2E 40-inch LCD TV with a Freeview HD tuner built-in for just £649 on the high street suggests something of a bargain (to see if you can get Freeview HD broadcasts text your postcode and house number to 80560, or visit www.freeview.co.uk).
And it's just that – Sharp has tweaked its LCD TV picture to deliver even, err, sharper hi-def pictures and, at last, some inky blackness that brings a welcome dose of realism.
Stylistically it's a only a small step forward; Sharp has stuck with the gloss black surround, though this set's rather weak 6W speakers are no longer hidden.
Instead, a slim grey grille sweeps across the bottom of the set while the screen surround itself tapers off nicely at the top and bottom. It looks every bit a high-end TV, which at this price should win it some fans.
Sharp LC40CT2E: Features
To call a LCD TV with a Freeview HD tuner inside 'basic' does seem cruel, but compared to a lot of televisions we've seen of late the LC40CT2E is just that.
The most obvious price-cutting feature is the use of a standard CCFL backlight in place of the zeitgeisty LED, something that – technically speaking – ought to mean less believable blacks as well as a fatter frame. At 99mm, the latter is certainly true.
The former is open to debate, though its lack of 100Hz scanning is an unwelcome surprise.
One shock around the back is the provision of two USB ports, though one is strictly for manual software updates only. They're on a side panel that's too far recessed into the panel; it could prove tricky to reach if the LC40CT2E is hung on a wall.
Other side inputs include an HDMI input, a Common Interface slot for adding subscription TV viewing cards for Freeview, a headphones output, S-video (an increasingly rare video input on TVs), composite video and a set of analogue stereo audio outs.
There's also a dedicated off switch, a boon for those who hate to leave a TV permanently in standby.
Close by, but on the TV's rear panel, are two further HDMI ins, two Scarts, a PC input, component video and accompanying analogue stereo audio jacks (two sets of inputs, one set of outputs).
Also on the audio side there's a digital coaxial audio output to take sound to an amp, and – yet another rare feature – a dedicated subwoofer out.
That's key; attaching a subwoofer to the LC40CT2E is a novel space-saving idea, especially considering the TV's weak built-in audio, which can't muster much in the way of low-frequency sounds.
An RF aerial input serves the LC40CT2E's built-in Freeview HD tuner, while an Ethernet port is also provided. For now it's redundant – no DLNA streaming from a home broadband network is possible – but it could become useful for adding interactive broadband TV services (and software) in future. Inside the TV itself is scant picture processing, which helps explain the low price.
Sharp LC40CT2E: Picture quality
Good value is how the LC40CT2E's pictures are best described, but that doesn't mean they're poor. Far from it – we've not before seen a Blu-ray performance as finely detailed and cinematic as this on an 'ordinary' LCD screen of this price.
It's even more shocking because there's scant picture processing and no 100Hz scanning, and though it could benefit from both, that would presumably increase the price significantly.
A custom presets button on the remote switches between natural, cinema, and dynamic (the latter is best avoided), though it's possible to save your own tweaks, too. Basic picture processing includes noise reduction, a game mode and, surprisingly, a film mode that's more commonly found on higher-end TVs.
However, in use that film mode proves not to be the frame insertion tech we'd imagined; it can't prevent some noticeable judder every time the camera pans slowly, nor the smearing over fast moving objects that also blights the LC40CT2E's picture performance with Blu-ray.
For a budget LCD TV that actually isn't too bad a result – elsewhere hi-def pictures are deliciously detailed and full of life. There's a cinematic look to colour, with neither reds nor skin tones overcooked and fleshtones accurate, while the contrast isn't bad, either – now that is a shock.
A rich, full black is visible, and – to our mind – for the first time on a TV of this price. Shadowed areas of the pictures from our test disc War of the Worlds contain a lot of depth and nuanced detail, which really helps add a dose of realism.
Although the LC40CT2E has managed to deliver black response equal to more expensive competitors, the age-old LCD problem of tight viewing angles remains. Go off axis and the contrast quickly fades, with colours draining of life.
Freeview HD performance
Sit more centrally and the good stuff remains when you switch to Freeview HD, though the drawbacks become more frustrating.
Even though on BBC HD we noticed some jagged edges, it's mostly very clean and helped immensely by that beefy contrast. Unfortunately the LC40CT2E's noise reduction circuitry can't be activated for simple Freeview pictures, which are left looking overstretched and noisy by comparison.
The Freeview HD tuner isn't being treated with any significant upscaling circuitry, which on a 40-inch TV is a real shame. Couple that with the LC40CT2E's rudimentary EPG and we'd go as far as to say that this is not a great television for everyday use – but it's a veritable bargain for BBC HD and Blu-ray.
Sharp LC40CT2E: Value and ease of use
Installation of Freeview channels is simple, and in our test the LC40CT2E tuned-in all available channels very quickly. It also proved a pretty sensitive tuner, hanging onto frequencies without any problems.
Reached by a shortcut button on the remote, the seven-day electronic programme guide for all Freeview and hi-def channels is rather poor. It doesn't compare well at all to the dedicated set-top boxes from the likes of Sky and Virgin, nor to Freeview HD boxes from Humax, Icecrypt or even to Sharp's own effort.
Its main problem is the use of low-resolution graphics, which leaves programme titles (on the rather garish yellow and grey design) difficult to read at a glance. At least it's roomy, with the grid showing ten channels and four hours of schedules as a default option, though it is difficult to inspect at speed; as you move down the list it slows-up considerably.
It's also missing a thumbnail of the live channel, and while the audio plays underneath the EPG, it's not possible to make the interface transparent. And a good job too – it would be almost impossible to decipher floated over a TV picture.
Fastext buttons are used to toggle around the EPG, with previous/next day controls and an option to zoom-in on either two, three or four hours of schedules. Hover over a particular programme and the 'info' button brings up a short synopsis, squashing the EPG to just six channels to make room. Unfortunately it doesn't signal whether programmes are being broadcast in HD or not. Channels can be filtered by HD/SD, TV, radio and, oddly, 'text only'.
Overall, despite the use of a Freeview HD logo, the EPG interface is about as basic as it gets and really isn't suited to a 40-inch screen. At least the 'now' and 'next' info panels that pop-up on the channel you're watching are nicely presented.
The interface for Freeview HD is separate from the TVs own settings menus, though they do join up. If you're watching Freeview and fancy changing some settings, it's first necessary to bring up the main Freeview menu, select 'TV settings', and access them from there.
It can be a bit long-winded, especially if you fancy playing some music or photos (no video) from a USB stick; a dedicated page under a movie clapperboard icon on the TV's settings menu displays a simple list of files on the stick (or any USB HDD), though only MP3 and JPEG files worked in our test.
That should please most users, though it would have been nice to see an attempt at video (it was probably ruled out because of the lack of a widely accepted popular format).
First you'll need to choose between JPEG and MP3 for any files to be recognised. Locate an MP3 and, after a six second delay in which the speakers let out an audible stumble, it mutes the audio on the TV channel you're watching and plays the song instead.
Clever, though not exactly eco-friendly, though it is possible to watch a blank screen while an MP3 plays. JPEGs are automatically shown as a slideshow, though pictures to take a second or two to reveal themselves on the screen.
The clickwheel – which is positioned too lowdown on an otherwise nicely laid-out and weighted remote – can then indulge in zooming in and out, scanning, and rotating JPEGs.
It's a very basic system that's not exactly a joy to use, and during our test it not only proved difficult to exit the USB playback mode and return to digital TV, but the entire system also froze a couple of times.
Worse still, it's not possible to exit the USB menu and alter the sound presets, despite their being a dedicated music preset (alongside those for speech, classic, movie, and a space for you own saved settings). Strangely these presets are hidden within the adjustable equalizer.
Sonically, this Sharp's underslung speakers aren't up to much. Play an MP3 and sound levels veer up and down slightly and there's little depth, though at least the slim speaker is long enough to manage some sense of stereo.
Those speakers prove acceptable for digital TV, and though with Blu-ray (using the cinema preset) soundtracks are flat, there's just enough bass response – though that is being kind.
For all its foibles when it comes to usability – especially of its Freeview HD tuner – the LC40CT2E remains a very good value television.
Sharp LC40CT2E: Verdict
Great design, stunning Blu-ray and Freeview HD tuner – what's not to like about this 40-inch LCD TV? Actually, there are a lot of minor drawbacks, but if you're searching for a screen to use primarily with high definition sources, there's little reason to spend much more. That said, a Blu-ray player and a home cinema system should be considered must-have accessories if you're to see the LC40CT2E at its best, because it does trip-up with standard definition TV channels and sound.
Stylish beyond its price point and including a Freeview HD tuner, the LC40CT2E is one of the best value 40-inch TVs we've seen.
The LED-backlighting feature so beloved of the TV brands this year isn't missed too much, with decent blacks and riotous colour filling-in nicely.
It's also great to see a subwoofer output for beefing-up the sound quality to something approaching acceptability. If you're after a living room-friendly set of some size but at a small price, the LC40CT2E could be for you.
A stodgy Freeview HD interface and poor sound quality are the lowlights on the LC40CT2E; we'd recommend – as usual on flatscreen TVs – that you pair it with a separate sound system. It's got the prerequisite ins and outs (and then some) to do just that.
And while the Blu-ray picture is an all-round winner, there are significant traditional LCD problems such as blur over fast motion, and judder; the LC40CT2E certainly doesn't create the smooth picture high-end sets can now muster.
LED has taken over from LCD, right? With LED panels still commanding a premium, step forward this 40-inch LCD TV that makes no excuses for its standard spec. And how! Great contrast, fine detail and spot-on colours just go to show how good the budget end of the TV market is becoming.
There are minuses, most notably with that Freeview HD interface, weak audio, and noticeable judder, but if you can find the LC40CT2E for around £650, you've got yourself a bargain.
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