If you want a smart-looking TV that supports 'Full HD' 1080p resolution, includes 100Hz picture processing and has plenty of inputs, the Sharp Aquos 32XL8E is for you. As long as you've got £850 to spare.
At first glance, you might be slightly put off by the high price, but this TV is aimed mainly at people who want a 1080p TV but don't have the space for one of the larger models.
This little Sharp is a stylish beast -- well, beast is the wrong word, because it's actually very elegant. We're pleased by this, because the tendency with smaller televisions is to produce quite generic-looking grey or black boxes. At least this Sharp stays true to the rest of the TVs the company produces.
The TV is largely black, and of course it's an ultra-reflective gloss, rather than a matte black, which is still the de-facto style for flat-panel TVs. Beneath the screen is the trademark Sharp 'wave' of silver, which separates the screen from the speakers. The bezel is also quite thin, making the TV look compact and appealing to people who don't want the focus of their room to be a great big slab of black plastic.
The only design aspect we don't like about the XL8 is the remote control. Sharp hasn't changed the style of its controllers for a long time now, and while they're functional, they look rather naff and could do with being made out of a sturdier material. These TVs are, after all, premium products at a fairly high price and the remote just doesn't match the good looks of the TV. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't that important and shouldn't stop you from buying the TV.
At the back you get three HDMI inputs, which is reasonably generous for a TV this size (our reference Pioneer Kuro only has three and it's a 50-incher). There are two Scart sockets for hooking up older DVD players and Freeview PVRs that don't have HDMI. You'll also find component and VGA inputs, crucial for PC and Xbox 360 owners where HDMI isn't so common.
Setting up the XL8 is also nice and simple. When you first power on the TV you're asked some questions about your choice of language and geographical location. Once you've answered you're given a choice of either digital or analogue tuning. We picked digital, as analogue is really no good to us in central London -- ghosting is especially bad here, because of signal reflections from tall buildings.
The whole process didn't take especially long, and once complete we were left with a pretty good default picture setting. As with most TVs, the Sharp had its backlight set to a level that could dazzle a bat, so we cranked that down, had a fiddle with the sharpness and colour settings and managed to achieve a very decent final picture.
Of course, the selling point of the Sharp is its 1080p 100Hz mode, which for the number lovers among you means the TV is happy dealing with Blu-ray in its native 24Hz picture mode. This results in a more stable, judder-free image that's more true to the original movie.
In the past, we've had a little moan about the lack of sensible names given to the inputs on Sharp's TVs -- generally they don't carry much information about what 'EXT1' actually is. Luckily, if you're using HDMI you'll now see the device name printed at the top of the screen. This is fantastic and Sharp has actually done a great job implementing this particular feature.
One of the first things we noticed about the 32XL8 was that the picture was quite sharp and detailed, even on Freeview programming. The downside to this is something we've criticised Sharp for in the past: the picture can sometimes suffer from de-interlacing artefacts, where you can see some jagged edges on moving objects.
To be fair, though, we can forgive such things, especially considering that overall the image on the XL8 is very impressive and does a good job of making Freeview look acceptable.
Obviously, gamers love 1080p screens for their ultra-high resolution, so we grabbed the PS3 and fired up Ridge Racer 7, a full 1080p game, to test it out. We weren't disappointed by what we saw at all. The TV had masses of detail, and if you're sitting close to it in a small room, it's quite a fantastic experience. The Sharp also has a refresh rate fast enough to make sure the action doesn't blur with fast motion.
Blu-ray movies, such as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, looked great too. There's a rich colour on the Sharp that we really rather liked. The 1080/24p support also makes this a good TV for watching films, even though it's reasonably small.
Sound was also more impressive than we expected, with the two 10W speakers doing a good job of projecting speech and even low-end bass. Of course, there are always improvements to be had by using a sound bar for other external speaker systems.
Some people, mostly gamers, want to have 1080p TVs no matter what size. The simple fact is that there really isn't much difference between 720p and 1080p on panels this size. That said, gaming on this screen was a pleasure, and it will certainly please gamers who want to immerse themselves in some 1080p action.
There are cheaper 32-inch LCDs around, and an increasing number are 1080p capable, too. We think one of the best we've seen is the Philips 32PFL9603, which also adds the coolness of a two-sided Ambilight into the mix, another plus for gamers. But this Sharp is certainly worth a look.
Edited by Marian Smith