Rear projection's ball is well and truly rolling again thanks in part to French telly trendsetter, Sagem. The HD-ready DLP HD-D56B hails from the same line as the HD-D45S, and measures a monumental 56in.
Like its stablemate, the D56B boasts a slender profile, extending not much further back than a conventional (and smaller) CRT set.The svelte dimensions are complemented by a stylish, glossblack frame and it all perches on a small pedestal that still manages to house all of the projection gubbins, main speakers and a subwoofer.
The back panel is also full of surprises, like the DVI input that's fully compliant with HDCP and so equipped to deal with future high definition broadcasts. It's backed up by component video sockets, a trio of Scarts, room for a PC jack and the usual smattering of secondary picture and sound in and outputs.
Plus, curiously, an electrical digital audio loopthrough - an example of the company's perceptive take on home entertainment. Running your DVD deck in and out of the set before the amp makes sure the soundtrack is perfectly mapped onto the pictures.
You can opt for either Freeview or standard broadcasts - a boon if you live in an area with only patchy (or non-existent) digital coverage.
Elsewhere, you'll find Faroudja de-interlacing know-how, various 'economy' and contrast-boosting modes and the option of Virtual Dolby surround.
Bog standard RGB feeds from a digibox look as good as you'll get from any kind of screen, while progressive scan DVDs via the component input are immaculate and incredibly cinematic.
Upgrade to high-def via either the component inputs or DVI, and the performance is ratcheted up so much it's almost possible to forget you're watching a TV. There's hardly any grain and the image is stable, with no shimmer. Even artefacting, the scourge of digital displays, is kept to an absolute minimum.
Detail is prodigious, with depth and texture that rivals the most exacting flatscreens. Motion is fluid and even brightness, so often a significant stumbling block for rear pros, more than measures up. It is compromised off-axis, and the dreaded 'rainbow effect' is occasionally noticeable, but neither flaw will spoil your enjoyment.
The picture is backed up by a serviceable audio system that packs plenty of bass but retains admirable clarity and knocks out some serious volume without harshness. We'd ignore the Virtual Dolby though, making use of the spring-clip terminals to add external speakers.
A set this good, at this size and at this price, leaves you wondering what plasmas are for. Okay, you can't hang the HD-D56 on your wall, but it's still more than compact and stylish enough to smuggle its 56-inches into your front room without taking it over completely, and its performance is right up there with the best sets of any technology. If you like your pictures large and your sets future-proofed, this Sagem should be one of the first names down on your audition list. Iain Macintosh