There's no doubt in our minds that Sharp is currently at the cutting-edge of the large LCD game. But can the company also convince when the going gets small and cheap? Let's find out with the new LC-20SH1E.
For our money, this is a cute set. Its photo framestyle stand system, tasteful curves to top and bottom and unusually slender build all make it stand out from the crowd.
Connectivity isn't so hot, however. Video is adequately catered for, courtesy of a single Scart, a built-in tuner and the usual S-video and composite video options. But there's no PC connectivity.
Some rather crowded onscreen menus give the impression that the LC-20SH1E has features galore - but genuinely interesting tricks are restricted to a backlight level adjustment and the quirky facility to flip the image upside down or reverse it from right to left. The remote control, however, is a paragon of sensible layout and comfort.
In some ways, the understated elegance of the LC-20SH1E's design extends to its picture. For instance, in place of the slightly gaudy approach of some rival screens, this set adopts a much more subtle, video-friendly stance on colour saturations.
This helps make the picture look unusually solid and involving, avoiding situations where full saturations look overcooked compared to less exuberant tones, and generating an exceptional impression of depth.
Effective black levels
The set's black levels are effective, too. Some screens certainly manage deeper blacks, but few fill their dark areas with the sort of details and gradations that the LC-20SH1E does.
A last success of the Sharp is its suppression of most types of noise. There's no grain, dot crawl, edge glimmer or colour moiring, which adds yet further to the pictures' overwhelmingly solid, stable feel.
However, you'll note that we said 'most' types of noise back there. Sadly, this model does suffer to a quite serious degree from smearing over motion. Usually caused by poor panel response times, this is sufficiently severe on the LC-20SH1E to make almost all pictures look slightly processed and unnatural - even ones where there's not actually much motion going on.
This flaw also contributes to a general feeling - enhanced by a slightly soft look to harsh edges - that the picture is a touch undetailed.
As a final gripe, the basic colour tone is a touch warm for our liking - but this is perhaps more a matter of taste than an actual flaw in the TV.
When it comes to audio, there's a price to pay for the space-saving design, as the little speakers under the screen simply don't have the muscle to deliver much bass, volume or even midrange.
As an expensive TV, and given Sharp's heritage, we expected great things from the LC-20SH1E. This inevitably makes the fact that it's really only slightly better than average something of a disappointment.