To think that only a couple of years ago every plasma TV maker and their mother was telling us that LCD TVs couldn't really get any bigger than 28in or so. We've already seen - and adored - 42in LCD models from Sony and Philips. But now LCD's biggest supporter, Sharp, is going a step further, with the 45in Aquos LC-45GD1E - the biggest LCD TV in the UK. Could this be another possible step along the road towards LCD's domination of the flatscreen market?
There's no doubting that it's a masterful piece of design. Proud bearer of Sharp's Titanium finish, it's an ultra-slim, ultrahigh- tech vision in glinting metal, with subtle angles and curves. The slenderness of the screen frame is particularly laudable, since it ensures that this leviathan takes up no more wall space than necessary.
The future's bright
Connectivity comes courtesy of a separate, futuristically elegant AV control box with good connectivity. Bringing a smile to my face are three Scarts, component video inputs enabled for high definition, a PC card slot, a DVI jack and a dedicated RF input for the built-in digital tuner. Best of all, it turns out that the DVI jack works with PC and video sources, and even more crucially, I'm promised that it will work with Sky's HD broadcasts when they begin. Result.
As the more eagle-eyed of you will have noticed from the last paragraph, one of the LC-45GD1E's biggest feature boasts is its built-in Freeview terrestrial digital TV tuner. And as you'd expect, this is backed up by an Electronic Programme Guide, complete with genre searching and support for the new seven-day listings.
Another important claim to fame of the LC-45GD1E is its native panel resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. This makes the LC-45GD1E the first LCD TV I've seen that can show 1080i HD footage without the need for any down-scaling.
Squinting my way through the LC-45GD1E's annoyingly small onscreen menus throws up a few other interesting tricks, too. These include a backlight level adjustment; an extremely sophisticated colour management system for tweaking the saturation, brightness and tone of the red, green, yellow, cyan, blue and magenta image elements, interlaced and progressive switching, a 3D comb filter with certain inputs, and a film mode for improving 24/25 frame per second sources. It's also worth pointing out that the memory card slot can be used to grab stills or MPEG4 recordings from the TV as well as playing back pre-recorded ones.
Resisting the temptation to go straight into testing this native HD panel with an HD source, I started off my audition with digital tuner viewing. And came away fairly pleased with what I witnessed.
On the plus side, the image is supremely solid looking, thanks to an exceptionally good black level response, and a well-judged brightness level that keeps your eye rivetted on the screen without damaging the contrast performance.
More good news comes from the screen's immaculate edge resolution and its approach to colours. They're painted aggressively, with full-on saturations, and yet never seep from their boundaries. However, although striking, colours don't always look totally natural. Faces can look artificial by virtue of both a rather ripe tone and a 'waxy', oversmooth finish.
An RGB Sky Digital feed reveals broadly similar results to that of the digital TV tuner, while stepping up to a progressive scan DVD via the component video inputs produces even more detail, but flesh that still looks slightly waxy. Taking the next step up, to the DVI jack and a progressive feed, faces begin to exhibit some genuine texture.
While the LC-45GD1E is merely good rather than great up this point, though, it's got an ace still up its sleeve. I'd hoped that its native 1080i resolution would give the LC-45GD1E something of a leg up over its rivals - but I wasn't prepared for just how much of a leg up this would be. The LC-45GD1E delivers best of class high definition that's as sharp as it is noise free.
It's not unusual to see other LCD HD displays with some sort of noise, be it dot crawl and/or a tendency to blur over motion. The LC-45GD1E's HD mode remains free of all such nasties. And there's no overstating what a difference this makes.
The screen's beautiful images deserve to be joined by decent sound - and they are. Boasting a 1-bit digital audio design, the LC-45GD1E possesses an almost 'hi-fi' sensibility and might redefine what you would think possible from built-in flatpanel TV speakers.
Overall, the LC-45GD1E won't suit everyone. If you want something predominantly to get the best from a TV source or DVD player, you might fare better with less exotic models. But, if you are already into high def, or can't wait to sign up to Sky's HD service, there's currently no other LCD TV out there able to do the joys of HD such magnificent justice.