Sharp LC-46X20E review

Only a confident brand would create a budget 46in Full HD screen...

TechRadar Verdict

There are sacrifices to be made, but the LC-46X20E makes them just about worthwhile with its boldly affordable price tag


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    Decent black levels

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    Smooth pictures

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    HDMI side input for gaming


  • -

    Ripe reds and blues

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    Flicker on 24fps material

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    Usability issues

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Just as Full HD televisions are emerging as a mainstream product, Sharp has knocked out a 'budget version'.

However, to keep costs low, this particular screen dispenses with the current buzzword in LCD TV technology, '100Hz processing'.

That's only available on the manufacturer's step up XL2E-series, so do you dare buy an LCD TV without 100Hz processing even if it's kinder to your bank balance?

I spotted this screen online for a paltry £1,050, so Sharp appears clearly focused on selling HD to the masses.

Not that you can tell by looking at what is perhaps the brand's most slender LCD panel yet, measuring just 75 mm at its thickest point.

And the X20's gloss black coat (what else?) is at least thrown into striking relief by a silver wave along the bottom edge.

In the frame

The screen's 1920 x 1080 resolution can display pictures at 24 frames-per-second, from Blu-ray and HD DVD players.

It's a feature that LCD TVs like to boast about these days, although some plasmas have been capable of it for yonks.

Down in the engine room, its rear section includes a couple of RGB Scarts, a set of component video inputs, the usual phono ins and outs, and an RF aerial input for digital or analogue TV duties.

The only surprise is a digital optical audio output. Becoming more common on flatscreens of late, it lessens the need to upgrade to an amplifier with HDMI switching.

Although, it should be pointed out, as the screen only offers 2-channel audio, any 5.1 mix from a games console, DVD player et al is converted to PCM 2.0 when output to a receiver.

Three HDMI inputs are present. Two live around the back, behind a removable strip, flanked by an RS-232C port, CI slot, D-Sub PC input and an audio minijack.

A side panel includes inputs for S-video, composite video and stereo audio inputs. There's also the third HDMI input, which appears to be positioned specially for a PS3 or Xbox 360 Elite.

Happily, all three HDMI inputs are version 1.3, which allows Sharp to offer Aquos Link: its own name for HDMI CEC.

Subsequently, the X20's remote includes a flap that hides dedicated controls that can be used with Sharp's BPHP20H Blu-ray player.

However, after following the simple instructions, the stubborn TV insisted on choosing for itself which input I had the Blu-ray player plugged into.

It guessed wrong every time and chose an HD DVD player: a home cinema faux pas if ever I saw one.

An aggressive and far more effective feature is OPC, which adjusts brightness automatically depending on ambient light levels.

Its upside is that muted scenes from movies are leant a more cinematic look, although in practice it can be quite distracting.

The X20 also has the ability to make hi-def immaculate by giving 1080i or 1080p sources a dot-by-dot treatment, although underscan and overscan options are also available.

Swapping between the X20's plethora of inputs is like playing snakes and ladders: hesitation while trying to remember which HDMI input is being used and it's back down the board to square one - AKA composite video.

While you're stuck with a blank screen or, worse, ITV, the TV moves sloth-like around its inputs and occasionally freezes.

I strongly advise trimming the eight-strong menu of little-used inputs, which isn't hard to do.

One nice surprise; the X20 recognised both our Toshiba HD DVD player and Xbox 360 by their exact names.

Time trials

If the X20's features require investing some time in setting-up, so do its pictures.

Set to work on Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on an Xbox 360 Elite, 1080p pictures enjoy stunning detail.

The X20's Game mode throws in some much-needed brightness (calibrated user settings just don't cut it with games), although there are a few jagged edges.

With the absence of 100Hz processing the mode can have the tendency to blur, but switching to Action mode reveals a new-found smoothness, in this case with an HD DVD of Syriana. However, brightness is muted too much using this setting and there's an occassional flickering effect.

Although the Active Contrast feature does lend a more cinematic look to Syriana, a play of 300 on the same format suggests a 'black hole' approach with little shadow detail.

Perhaps I'd illicit the highest-quality footage from a 24fps playback of X-Men on Blu-ray, but this, too, is dogged by a similar flicker to Action mode.

A blast of 720p footage from the Discovery HD channel better showcases just what the LC-46X20E can and can't do.

Bags of detail are on show and pictures enjoy terrific depth. Although I did spot the odd judder during a quick camera pan across a migrating herd of wildebeest, a still camera filming a fast-moving flock of birds looks very smooth and doesn't suffer from blur to a distracting extent.

In bright outdoor footage, contrast is never a problem - our Tech Labs rated it as 1866:1 after calibration, which is excellent.

Subsequently, dark areas of the picture enjoy plenty of detail. Colour is the real issue: reds and blues are overcooked and it's tricky to avoid this ripeness despite repeated switching between the picture presets.

It's either too hot or cold over the range of sources, with no one setting being acceptable. Our tech boffins say the 'mid-low' setting achieves the best colour temperature, in the absence of dedicated RGB adjustment.

A spinning roulette wheel on the Virgin 1 channel, using the X20's Freeview tuner, demonstrates the colour problem: the white-on-black squares show up fine and don't blur much as the wheel spins.

The other numbers, yellow on red, are ruined by a lot of bleed and it's difficult to identify the numbers. Not good for gamblers, then.

The X20's audio is more consistent, but not in a good way. Simple music is precisely rendered, but there's little width, while the Clear Voice mode is really just an increase in treble levels and is incredibly tinny.

The virtual SRS TruSurroundXT mode introduces lots of noise and dialogue is indistinct. Far better to utilise the X20's digital optical audio output to route all sound - either as PCM stereo or Dolby Digital - to an amp.

Decision time

Forget 100Hz: by choosing the lower-price X20 over Sharp's slightly better-equipped XL2, perhaps what you're missing out on is the latter's 10bit colour processing.

Equipped with a fast panel and thoroughly decent contrast, Sharp has delivered a good value bigscreen that will appeal to buyers with size on their minds - but it lets itself down with its ease-of-use and inconsistent picture quality.

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