Flatscreen owners might scoff at the idea of rear projection, but there are many benefits of these larger TVs. They produce a richer, more natural image most suited to movies, plus they are economical in terms of screen size for your money. Sagem has been promoting rear projection over the past few years, producing televisions that are not only good value, but have excellent performance.
Technology marches at a relentless pace though, and this new HD-D45H fills demand for a more fully featured model. Texas Instruments' HD2+ chipset has been replaced from the last range for the HD4 model, there are two HDMI inputs that pre-empt demand for high definition, and a Freeview tuner to meet current demand for digital television. In terms of features, it's got everything, and the performance is noteworthy for standard-definition pictures -- DVDs look so good that you might forget about HD completely.
The HD-D45H is big, but its frame and speakers are thin and emphasise the sheer size of the screen. What's more problematic is its depth of nearly 40cm, which will need to be supported by a large stand. The television doesn't sit high enough to reach eye-level, but plenty of specialist supports are available -- Sagem sells a custom-built one for around £300. The speakers screw into the side of the TV via brackets, but they can be left off the television if you're using a home cinema system. This is a nice touch, as we'd expect an owner of this type of TV to have a surround setup. The subwoofer is situated below the TV, so it can't be removed, but it looks classy contrasting silver to the black of the TV.
Connectivity on the Sagem is truly first class. The television has two HDMI inputs (something of a rarity at the moment), which means you'll be able to connect your Sky HD box and a Blu-ray player simultaneously. High-definition content can also be fed in via the component video or VGA sockets that have been included on the back panel -- either is perfect for the Xbox 360 playback in HD.
The HD-D45H features an integrated Freeview tuner, but if you're a Sky subscriber and have current-generation games consoles, you'll be needing plenty of Scart sockets. Again, Sagem comes up trumps as it has provided three of these inputs, all of which are RGB video compatible. RGB provides a much crisper and more colourful picture than standard Scart, and this generous allocation is much better than most other televisions. There are also S-video and composite inputs, although their poor signal quality means that you'll want to use them as a last resort. There's also an SPDIF digital audio input/output, which allows for a number of different uses, one of which is sending Freeview sound to your AV receiver in high quality digital format.
Sagem's remote control is poorly labelled, which ultimately makes operation of the television a hassle. At the top of the remote are two buttons -- one for regular TV operation and one for the digital functions. Sometimes, you can be pressing a button that relates to the Freeview channels and nothing will happen, because you have to press 'DTV' first. Having said that, it lets you know which mode you're in by a flashing light underneath the two buttons -- it's just a pain having to constantly switch modes. It also looks expensive in a heavy piano-black finish, whereas Sagem had previously chosen cheaper remotes that were manufactured out of cheaper grey plastic.
The HD-D45H features a projector behind the subwoofer, and it's here that we find the big improvement in terms of features. Sagem has employed the brand new Texas Instruments' HD4 DLP chipset, whereas previous models in this category used the HD2+ chip. Certainly, newer is better, but there have been some complaints from users that the HD4 is a more mass-market, lower quality version of the HD2+ chipset. While we were unable to do a side-by-side comparison, we did notice some small picture artefacts, which are explained in the Performance section below. Users can also manually change the projector's bulb when the included one runs out.
The HD-D45H features an integrated Freeview tuner, which is very rare for a rear-projection TV. Presumably manufacturers assume that rear-pro buyers will be too much into their movie viewing to watch Freeview, so it's good to see Sagem aiming for the wider market. Having said that, the Sagem tuner defaulted to French when we tried setting it up, which makes setup an early challenge. It's not the first time we've seen this happen with Sagem TVs either -- we're starting to think that these TVs are reluctant to leave their Gallic homeland. You can also set recording schedules so that the Freeview tuner turns to pre-programmed channels automatically to be recorded by an external hard drive or DVD recorder.
Just like connectivity, the features on the HD-D45H are very well rounded. Around the side of the TV there's a card slot for seven different multimedia formats, including Memory Stick, MMC and SD, in addition to others. While the reader itself sticks out rather uncomfortably, its wide support for the various formats means you can take a card out of your digital camera and watch a photo slideshow without ever needing to use a PC. The only caveat is that you will have to shoot at the lower resolutions -- the shots taken with an Pentax Optio S5z at 2,560x1,920 pixels refused to play back through the TV.
Sagem may have changed the chipset at the heart of its new television, but it still chose to employ Faroudja's DCDi Deinterlacing technology to process incoming pictures. In addition to this renowned processor, it has also integrated something called 'Crystal Motion', which is essentially Sagem's version of Pixel Plus from Philips or Wega Engine from Sony. While Faroudja adds a layer of stability to the images, the Crystal Motion engine is claimed to boost contrast and brightness by analysing the incoming image and improving the weaker areas of the picture. The speakers are powerful at a combined output of 30W, with an integrated subwoofer taking care of the lower range. They also feature Dolby Virtual Surround technology. Picture-in-picture features and a variety of screen formats round off the features list.
Sagem's rear-projection TV is a real star performer across both standard and high-definition sources. Use a quality DVD player like the Denon DVD-2910 and you're rewarded with a crisp, colourful picture that won't leave you begging for a high-definition source in the same way as a flatscreen would. Having said that, we still rate the picture quality of Samsung and Sony rear-projection TVs higher, which offer cleaner pictures overall with less MPEG noise.
Sagem's digital TV tuner is basic, but it does give you the convenience of having the full seven-day Freeview guide accessible from the remote control. The guide also gives you a preview of the current channel in the corner of the screen when navigating, which is a nice touch. The image suffers from more noise than DVDs though, and they're less stable during fast-moving images. It's more down to Freeview than the television itself, but it will make you hanker for Sky HD to launch. There are also dot crawl issues, which lend strength to the accusation that the HD4 chipset is not as good as the HD2+, but it's only really noticeable when you get close to the screen. Detrimental rainbow effects are limited -- even if you suffer quite badly from the condition, you should only notice the separate colours if you intentionally flick your eyes across the screen.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield