There's no doubt that of the many new technologies looming on the horizon for the television industry, high-definition broadcasting is the most exciting. You only have to lay your eyes on the improved resolution of HD pictures to become an immediate convert. But as always with new emerging technologies, there is going to be a small minority that isn't going to want to join the party and will quite happily stick with what they know. And it's this crowd that this Sharp offering is specifically aimed at.
Talking 'bout a resolution
Bizarrely Sharp seems to revel in the fact that the native 950 x 540 resolution of this screen isn't suitable for unscaled HD pictures, but you only have to look a little closer at those numbers to realise that something else is rather strange about them. Although on initial inspection, 950 x 540 pixels appears to be a suitable resolution for watching standard-definition images, the resolution actually means that a few lines have to be cut off of the normal 576 lined PAL image to fit it onto the screen. Has Sharp gone mad?
Apparently not, and as we found out, the missing lines didn't turn out to be quite as much of a hindrance to the overall quality of the picture as we might have expected, but more on that later.
Sensibly, Sharp's peculiar approach to the LC-26P50E has not impacted on the design of the chassis, which is traditional and actually rather stylish. The black screen frame is made all the more dramatic by the sophisticated brush silver trim.
Connectivity is also worthy of mention, with HDMI and component video inputs proving that though the screen isn't equipped for HD material, the standard isn't being completely ignored. More standard inputs such as S-video and composite video complete the line-up. Disappointingly, inputs for a PC are not accommodated in any shape or form.
Like sockets, features are surprisingly generous with those most worthy of a mention including an optional 3D comb filter, black stretch mode, backlight adjustment and a film mode designed to improve movement when viewing DVDs.
Method to the madness
When we first heard about Sharp's questionable approach to PAL-optimised material with this screen, we took the idea with a quite sizeable handful of salt. However, it would seem that Sharp really knew what it was talking about.
The reason we say this is that the LC-26P50E gives arguably one of the most proficient PAL pictures we've ever had the pleasure of witnessing on a 26in LCD.
Material from both Sky Digital broadcasts and our DVD player displayed none of the frailties so often associated with PAL signals scaled down for lower resolution screens. Softness, dot crawl, grain, judder, motion smearing and over emphasised edges were all noticeable only by their absence, leaving pictures sparkling with clarity and detail.
Disappointingly, the same cannot be said for pictures generated by the built-in analogue tuner. Watching Countdown revealed the normally garish colours of the set as rather waxy looking, the details of Carol's consonants rather soft and Des' tash rather lacking in detail.
Similarly disappointing, although not so much of a surprise, were high definition pictures. The Fantastic 4's exploits lacked the pin sharp detail that we've witnessed on higher resolution panels, despite still standing head and shoulders above standard-definition images. and more...
Sonically, the Sharp revealed itself to be even less capable. While the built-in speakers are fine for Des' small talk with Carol and the guests on Countdown, it lacks the visceral clout and broad frequency range to make the Fantastic 4 sound anything less than flat.
Clearly, this isn't a wise choice for HD users, but then it was never intended to be used that way anyhow. If however, you intend to stick steadfast to your standard-definition guns, you'll be hard pushed to find a better-suited screen for watching your PAL material.