Sharp has abandoned the space-age silver design of previous Aquos LCDs, but the company still knows how to make a TV look good. Like most other TV manufacturers it’s embraced the black finish, which gives the LC-26SD1E a moody, understated look that effuses class.

Connections include just one HDMI, which is disappointing given the amount of HDMI-equipped kit doing the rounds. A second hi-def source has to use the component video input, which doubles as the PC VGA input – requiring the use of the supplied phono-to-VGA adapter cable. The two Scarts are both RGB-capable.

The LC-26SD1E lacks groundbreaking features, but there’s a decent amount of technology and tweaks. Sharp’s Quickshoot Technology manages a response time of 6ms, while the seven-layer anti-reflective coating on the screen eliminates the nasty glare that can hamper picture quality. This is backed up by Optical Picture Display, which adjusts the screen brightness according to ambient light conditions, and a bunch of picture presets.

The rest of the LC-26SD1E’s specs are fairly run-of-the-mill. Resolution is 1366 x 768, but you don’t really need anything higher on a 26in set. There’s a built-in digital tuner too, alongside an analogue one for non-Freeview areas.

This LC-26SD1E comes with a terrific remote handset, which is well made and easy on the thumb making it easy to select different sources and access Freeview functions, like the sensibly arranged EPG and tuning menu. The main setup menuis logically laid out too.

Old LCD hands

Sharp’s years of experience with LCD screens shines through in the LC-26SD1E’s excellent picture quality.

The first thing that jumps out is the quality of black reproduction, which gives the picture a very pleasing level of depth during brightly lit scenes. During dark scenes some shadow detail gets lost, but by LCD standards the contrast range is wide.

The solid black level is invaluable when it comes to detail reproduction, an area where Sharp lives up to its name. The woodland scenes in Children of Men look intense, with the hundreds of fallen leaves and thin branches reproduced with stunning clarity.

Also impressive is the strength of colours. Our test movie’s few moments of vibrancy, such as shots of brightly coloured murals at the abandoned school, look rich and convincing.

Standard-def pictures from the built-in digital tuner are crisp and clean with forceful, but well-contained, colour reproduction. The TV turns in a superb performance with a variety of material.

Audio output is rated at 2x 10W, and the LC-26SD1E knocks out a clean, powerful sound that’s shoulders above most of the other TVs here. Exciting action scenes are underpinned by a high amount of bass, and the speakers can handle loud volumes without showing any signs of strain.

Nearly top of the heap

This is an impressive TV that offers excellent picture and sound quality, a respectable feature list and attractive looks. The only question is whether it’s any better than some of its similarly priced rivals, and the answer is no – it sports only one HDMI and picture quality is slightly inferior. But overall the it is well worth shortlisting.