As well as having an integrated Freeview tuner, the LC-32GD1E is very easy on the eye. Clad in titanium, its futuristic, angular desktop stand and twin-curved speaker grille haven't exactly been beaten with the ugly stick either. In keeping with most higher-end LCDs, there's an external tuner/AV switching box that makes wall-hanging child's play, while the connections help to lift it above some of the competition in this test.

Connection collection

As well as three Scarts (two RGB), there's a video-friendly, high-definition compatible DVI input, component video inputs able to take progressive scan and some high-def, an optical digital audio output, centre speaker input and a PC card slot for viewing digital camera stills. The multimedia box also has three RF jacks and a slot for a Conditional Access Module, which means Top Up TV or, in future, any number of add-on, pay-for Freeview packages should be accessible.

The features count isn't quite so impressive. Aside from the Freeview tuner, the most interesting offerings are switchable interlaced and progressive modes, a 3D comb filter for cleaning up composite video signals, extensive colour balance adjustments and an electronic programme guide.

When it comes to pictures, the Sharp's greatest strength is its extraordinary solidity. It gave a scintillating richness and depth of field to our test disc, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, courtesy of stunning colour saturations and one of the best contrast ranges in the LCD business.

Bright spark

The brightness level is well pitched, too, leaving none of the fragility - even round harsh, bright edges - that afflicts so many LCD rivals. Sharp's extensive LCD experience was also evident in the handling of movement. There's not even the merest trace of the smearing troubles that afflict many lesser screens, with scenes of moving trains and passengers handled with aplomb.

With high-definition feeds the LC-32GD1E displays an impressive fine detail talent. Indeed, notwithstanding a touch of grain, it's one of the very best high-definition performers in the business.

With lesser-quality sources, however, a few holes start to appear in the Sharp's performance. With every step you take down the video pecking order - and with Freeview pictures in particular - the picture quality deteriorates exponentially.

The extent of the degradation is worse than we've seen on some other flatscreens, thanks to problems like blocking noise, softness, occasional solarisation and dot crawl. Lesser sources also seem to suffer more with an unnatural colour tone. This leaves us thinking its time for Sharp to come up with a picture processing engine that can bring out the best from its Freeview tuner.

Sonically, we've no such complaints - the LC-32GD1E is almost brilliant. The amount of fine audio detail is superb, especially since it is distributed far and wide with perfect cohesion. The slim speaker section also rises comfortably to the challenge of loud-volume action scenes. Perhaps a touch more bass and slightly less sibilance would have been welcome, but the overall impression is overwhelmingly positive.

With other, slightly older screens going for a lot less, this Sharp's solidly good pictures are left looking slightly overpriced - although it is fully HD-ready, and looks great. What's more, it does struggle with Freeview pictures, and that means it is beaten in the context of this test. It isn't the best option for anyone out to save themselves the trouble of buying a separate set-top box.