Sagem fully deserved the ample praise it received for its first rear-projection TV.Thankfully, the French company hasn't taken too long to return with a fully high-definition compatible model, the 45in Axium HD-D45.
Aesthetically, the HD-D45 sports more than a dash of French flair. Boasting a striking black frame and silver stand, it's probably the most impressive looking rear-pro since Samsung's SP50L7HX. In addition to keeping the television upright, the curved silver stand also allows the projection unit to be housed further down, with the result that the television is less deep than you might expect.The stand also houses a subwoofer, meaning you can output in Virtual Dolby Surround 2.1 if you don't happen to have a surround sound set-up.
As the 'HD' part of the moniker suggests, this display is fully high-definition compatible. Unfortunately, despite featuring a DVI input, Sagem's previous rear-pro effort arrived before HDCP (High Definition Content Protection) compatibility was announced as a prerequisite for Sky's high-definition broadcasts, which start in 2006.The HD-D45, however, comes fully prepared to handle all formats for the foreseeable future.
Setting up the Axium HD-D45 is a fairly painless experience, despite the abundance of technology packed into the set. The remote is easy to use.The onscreen graphics are fairly rudimentary,but you can navigate through them quickly.
There's quite a large selection of picture presets (the Cinema preset works the best across most sources, especially when accompanied by the Eco mode setting,which reduces the brightness). For everyday use with standard definition sources, you don't actually need to tweak too many settings as the picture quality is nothing short of excellent thanks to an outstanding contrast ratio and brightness.
As you'd expect from a television trading on its 'surround' sound capabilities, there are a number of presets including a loudness mode, a bass booster and a graphic equaliser.However, we found that sticking to a simple 2.1 stereo mode achieved the best results.
In real-world terms, the Axium HD-D45 is still a value purchase, which makes it particularly noteworthy that it features Faroudja's DCDi technology to smoothen motion. Standard interlaced sources such as Freeview can look awful when blown up much past the 32in mark,but to Sagem's credit the HD-D45 squeezed out an admirable picture performance, even from analogue signals.
Arguably the biggest improvement over the first generation model is the eradication of video noise with RGB Scart feeds. You may even forget about HD completely once you've seen the frankly awesome pictures the HD-D45 delivers. Colour, fine detail, motion and brightness are all at a peerless level.
If you intend to view high-definition sources,however, there are a number of issues that we found quite troublesome. High-definition viewing from NTSC sources (a D-Theater system) provided some strange tonal issues that hampered the otherwise excellent contrast.DVI sources also suffered from the same blocking noise that we've seen on other sets. No amount of tweaking can eradicate either predicament and while the results from Sky HD are an unknown quantity, it's not exactly encouraging.After all, high definition is the reason many people are currently upgrading.
There are also a few issues with that old DLP chestnut, the 'rainbow effect',which creeps into the picture from time to time. The more critical of you will also pick up on the odd bit of dotty noise over horizontal motion. While the screen's physical size means that it does an impressive job of being bright right to the very edges, the screen still groups ambient light into the centre, affecting darker scenes quite noticeably as a result.
On the audio side of things, while the mere presence of a subwoofer seems to promise an impressively bombastic soundstage, this isn't really the case. Sure, there's plenty of definition for when you're watching regular television, and you can even take the volume right up to the higher levels before hearing any distortion,but place The Matrix or Spider-Man in your DVD drive and you won't hear the impact that you would with even a cheap speaker system.That said, you'll probably pair the set with a full sound system anyway, so it could be a moot point.
After setting such impressive standards straight out of the gate, Sagem set itself a tough act to follow. Certainly, the Axium HD-D45's design and picture quality are worthy of praise, making pictures from a DVD player or digital TV box look nothing short of magnificent. The issues with high-definition feeds should borne in mind by anyone upgrading to take advantage of the new format, but for now, the HD-D45 is a terrific proposition that really deserves your attention.