We have to admit that against our expectations, Sharp's 'PALoptimised' 32P50 LCD TV made a good case for itself as the LCD TV of choice for anyone wanting a screen for predominantly watching standard-definition pictures.
But anyone salivating at the prospect of the various forthcoming high-definition sources will probably be more tempted by the first of Sharp's new, fully HD Ready TVs, the LC-37GA6E.
As with all current Sharp LCD TVs, the GA6E gets off to an eye-catching start with extremely desirable looks. The metallic finish reeks of top-line build quality, while the combination of an extremely slender picture frame and curvaceous speaker-bearing subsection makes most rivals look positively dowdy by comparison.
Connectivity hits all the right notes, too. There's an HDMI input for both standard-def and digital HD sources, backed up by HD-enabled component video inputs, a standard PC input, S-video and composite video inputs, two Scarts, all the necessary audio inputs, a composite video/stereo audio output, and a pair of RF inputs. Why a pair? Because, unusually, the 37GA6E offers both built-in TV and FM radio tuners.
Aside from the radio tuner, the main thing distinguishing the 37GA6E range from the P50s is a simple matter of resolution. While the 32P50 clocked in at 960 x 540, the 37GA6E sports 1366 x 768 pixel clarity. Other specifications of interest include claimed contrast and brightness ratios of 800:1 and 450cd/m2 respectively.
A search for features in the wellpresented onscreen menus uncovers a few things of interest. These include a backlight adjustment; interlaced and progressive options; a movement compensation option; an optional comb filter; noise reduction; dynamic contrast and gamma options; a series of unusually well calibrated presets; and Dolby Virtual surround audio processing.
Given HD is so key to the 37GA6E's appeal, we began our evaluation with a run-through of Terminator 2 in pure 1080i HD on D-VHS. And the results were stunning.
Particularly awesome is the clarity and detail on show. The scenes of the skinless Terminators fighting it out with humans in the future look as sharp and textured as we've ever seen them.
In this regard the 37GA6E's HD efforts clearly exceed those of the non-HD 32P50.
The picture also enjoys an extended colour range and subtle greyscaling in dark areas. Colour reproduction is vivid and convincing (after calibration), adding glowing impact to the molten metal that plays such a key part in T2's finale. Yet more good news concerns motion, as Arnie blazes across the screen on his bike without any overt smearing or blur.
There are no problems with any other types of noise during HD viewing either, as the grain and dot crawl sometimes witnessed during HD viewing on comparable screens is here consigned to history.
We occasionally spotted traces of digital artefacting while viewing an upscaled DVD via the TV's HDMI jack, but it was not distracting. The only area during highdefinition viewing where the Sharp rates less than great is black levels. Dark areas have an everso- slightly blue undertone, which occasionally costs the picture a little of its depth.
The Sharp's picture deteriorates when stepped down to standarddefinition fare, though - reversing the situation found with the cheaper P50 range.
Predictably, the image looks softer. Much of this, of course, can be explained by the simple reduction in definition of the source. But there's also more disparity in the appearance of really high-quality RGB feeds and ropier ones than we'd ideally like to see, suggesting that the Sharp scaler isn't quite as good at remapping SD footage onto the HD panel as that of one or two rival manufacturers. Maybe it would have helped if Sharp had some detail-boosting system like Samsung's DNIe, LG's XD Engine or Philips' Pixel Plus.
The colour tone of standarddefinition feeds can occasionally look suspect too, especially people's skin during scenes shot in darker environments.
The slight black level shortfall noted with HD viewing seems emphasised while watching normal TV, making it occasionally tricky to make out everything that's going on during predominantly dark scenes.
As a final caution we should also add that Sharp's motion-smoothing processing can cause a few shimmering and twitching artefacts when the source material gets tough, meaning you may prefer to leave it switched off during more actionpacked TV viewing.
The 37GA6E's sonics are rather disappointing. Some previous Sharp sets have delivered outstanding flatscreen audio, but while this one sounds fine with undemanding TV viewing, the soundstage is muddy, with precious little treble clarity, and bass that becomes thick and overwhelming during action scenes.
Still, chances are that anyone spending more than two grand on a TV will probably also be running a separate, more robust sound system, so we guess the 37GA6E's audio deficiencies needn't count against it too much.
Whether you should buy the 37GA6E or not boils down, at first glance, to a simple question: are you also going to buy into the whole HD revolution? If the answer is yes, then the 37GA6E has to be considered, as it offers a good HD performance at what in the circumstances is an agreeable price.
If, however, HD has all the appeal to you of a mouldy sandwich, there are other screens out there - including Sharp's own P50 range - that handle standard-definition (DVB, DVD) resolution better.
Also significant is the screen's lack of a digital tuner, which reduces its appeal dramatically. Surely all prestige sets (should) incorporate digital tuners, and this glaring omission will probably affect your buying decision. John Archer