Sharp lc 32dh501e 1

The 32DH510E's features appear to be a rather eccentric mix at first glance, but the longer you live with them, the more sense they make.

To start with the bad news, though, the set is painfully short of picture fine-tuning tools. The menu just offers a tint adjustment, noise reduction options, a colour temperature adjustment, a backlight adjustment, a small selection of predictable picture presets, and bog-standard contrast, colour, brightness and sharpness options.

You might not expect many sophisticated tweaking options on a budget TV, but the extreme flexibility offered by some of Toshiba's recent budget offerings show you what's possible.

The 32DH510E doesn't have much to say for itself in terms of picture processing, either. In fact, there really doesn't seem to be anything of note beyond the simple work entailed in converting standard-definition material to the screen's HD Ready resolution.

Another disappointment is the 32DH510E's lack of a Freeview HD tuner, although standard-def terrestrial reception is all you might reasonably expect at this price.

Good EPG

Things start to look up a little with the electronic programme guide. This is well presented, with clean text and a solid – if uninspiring – amount of information presented onscreen at once.

It's great, too, that the picture from the programme you were watching when you pressed the EPG button continues to play in the top left corner. The only disappointment is that you can only set viewing reminders from the guide, rather than selecting programmes to record.

Record? That's right. For in a move we really didn't expect from such a cheap TV, the 32DH510E carries timeshifting via USB. In other words, if you stick a storage drive (minimum 1GB) into the TV's USB port, the set can record the programme you're watching to it.

This function takes two forms: straightforward pausing of live TV that starts when you press the relevant button on the remote, or an 'always' mode that continually records the channel you're watching, dumping the recording and starting again when you switch channel and just deleting the oldest parts of recordings on the fly when you hit the capacity of your USB drive.

This system works rather well, accepting the majority of USB drives we tried it with and recording programmes immaculately. This result is really no surprise, since the recording system simply stores the direct digital bitstream carrying the channel data, so there's not really any room for quality to be lost.

USB capability

The last surprising feature of the 32DH510E is also connected with its USB port. For it can play a startlingly wide variety of multimedia files: JPEG, BMP and PNG photo files; MP3, AAC, PCM (.WAV) audio files; and most unexpectedly of all, MPEG 1/2/4, H.264, DivX and XviD video files.

Connections-wise, tthere are a couple of Scarts (one RGB), a component video input, a digital audio output, a headphone jack, a composite video input and two HDMIs. The latter is a bit disappointing, perhaps, but is in line with many other sets at this sort of price. More frustrating is the absence of a D-Sub VGA port

Let's now go back to the point we made at the start of this section, that the 32DH510E's slightly odd mix of features actually makes sense in the end. For given its low price, it could very well find itself as a second-room TV rather than a main living room TV.

And in that context, it appears eminently sensible to focus on practical multimedia capability and an easy recording system ahead of stuff like an HD tuner and endless picture processing/tweaks.