Sharp LC42B20E £949
4th Aug 2008 | 09:14
Wafer-thin LCD packing some serious pictorial punch
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the picture quality on the new category of slimline 'flat' TVs may have been sacrificed to the whims of designers.
Not so on Sharp's first foray into the super-slender sector with the LC42B20E. And there's plenty more about this telly that makes it excellent value.
Sharp's flagship in its Aquos range sports a full HD resolution and can also play Blu-ray discs at their native 24fps.
Hi-def is also catered for by the trio of v1.3.HDMI inputs and even two sets of component video inputs, the latter being capable of 1080i resolutions and bringing the HD input count to an impressive total of five.
The LC-42B20E makes proper use of those HDMI inputs by providing what Sharp calls Aquos Link.
Otherwise known as CEC, it enables the TV's remote control to operate the basic functions of any kit connected via HDMI.
Don't be fooled by that skinny profile; Sharp hasn't forgotten about audio.
On the thin undercarriage you'll find two 15W speakers, which is above average in terms of power.
Those speakers also have a SRS TruSurroundXT mode designed for movies and games, although a Clear Voice mode is also present for dialogue-heavy programmes.
Those HDMI inputs are well positioned; as well as one being provided in a side panel, within easy reach of an Xbox 360 or similar device, the other two are situated nearby on a side panel within the rear of the TV.
Changing inputs on the screen is also a cinch. Inputs can be named 'Blu-ray', 'DVD' or whatever you wish, although the TV proves fairly adept at guessing what's connected to its HDMI ports.
The user interface in general is of very high quality. Its simple, PC-like layout offers high-resolution graphics, and the plethora of features and choices available shouldn't daunt anybody.
There are elements of picture degradation evident on digital broadcasts, but we're sure the
LC-42B20E is not to blame.
MPEG blocking is evident and 'jaggies' on diagonal lines are also visible, but the overall picture is softened just enough to make it watchable. It's certainly better than most LCD TVs of this size.
Turning to HD – in this case a Blu-ray disc of Master & Commander – and vivid colouring leads the charge, while close-ups are packed with detail.
The black response levels are acceptably deep, although there's little detail within dark areas of the image.
However, a scene where Lucky Jack plays a literal second fiddle to the surgeon shows up how the naval jackets of HMS Surprise's officers suffer from a 'black hole' approach to contrast.
The good news is that this is perhaps the screen's only failing and it's a slight one at that, because the onboard noise reduction works exceptionally well, producing an stunningly clean picture that lacks any grain or picture noise whatsoever. Unfortunately, the onboard scaler is not quite as handy with motion.
There's little loss of resolution with diagonal movement and edges are smooth and well rendered.
Fast-moving scenes are also handled rather well with little blur, but a niggly smudge does rear its head on slow-moving camera pans.
We're talking a rather small loss of resolution overall, but in full HD every pixel counts (otherwise, what's the point?) and it does take the shine from some shots. Blu-ray movies in general appear smooth and detailed with impressive depth.
Using the LC-42B20E's special Game Mode, we attached an Xbox 360 Elite via an HDMI input. The results were impressive, with Pro Evolution Soccer basking in gloriously vivid colour.
Vertical and horizontal pitch markings are kept intact and there's little blur from fast-moving players. Our only concern here was that areas of the pitch that were in shadow do seem to lack detail.
The LC-42B20E also does a decent job of scaling a 1080i broadcast of Robin Hood on BBC HD to a progressive image, with little in the way of video nasties creeping in. Though at this size screen – and with this many pixels – you do start to see why Blu-ray and full HD are the future.
Anything but the latter tends to look a touch soft. If you're to appreciate the LC-42B20E in its totality you'd do well to pair it with a Blu-ray player or at the very least a SkyHD, Virgin V+ or HD Freesat set-top box.
Superior sound quality
The LC-42B20E's sound quality is anything but soft.
It's exceptionally rare to find a TV that doesn't have bog-standard weedy audio so it's a delight to hear the LC-42B20E's performance.
Clear Voice mode does what it says, just as SRS TruSurroundXT mode pushes fine detail right to the edge of an impressively wide soundstage.
Great value LCD
It's not unusual on largescreen LCDs to find the inherent problems of liquid crystal TV technology amplified to a distracting extent.
We're talking about blur and judder, and although they do appear on the Sharp LC-42B20E to a degree, it's never to an extent that it starts to encroach on your enjoyment.
You'll do well to find any screen of equal size that puts in a better value picture performance than this one.