High definition hasn't been around for that long and already there's a new standard to contend with. Next-generation DVD players and games consoles are using the latest 1080p format, which claims more detail and cohesive movement than the typical 720p and 1080i hi-def formats.
To be able to watch these images, however, you'll need a compatible screen with a so-called 'Full HD' (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, such as Sharp's Aquos LC42XD1E. If you're not into high definition then you can save money with a lower-resolution model and, in truth, the step up in quality isn't massive.
But if you're using state-of-the-art sources or simply want to ensure your screen is future-proof, then this model is capable of stunning performance and for less than £1,500 it's more affordable than you might think.
Although the glossed black design is stylistically similar to any number of the latest LCDs, this screen carries an air of elegance that only upmarket models can afford. The slim frame reserves most space for the screen itself, while subtle contours add some style. Its build quality is exceptional.
The screen is accompanied by a self-assembly, fixed pedestal stand, but optional wall-mounting fixtures are also available -- although its comparative thickness means it protrudes more than some flat screens.
Virtually all of its connections are arranged in a section cut into the side of the rear panel, which allows relatively easy access without having to get behind the screen, which is useful for corner placements.
As the specification suggests, high-definition inputs are given the most attention. There are two HDMI digital inputs, which will support all high-definition formats, offering the purest picture and sound quality using a single cable. Dual inputs mean you can simultaneously connect two hi-def sources -- such as Sky's receiver box and a next-generation DVD player.
Conventional analogue connectivity is comparatively limited, with two Scart terminals, only one of which is RGB-enabled for uncompromised quality. This would ordinarily be an oversight, but since this screen is almost exclusively aimed at high-definition enthusiasts, it's simply a sign of the times.
Component inputs have been omitted altogether, although if you have a progressive-scan DVD player you can use a supplied adaptor cable connected to an RGB PC input. Alternatively, you can use this input to display images directly from your PC or media centre -- with a dedicated audio input and a RS-232 terminal that allows you to control proceedings from your desktop.
Otherwise, there's a set of standard AV inputs that can be used with games consoles or camcorders, although image quality is poor. Sound can be output to an external amplifier using stereo phonos, but there's no digital audio output.
This screen features a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution that amounts to roughly twice the number of pixels displayed by typical WXGA (1,366x768-pixel) models. This means you can display high-definition formats such as 1080i (used by Sky's HD broadcasts) without any downscaling or loss of detail. The resolution will also support the latest 1080p format, which is used by Blu-ray and HD DVD players (such as the Samsung BD-P1000 and the Toshiba HD-E1) and games consoles such as the PlayStation 3 -- when it finally arrives in March.
The 1080p standard supposedly creates the finest detail and smoothest movement that LCD can offer. True 1080p content is still relatively thin on the ground, but this is expected to change and this specification offers the ultimate in future proofing.
The screen's high resolution means you can watch high-definition images from even short distances without suffering visual acuity (where you can see the individual pixels) -- so even small rooms can accommodate a large screen. Flexible positioning is enhanced by an Advanced Super View Black TFT panel, which offers wider viewing angles.
Advanced picture processing is provided by Sharp's HD Anti-Judder technology, which improves image contrast and detail while creating more cohesive movement from external sources. There's also a proprietary 4-Wavelength Backlight System, which adds crimson to the standard RGB spectrum to enhance natural red reproduction and skin tones.
The main menu is intelligently displayed using a scrolling bar at the top of the screen, which means it doesn't obscure the screen while you're making adjustments. You can customise settings, choose various preset modes via shortcut keys from the remote or use the OPC sensor to automatically adjust picture settings according to your room's brightness.
The integrated digital Freeview tuner sports a seven-day electronic programme guide, although the digital menu system isn't very attractive and only displays a few listings at a time. There's a small window that allows you to carry on watching programmes with sound while you search the schedules. The picture changes as you scroll through channels, however, which creates a delay and means you can't carry on watching one programme while you search for others.
Sound options include an ineffectual surround mode and a more useful Clear Voice function that enhances speech if you're watching dialogue-heavy programmes such as the news or chat shows.
Although image quality is impressive across all sources, unsurprisingly it's high-definition performance that really excels. Whether you're playing true hi-def content or even upscaled standard-definition images, picture performance is outstanding.
The slightest intricacies of detail are shown with exceptional clarity, while high black levels create contrast and realistic perspective. Colours are well balanced between natural and superficial shades, especially with difficult-to-render reds and skin tones. Images are immaculately clean as well, without any background noise or blurred movement.
Digital broadcasts from the Freeview tuner are sharply defined and offer fluid movement, although there is some occasional instability with complex backgrounds, and gradations can appear inconsistent. But these are small flaws that shouldn't detract from a great picture overall.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide