After striking gold with its first two DLP TVs - and pinching a big chunk of the UK DLP market in the process - Sagem's now out to show how far its ambitions stretch with its biggest screen yet: the 56in HD-D56B.
As if to stop us getting too excited, though, Sagem happily informs us that the B in its model number actually stands for 'basic'. Hardly something to shout about, surely? Or maybe it is. For Sagem's 'basic' suffix implies that the set has been stripped of a few potential 'frills' in order to deliver the most acreage of screen possible for £2,700, and hints that an even more luxurious model is undergoing development.
Glance at our pictures and you'll probably think that the D56B doesn't look like a 56in TV; this is due to the remarkably thin and rather attractive gloss black frame around the screen. Even Toshiba's highly regarded Picture Frame design has nothing on the D56B when it comes to space saving.
It's not just the screen frame that's small. The pedestal supporting the screen is also tiny, considering that it houses the TV's main speakers, a modest subwoofer, and the DLP projector array. The only slight downer in all the aesthetic glory is the rather ordinary, and optional, £299 floor-stand unit.
Connectivity is extensive and futureproofed. Digital connectivity comes via a DVI input and unlike the one on last year's Axium D50, this one handles the HDCP anti-piracy protocols likely to be such a major issue in the years to come.
The screen also sports a side-mounted standard PC D Sub input, a trio of Scarts (two RGB enabled), a set of component video inputs for analogue progressive scan and high definition fare, springclip speakers for adding your own external left/right speakers and a coaxial digital audio loopthrough. Explore what's on offer, and you'll wonder why the D56B is a 'basic' model.
Faroudja's DCDi deinterlacing picture processing is on hand to tidy up edges and reduce jaggies, plus there's an 'Eco' mode that reduces the TV's light output to extend its life and potentially boost contrast levels. The audio specification includes dynamic bass and Virtual Dolby, while more general 'utility' features include twintuner picture in picture.
At the D56B's heart lies a Texas Instruments HD2 DLP chipset, with 3,000:1 contrast ratio and widescreen 1280 x 720 native resolution. With the HDCP-ready DVI jack, analogue HD capability and compatibility with the key high definition formats, means it's free to wear its HD Ready badge.
Image clean up
I continue to be startled by the pictures from DLP screens, and this Sagem merely fuels my excitement. Its image cleanliness is remarkable with practically all sources. Analogue HD feeds reveal barely any dot crawl and grain, while DVI-fed high definition material suffers none of the overt artefacting witnessed via the digital inputs on Sagem's HD-D45 - at least if you choose the lowbrightness, contrast-heavy Cinema picture preset. HD material such as NASA promotional material, fed in via PC, appears extraordinarily detailed. When the space shuttle lifts off, you'll wonder why you feel no heat from its rockets.
Progressive scan DVD feeds also look pristine and filmic, while standard RGB feeds from a Sky Digital receiver are admirably coherent. Usually pushing such sources up to a size like 56in really emphasises digital macroblocking or motion blur, but not here.
Also contributing to the startling purity of a simple RGB is the D56B's colour rendering - fast becoming a strength of DLP. The picture is impressively bright too, proving that you can deliver a dazzling picture from a DLP rear projection TV without it being accompanied by noise, or compromised by hotspots. Like all rear projection designs, the image dims when viewed off axis, but getting off axis from a set this large isn't easy! Image clarity is first class.
The chipset is more than an able match for all sources, and offers considerable texture and image depth. There's some fizzing noise over horizontal motion - noticeably during camera pans. This trait is certainly more obvious here than on the higher-end DLP models like Samsung's SP50L7HX or Loewe's Articos 55. There's also some rainbow effect, usually evident in moments of high contrast movement - but these don't appear as often or vigorously as they once did.
The set has two tuners, both of them analogue. The D56B's audio performance is solid, with plenty of bass and good subtlety; there's no problems with harshness. That said, the soundstage feels rather narrow, even in Virtual Dolby mode.
Also, during movie viewing the sound sometimes appears slightly dislocated from the picture, making you aware that it's coming from speakers under the screen. This is because the mid bass is very localised. It's better if you view with the Dynamic Bass and Loudness options off. Naturally, I'd recommend using the provided springclip connectors for adding your own external front speakers ASAP.
This exotic DLP dwarfs the majority of the plasma competition - and leaves it for dead when it comes to sheer value. Despite the huge screensize, it has a relatively modest footprint and it looks sumptuous. I'd also rate it as one of the best DLP picture performers currently available - it's even future-proofed in all the right places. If this is Sagem being 'basic', the mind boggles at what they might do at the high end!