As an introduction to Sharp's new Full HD LCD generation, the 42-inch LC42XD1E couldn't have been more impressive. Now we get our hands on the 50-inch version.
The 52XD1E's extra size cuts an even better figure than its smaller sibling. Sharp's new fondness for gloss black over its customary silver really works, especially when it's given added emphasis by a small silver 'wave' along the base.
The most immediately eye-catching feature of the 52XD1E is its Full HD 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, which is further enhanced by an HD 1:1 pixel mapping option, so you can show 1080-line sources with no need for any rescaling processing.
A 'full' mode is also provided, though, which introduces around a five per cent overscan for use with HD sources that leave a line of noise around their extreme edges. Such HD flexibility should be de rigueur on all Full HD TVs, but you'd be surprised how few offer it.
The 52XD1E also fortifies its full HD credentials by taking 1080p/50 feeds via its HDMI (but not also component) sockets.
Having already touched on some of the connections, we might as well cover them in more depth now. The HDMIs are two in number, and they're accompanied by a D-Sub PC input, two Scarts, an S-video port, composite video options and a common interface (CI) port for adding subscription services to a built-in digital tuner.
The only let down is the lack of a dedicated set of component video jacks. Instead, you must use the provided VGA adapter provided to get top-spec video feeds into the 52XD1E, robbing you of simultaneous hook-up to both PC and component HD sources.
The 52XD1E's key specifications read startlingly well, thanks to a fast response time of just 4ms and a maximum contrast ratio with a dynamic backlight function activated of 10000:1.
Features and tweaks
The onscreen menus are packed with manual picture tweaks, plus the set bears Sharp's proprietary truD image processing engine for enhancing sharpness and contrast, while also removing motion judder. Things start well enough with the set, as it autotunes all its analogue and digital channels well with practically zero input from you.
But the remote control isn't the most ergonomic we've seen, and one or two key features - not least the Underscan option mentioned earlier - aren't as easy to find as they should be.
As with the 42-inch model, the 52XD1E makes an immediate impact, compared to most large-screen LCD TVs, by virtue of its black levels. Dark corners and shots of outer space are shown with a black that really looks ebony, rather than blue or grey as so often found with LCD.
As well as helping dark scenes look more dynamic and realistic, the impressive black levels also help dark scenes enjoy more scale and depth, and appear to lead to a wider colour spectrum too. We were constantly struck by the impressive way the 52XD1E combines extreme colour vibrancy with the sort of subtle blends (doubtless helped by the finer gradation made possible by the Full HD pixel count) and natural tones we'd generally only expect to see on plasma technology.
The 52XD1E also notches up a key victory over most LCD rivals with its motion handling. The combination of that 4ms response time and truD image processing results in some strikingly clean, smooth and blur-free movement - no matter how fast that motion is.
Next to impress is the lack of video noise. Provided you don't set the backlight or contrast levels too high, there's remarkably little evidence of dot crawl, grain or MPEG noise. And we're not just talking about HD here, either; standard definition pictures also are much more watchable than we'd usually expect to see from LCD technology.
Last on our hit list is the 52XD1E's fine detail response. HD material really does look strikingly crisp, sharp and textured, especially if it's 1080-line material shown using the 1:1 underscan mode.
It's not all good though
There are only two pieces of bad news. First, the picture loses its contrast quite badly if watched from more than around 35º off axis. And second, the dynamic contrast function very occasionally makes the picture look a bit too dark for comfort. But this is a small trade-off for all the good work the function does for 99 per cent of the time.
Although the 52XD1E's speakers don't quite have enough power or aggression to match the size and impact of its pictures, their soundstage is still never less than engaging, with a fair amount of bass to flesh out the lower frequency range, subtle and harshness-free treble handling, and smooth, authentic vocal tones.
We guess £2,800 may sound like a lot of money for a TV. But the price actually holds up well against many a 50-inch plasma TV out there, especially given the quality of the 52XD1E's pictures and the length of its feature list.