Just when we thought we knew what the average Sharp TV looked like, the company surprised us by announcing that it was launching a new range. We were pleased to see there had been a number of excellent design tweaks and the result is a very cool looking screen.
But even the best design can't help a TV that can't produce good picture quality. So can the £1,300 Sharp Aquos LC46XL2E step up and deliver?
First up, we have to give some credit to Sharp. Until now, we haven't been that thrilled with its designs. Sure, they've been functional, but not much more than that. The 46XL2E is a different kettle of fish altogether -- finished in black, with a glass bezel around the outside of the screen, it has a modern and funky look.
The good design continues to the remote, which is a truly vast improvement over the old model. We always criticised the unnecessarily ugly controllers that came with Sharp's screens. They were fat at one end and thin at the other. This update has turned the remote into a long thin affair, which has seamless, semi-recessed buttons. There is even a backlight, which allows you to see some of the controls -- although annoyingly, not all of them.
Sharp has also decided to cover some of the inputs, including two of the three HDMI sockets -- the remaining one is on the side panel, which is amusingly not a million miles away from the back panel. The two Scart inputs and component video in are in a different place, at the back to the bottom of the TV.
Additional credit to Sharp as while it used to only provide a VGA input on its TVs -- supplying a converter cable to allow the connection of HD devices via component -- this has changed now. The 46XL2E has both VGA and component.
TVs seem to have turned some sort of corner when it comes to the usability of their menu systems. We really like the system built into the 46XL2E. It's clear and easy to use, even though we still think the whole thing could be made more responsive. Overall, the settings are clear and easy to access.
One of the other things we really liked was the electronic programme guide. Sharp has managed to cram a lot of programme information onto each screen. You can see a handy grid that shows what's on 15 channels for up to six hours simultaneously. This is incredibly handy for planning an evening in front of the TV.
The Sharp also features the popular 100Hz picture mode, which is becoming relatively standard on all TVs -- mainly because it's reasonably trivial to implement. We're always pleased to see it and it can improve movies on HD DVD and Blu-ray.