Rear-projection TVs are back in a big way. The promise of high definition and rear-pro's, especially DLP's, innate suitability for it at bargain bigscreen prices has caused AV fans to re-embrace the idea.
Sagem's debut effort had everything except HD Readiness. The HD-D45S looks to fulfil that set's promise by including an HDCP-compliant DVI input to add to the awesome resolution and picture processing credentials.
Making rear projectors look stylish has traditionally been a thankless task for designers: a bit like asking a sports car designer to pretty up a tank. Sagem, though, tends to think a little differently and this set is a lesson in making big beautiful.
Not that it is huge, mind you. The screen might be a yawning 45in expanse, but by conventional rear-pro standards this thing is practically two dimensional as regards depth. It is no bulkier, in fact, than many 28in CRTs. The set sits on a smart, curvy pedestal and aside from the rear casing, which looks a bit flimsy, the TV exudes class and, incredibly for the technology, elegance - there are not many rear-pros about which you say that.
The socket count is prodigious, with the all-digital input joining just about every other home cinema stalwart, including three RGB Scarts, component digital in and outputs, as well as the obligatory component video. There are even two S-video jacks, for goodness' sake.
Chief among the spec sheet thrills is Faroudja deinterlacing, which should mean clear, jaggy-free images and fluid motion. There's nothing much to shout about elsewhere, with some bog standard picture and sounds tweaks.
The only real bum note is the remote, which looks like the sort you get with the digiboxes of the supermarket variety, but so long as the TV does what it tells it to, we're not really that bothered.
The Sagem is impeccably mannered once you've got it set up, but it's a bit of a fight getting there. The first stumbling block is getting the blighter switched on: whoever came up with the idea of hiding the power button out of sight around the back of the set and on the other side to the pointlessly-clearly-marked standby LED obviously has a sadistic sense of humour. It was easier to find the subtly concealed pop-open section housing the secondary AV inputs and we weren't even looking for that.
You'd think that having located the switch and causing a red light to come on would signal imminent victory. But no. Hitting the requisite key on the remote merely causes the red LED to start flashing after first changing to orange and then to green and then, finally, back to red again, at no point hinting at any kind of life within the hulking set itself.
The trick is to wait for it to finish its little light display (this seems to denote the set seeing what's plugged in and settling on a suitable source) before hitting any more buttons. We're prepared to bet on a few oaths getting uttered as new Sagem owners get to grips with their quirky new acquisitions, though.
The menus, when you finally get hold of them, are relatively straightforward, although not the most intuitive we've ever dealt with.
After all that faffing about setting the thing up ,it's rather annoying that the first port of call, analogue broadcast pictures, look so shabby. Just about every type of programming, with the exception of cartoons, looks listless and noisy, with the cheaper end of the spectrum suffering horribly at this size .It's tolerable, but serves once again to highlight rear-projection's discomfort with non-digital sources.
Thank goodness for DVDs, then, because they look splendid. We popped in a copy of Ice Age via RGB Scart and were entranced from the menu screen onwards. The initial skit, involving that weird little rodent with the acorn played out on a pristine glacier against an azure sky, looks absolutely wonderful. If the colours and brightness were cranked up any further, you'd get snow-blindness.
When the action demands a wider palette, the Sagem is more than up to the challenge, producing an image that is as striking, yet subtle, as you'll find on just about any sort of set. It's also incredibly pure, with noise and tizzing so rare as to be practically non-existent. Even blacks are pretty solid, which gives the rearpro rulebook another rewrite.
Moving up through the gears to DVI via component video merely refines an already vastly impressive performance and results in one of the most effortlessly cinematic watches we've enjoyed in a long time. This kind of set doesn't always capture detail terribly well, but just look at the painstakingly rendered fur of the various prehistoric creatures to see what the HD-D45S is capable of.
For an even more exacting test, try it with high def. Our test footage of Mötley Crüe in concert is a difficult mixture of high contrast, frequent movement and extreme detail and this set handles it all effortlessly. You can pick out the metal mullets many, many rows back into that baying Utah crowd, while the potentially troublesome blend of dark auditorium and blazing spotlights is carried off without a hitch.
Some age-old rear-pro bugbears are still there, most notably the rainbow effect, which is particularly noticeable on pans or slow-ish movement, where your eyes have to refocus, causing flashes of primary colour. The viewing angle is also a weakness, particularly on the vertical, although the horizontal axis is surprisingly good.
The audio, meanwhile, is perfectly serviceable, but if you've got any excuse for not wiring a set of this size up to an external sound system, then we'd like to hear it.
The Sagem HD-D45S is a great proposition for big screen movie nuts. If you're into movies, the size and quality of this set is great value for just a couple of grand. It does struggle with low-quality stuff, but feed it the diet it deserves and you're in for a massively entertaining ride.