After bursting onto the AV scene in Spring 2004 with a remarkably assured 50in DLP rear-projection TV, French brand Sagem has gone from strength to strength with a range of increasingly popular DLP TVs. So it's not surprising that the company now feels confident enough to claim some market share in the most competitive TV arena of them all: LCD.
The latest Sagem LCD offering to cross our test benches is the Axium HD-L32T: a 32in model boasting full HD Ready spec and a built-in digital tuner.
There's a sense of swagger about the L32T's looks. While most manufacturers seem set on trying to make their LCD TVs ever slimmer these days, the L32T boasts a huge expanse of gleaming, piano black bodywork around its screen. And provided you can live with the sheer amount of space this approach eats up, it can really glam up your living room - particularly when it's attached to its pretty, glass-based stand.
The TV's relative size is put to good use in accommodating a healthy roster of connections. Particularly key is an HDMI jack and a set of component video inputs, since these ensure compatibility with all the HD sources - Sky, Blu-ray, HD DVD etc - due to hit high streets this year. Other highlights include a multimedia card slot equipped to play JPEGs from up to six different card types, two RGB Scarts, and a 15-pin D-Sub PC port.
The HD Ready status is confirmed on the L32T by a native resolution of 1366 x 768, and compatibility with the 720p and 1080i formats. Other specs of interest include a claimed contrast ratio of 800:1, together with a claimed brightness of 500cd/m2.
Aside from the bits already covered, the L32T is not actually particularly feature-heavy. There are a couple of 'interesting' audio processing effects, a picture-in-picture facility, and a 7-day electronic programme guide to support the digital tuner. However, this EPG isn't the most fully realised I've seen, as it carries no facility for filtering it by programme category, or for setting timer events directly from it (you have to programme these manually in a dedicated menu). The set has no CAM slot, either, so you can't add TopUp TV to your digital channel selection. Any feature niggles are swiftly forgotten, though, as soon as you clap eyes on the L32T's pictures...
The first thing that struck me was the warmth of its colours. Relentlessly bright and colourful movies like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle explode off the screen. Out of the box, the colour temperature is a ridiculously overwarm 12000K. After calibration we could only get this down to 9500K, some way off the EBU recommendation of 6500K.
On the plus side, the L32T boasts black levels solid and deep enough to shame many a rival LCD TV. The whole Mines of Moria sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring therefore enjoys a much better sense of scale and depth than is usual for affordable LCD technology, while also looking impressively natural thanks to dark areas actually that look black, rather than some mushy LCD shade of blue, green or grey.
Thanks to the Crystal Motion Image Processing, which upscales SD to near HD, the L32T's picture is pleasingly sharp. This is especially true during high-definition viewing; for instance, every last strained rivet of the troubled submarine on a D-VHS tape of U-571 is realistically portrayed. In a telling testament to the quality of the L32T's scaling, even pictures from its own digital tuner look crisp and - thanks to happy lack of MPEG blocking noise - clean.
Motion response is good. Practically everything I threw at it, from a Sky football match to the Dances With Wolves buffalo stampede, emerge almost completely smear-free. Sports fans shouldn't feel shortchanged with LCD set.
Bizarrely, on the rare occasions where a source is particularly grainy, the L32T can organise the noise into a slightly distracting striped pattern, which is rather off-putting. While black levels are good for the £1,200 price point, it is possible to see better on more upmarket screens. My advice would be to watch the screen in relatively high levels of ambient light, thereby preserving its black level.
The L32T's sonics don't really do justice to its pictures, as a general lack of power leaves action scenes sounding cramped and dialogue easily overwhelmed. Also, I spotted one or two lip sync issues.
Sonic weakness aside, there's much to like about the HD-L32T. Its images are sharp and largely artifact free. The only significant debit is the uncontrollably warm colour performance. John Archer