There's been plenty of fuss made over high definition, with most new screens enthusiastically adorned with 'HD Ready' badges. But what if you're not interested in subscribing to HDTV services or upgrading your existing DVD player?
Sharp has realised that with high definition yet to truly take off, plenty of people simply want an affordable slim screen that excels at presenting normal TV and playing standard DVDs. Enter the LC32P70E, a competitively priced, attractive LCD TV that concentrates its abilities on more commonly used standard-definition performance.
The panel's relatively low, 960x540-pixel resolution perfectly matches our PAL broadcast signals in the UK, producing the best analogue and Freeview TV pictures that LCD has to offer. And the LC32P70E's standard-definition DVD performance using conventional Scart connections rivals class-leaders at any price.
You can still receive high-definition signals via an HDMI input, but they are subsequently downscaled to fit the screen's resolution, leaving images inferior to the original. Future-proof it isn't, but as long as high-definition isn't a priority then TV has never looked this good.
The LC32P70E's design is Sharp by name and by nature, featuring cleanly cut lines in an understated style. The matte-black frame is supported by an attractive, contoured speaker system and self-assembled stand.
For such an affordable screen, build quality is superb and surprisingly lightweight for the size, making wall-mounting options easier. In fact, it's only the clunky controls above the screen that expose any compromises to construction quality.
All connections have been fitted sideways into the one-piece rear panel, which offers collective easy access even if the screen is hung on a wall. There are only a couple of Scarts, but both are equipped to receive high-performance RGB signals. As noted above, a single HDMI digital input is included. You can use HDMI to receive high-definition signals from either Sky's HD receivers or a compatible DVD player, but images will be downscaled.
On the other hand, dedicated component video inputs have been ignored altogether. However, if you own a progressive-scan DVD player or another component-equipped device you can still connect the LC32P70E via a standard VGA input with accompanying audio. Sharp has graciously included an adaptor cable for this very purpose, although performance is consequently reduced. PC users can also control the screen from their desktop by connecting a RS-232C interface.
Otherwise, the arrangement includes some lower quality AV inputs for connecting occasional devices like a games console or camcorder. There are also stereo outputs in case you want to supplement the sound with an external home-cinema system.
The unusual spatula-shaped remote is reassuringly weighty and sensibly arranged with colourful controls. But appearances can be deceptive -- repeatedly pushing buttons without a response is frustrating.
The Sharp Aquos LC32P70E's PAL Perfect Picture (PPP) technology uses a comparatively low resolution (960x540 pixels) that's been optimised to reproduce European TV broadcast signals. The panel is specifically designed to match the pixel configuration of PAL broadcasts and standard DVD signals without any compensation or reduction, supposedly producing images with more clarity and less noise than even CRT.
As mentioned, the screen is still high-definition 'compatible', but HD content will be downscaled to 540 lines, which basically defeats the object. As long as watching terrestrial TV and standard DVDs is all you want, then this specification is fine. But anyone interested in exploring high definition, now or in the future, should turn their attention elsewhere.
Nonetheless, there are both integrated analogue and digital Freeview tuners, with an accompanying CI card slot that lets you receive subscription channels from TopUp TV. A range of advanced picture-enhancing technologies has been applied, along with low-energy consumption performance, which has earned the screen an environmentally friendly endorsement.
The on-screen menus are ordinarily presented and don't disappear while making adjustments, making it difficult to assess changes. But there are an impressive number of advanced features to augment the typical picture and sound settings. You can alter colour temperature, black levels and noise reduction to fine-tune the image. And there's also a sensor that automatically adjusts brightness settings according to your room's ambient light.
Sound options include a pseudo-surround function, which adds a sense of depth to the stereo audio. And there are other useful functions such as Auto Volume Control, which prevents adverts from blaring out, and a Clear Voice control that raises speech levels in dialogue-heavy programmes.
Considering the cost, the screen affords a full range of features that are often absent in more expensive models. And, despite the temperamental remote, operation is uncomplicated and a pleasure to use.
Judging the screen by its merits, off-air performance from both digital and analogue broadcasts is as good as we've ever seen using LCD. Images are incredibly stable, with virtually no picture noise or digital artefacts disturbing them. Dark black levels enhance edge definition and depth of field, while colours are bright and exciting without appearing unnatural.
The same can be said for standard-definition DVD performance, which produces the same distinctively bold, detailed images and intense, balanced colours. Analogue picture performance will rival any screen, irrelevant of price, which is consoling as it's the only viable option.
Although you can use the HDMI digital input to receive both 720p and 1080i high-definition signals, the subsequent downscaling leaves images in a worse state than standard definition. Edges appear frayed and unfocused, slow-panned movement is staggered and backgrounds consistently fizz with picture noise. True high-definition screens are obviously capable of taking the picture to another level, but not everyone will be signing up to Sky HD or buying a digital DVD player. And that leaves the LC32P70E as an outstanding and affordable alternative for the average buyer who just wants to watch TV.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide