Installation of Freeview channels is simple, and in our test the LC40CT2E tuned-in all available channels very quickly. It also proved a pretty sensitive tuner, hanging onto frequencies without any problems.
Reached by a shortcut button on the remote, the seven-day electronic programme guide for all Freeview and hi-def channels is rather poor. It doesn't compare well at all to the dedicated set-top boxes from the likes of Sky and Virgin, nor to Freeview HD boxes from Humax, Icecrypt or even to Sharp's own effort.
Its main problem is the use of low-resolution graphics, which leaves programme titles (on the rather garish yellow and grey design) difficult to read at a glance. At least it's roomy, with the grid showing ten channels and four hours of schedules as a default option, though it is difficult to inspect at speed; as you move down the list it slows-up considerably.
It's also missing a thumbnail of the live channel, and while the audio plays underneath the EPG, it's not possible to make the interface transparent. And a good job too – it would be almost impossible to decipher floated over a TV picture.
Fastext buttons are used to toggle around the EPG, with previous/next day controls and an option to zoom-in on either two, three or four hours of schedules. Hover over a particular programme and the 'info' button brings up a short synopsis, squashing the EPG to just six channels to make room. Unfortunately it doesn't signal whether programmes are being broadcast in HD or not. Channels can be filtered by HD/SD, TV, radio and, oddly, 'text only'.
Overall, despite the use of a Freeview HD logo, the EPG interface is about as basic as it gets and really isn't suited to a 40-inch screen. At least the 'now' and 'next' info panels that pop-up on the channel you're watching are nicely presented.
The interface for Freeview HD is separate from the TVs own settings menus, though they do join up. If you're watching Freeview and fancy changing some settings, it's first necessary to bring up the main Freeview menu, select 'TV settings', and access them from there.
It can be a bit long-winded, especially if you fancy playing some music or photos (no video) from a USB stick; a dedicated page under a movie clapperboard icon on the TV's settings menu displays a simple list of files on the stick (or any USB HDD), though only MP3 and JPEG files worked in our test.
That should please most users, though it would have been nice to see an attempt at video (it was probably ruled out because of the lack of a widely accepted popular format).
First you'll need to choose between JPEG and MP3 for any files to be recognised. Locate an MP3 and, after a six second delay in which the speakers let out an audible stumble, it mutes the audio on the TV channel you're watching and plays the song instead.
Clever, though not exactly eco-friendly, though it is possible to watch a blank screen while an MP3 plays. JPEGs are automatically shown as a slideshow, though pictures to take a second or two to reveal themselves on the screen.
The clickwheel – which is positioned too lowdown on an otherwise nicely laid-out and weighted remote – can then indulge in zooming in and out, scanning, and rotating JPEGs.
It's a very basic system that's not exactly a joy to use, and during our test it not only proved difficult to exit the USB playback mode and return to digital TV, but the entire system also froze a couple of times.
Worse still, it's not possible to exit the USB menu and alter the sound presets, despite their being a dedicated music preset (alongside those for speech, classic, movie, and a space for you own saved settings). Strangely these presets are hidden within the adjustable equalizer.
Sonically, this Sharp's underslung speakers aren't up to much. Play an MP3 and sound levels veer up and down slightly and there's little depth, though at least the slim speaker is long enough to manage some sense of stereo.
Those speakers prove acceptable for digital TV, and though with Blu-ray (using the cinema preset) soundtracks are flat, there's just enough bass response – though that is being kind.
For all its foibles when it comes to usability – especially of its Freeview HD tuner – the LC40CT2E remains a very good value television.