As off-brands such as Vizio, Insignia, and Westinghouse continue to make inroads among HDTV shoppers, traditional makers such as Sharp have to make it seem as if their sets are worth a couple of hundred bucks extra. That's especially tough in the small-to-medium-screen space, where the entry-level Sharp Aquos LC-32D44U must appeal to people who might not have those extra couple hundred bucks to spare. This 32-inch HDTV gets off on the right foot with attractive styling and a good selection of features, although its connectivity is a bit spotty. Worse, however, is its inaccurate color, and although the Sharp's picture has a couple things going for it, there are better performers even in the entry-level space.
We've always liked the looks of Sharp's Aquos-branded LCDs, and the LC-32D44U follows in the vein of handsome little sets. Its black gloss frame is medium size, with an angled speaker running along the bottom, rounded edges, and a matching stand (no swivel, unfortunately). A silver accent below the logo, which looks vaguely like a smiling lower lip, provides some relief from the black gloss. The LC-32D44U measures 30.6 inches wide by 22.6 inches tall by 9.1 inches deep including the stand, and weighs 29.8 pounds.
The tiny, cluttered remote gives a gentle reminder of the LC-32D44U's entry-level status. We disliked the crowd of tiny buttons and found the remote control difficult to operate by feel, but at least Sharp accounted for each important function. The menu system, on the other hand, is unchanged in design from those of more-expensive Sharp HDTVs, and we found that it was laid out well and easy to navigate.
The range of picture adjustments is above average for an entry-level set. You get seven picture modes, five of which can be adjusted and apply globally to every input, and another that's truly independent per input. There are five color temperature presets, although as expected at this price, you can't fine-tune the color temperature further than that. Three levels of noise reduction are available, along with a mode that engages 2:3 pull-down detection.
A range of other controls that are more dubious are also available, starting with OPC, which changes the TV's brightness according to ambient light in the room. The Sharp also has an extensive Color Management System, but unfortunately, it can't do much to improve the TV's color accuracy. (Click here or scroll down to Tips for our picture settings.)
Other features include four aspect ratio control modes for both HDTV and standard-definition sources. We especially appreciated the "Full Screen" mode, which showed high-definition sources without any overscan. Although the Sharp lacks picture-in-picture, it does have an option to freeze the onscreen image.
The rear panel connections on the LC-32D44U are adequate for an entry-level set. There are two HDMI inputs and two component-video inputs, along with an analog VGA-style input for PCs and an RF-style antenna/cable input. A standard AV input with composite and S-Video jacks is also available, and you can sacrifice one of the component-video slots to utilize a second composite video connection. There's also an optical digital audio output and a standard analog audio output. The biggest missing link is an easy-access side- or front-panel input bay for temporary connections, and we also like to see headphone jacks on these smaller TVs.
Overall, the Sharp was a bit of a disappointment in terms of picture quality. We compared it directly with an Insignia NS-LCD32, a competing budget set that costs a good deal less, and we actually liked the Insignia's picture better, mainly because of its superior color accuracy.