Sharp has initiated a full-scale assault on the LCD market with several new Aquos screens ranging from relatively basic designs to the latest high-end 1080p models. The LC32GD8E is an entry-level model that's incredibly affordable if you shop around.
The screen features a high-definition (HD Ready) specification supported by a stylish design for the price. There's also integrated analogue and digital TV tuners, digital connectivity and numerous picture and sound settings to play with.
Standard-definition images look great on the LC32GD8E, but we were less impressed by the screen's high-definition performance, which is affected by instability but still good for the money.
For a screen that can be found for as little as £600 online, the LC32GD8E looks surprisingly smart. It may be entirely constructed from plastic, but imaginative styling and attentive finishing give the design a classy appearance that few other entry-level models can claim.
The matte-black frame is edged by contrasting silver styling, which supports a contoured speaker system at the base. The screen arrives with a self-assembly stand that's reasonably sturdy but can't be swivelled to allow you more versatile positioning. Wall-mounting brackets are also available.
All connections are arranged across the right-hand side of the rear panel, which makes them easy to access. A set of standard AV inputs are accompanied by two Scart terminals, both of which have considerately been RGB-enabled for uncompromised quality.
Surprisingly, there are no dedicated component inputs although you can still connect a progressive-scan DVD player using the RGB PC input and a low-quality adaptor cable has been thoughtfully supplied. The PC input means you can also use the screen as a monitor and there's a RS-232C interface that lets you control things from your desktop.
High-definition users are offered only a single HDMI digital input, which means you can't connect two HD sources simultaneously. If this is going to cause you bother in the future with the growing number of HD sources (Sky, PlayStation 3, HD DVD/Blu-ray player) then Sharp's new GD9 models offer dual HDMI connectivity -- although you will have to spend more to get them.
The spatula-shaped remote appears unusual, but is nicely styled with colourful keys and is comfortable to use. Reserving most space at the broad top end for text functions doesn't makes sense, however, especially since some more important controls have been secluded beyond easy reach.
The list of specifications for this screen reads like a basic blueprint for the latest affordable LCDs. The 1366x768-pixel resolution offers high-definition compatibility with widely used 720p and 1080i formats. But, be aware, if you want to watch the 1080p format used by the latest Blu-ray or HD DVD players you'll need a higher resolution and a much bigger budget. (Sony's Bravia KDL-46X2000, for example, is five times the price.)
Both analogue and digital tuners are integrated in this model and an accompanying CI card means you can sign up to limited subscription services from TopUp TV. If you fall outside Freeview reception or simply don't watch digital channels there is also an analogue-only model, the LC32GA8E, that's available for around £50 less.
As with all Aquos models, the screen features an Advanced Super View Black TFT panel that offers low reflection qualities and enhanced viewing angles, so you can sit off-centre without distorting the image. But there's an absence of any proprietary processing systems such as 0Sharp's TruD anti-judder technology.
There is an impressive array of practical picture and sound options, however. Even compared to more expensive screens such as Panasonic's TX-32LXD60, there's a far greater choice of interactive adjustments. All settings are accessed through a single-screen menu system that's simple to use.
You can use several preset modes or customise your own settings using several unexpectedly advanced adjustments, including colour temperature, black level and monochrome controls. There's also a clever Optical Picture Control option that uses a light sensor to automatically adjust settings according to your room's brightness.
Sound options are equally extensive, including a surround mode, auto volume control to prevent blaring advert breaks and a Clear Voice function that enhances the clarity of dialogue.
Out-of-the-box settings are exaggerated, so spending time tinkering with adjustments will produce a more realistic picture -- you couldn't really ask for more control from a budget screen.
Picture performance is on a par with similarly priced screens such as Samsung's LE32R74BD and LG's 32LC2D, which is not exceptional compared to class-leading models, but still excellent value for money.
The bright colour balance produces instantly engaging images -- with even difficult-to-render red tones appearing untarnished. However, this is a common LCD ploy to attract attention away from more challenging picture elements such as detail and contrast. And, while detail and edge definition is fine, black levels aren't deep enough to coax the sort of three-dimensional contrast that separates the more expensive class-leaders.
TV broadcasts and standard-definition video are excellent, but we didn't find the expected leap in performance when upgrading to high-definition sources. Detail definitely improves but lingering digital artefacts and background instability, especially using upscaled signals, detracts from an otherwise acceptable picture.
The various sound features are useful, especially the Clear Voice function, but like all LCDs, the slim speakers restrict audio performance and if you're a film enthusiast we suggest supplementing them with a sound system.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide