The Sharp LC-37B20E is a 1080p LCD TV aimed at people who want a good quality, attractive TV that won't break the bank. At £850 direct from the Sharp Web site, it's looking good.
But price won't matter if the product isn't worth having. Sharp has a reputation for making good LCD TVs, but in the past, we've taken issue with the way they handle Freeview. We were keen to see if the company has made improvements to its picture technology.
We were pretty impressed when we opened the B20's box. The TV is quite a sleek little beast: the bezel surrounding the screen is thin and the TV has a sturdy, classy look about it. Putting the TV together is also a cinch with a screwdriver thoughtfully provided in the box. Beware, though: there are a lot of screws to get through.
At the back of the TV are the usual inputs. You get three HDMIs for hooking up HD devices. There are also a pair of Scarts, a single component input and separate VGA in. We're pleased that Sharp has separated the VGA and component inputs: in the past, this was a shared system with a converter cable provided. You couldn't have a PC and component source connected at the same time, so this is an improvement.
On the top of the set are some basic controls in case you can't find the remote or you're having a marital argument about what to watch. On the lefthand side, there's a composite and S-video input for connecting a camcorder, but no fourth HDMI.
The remote on this TV hasn't changed much. It's got a slightly unusual shape, which comes across as old fashioned -- the sort of thing you might have expected on a TV in the 80s. Happily, the TV responds to remote commands rapidly.
The Sharp is a simple set. It's not overflowing with special features, but what it does have is a nice, simple layout and setup procedure. When you plug in the TV, you'll be asked to choose an installation language and your country in order to configure the TV tuner to look for the right type of channels. It takes a few minutes to find all the channels, but it's painless.
Strangely, however, once the TV did its channel search, it ordered the various channels in a fairly illogical way. ITV1 was not, as you'd expect, on channel 3. This is a feature of the way the TV works and it'll probably annoy you. Of course, you can alter the channel list, but that's a fiasco.
Another irritation is the way the inputs are labelled. Out of the box, the TV doesn't tell you what each input is connected to onscreen. It simply says 'EXT-4' with no clear way to tell what EXT-4 is. It could be an HDMI, component or even VGA input. You can add your own labels, though, so the frustration should be short-lived.
We are impressed by the Sharp's menu system. It looks nice -- although it's not especially fancy -- and it's easy to use. We didn't have any problems navigating around the settings or getting where we wanted to go.
We've noticed in the past that Sharp LCDs tend to be intolerant to interlaced video. What this means for the viewer is that Freeview can sometimes show de-interlacing artefacts, such as jagged lines. The B20 is, however, a good performer on digital TV. Once we reduced the backlight, we noted that pictures looked natural and had good detail levels. It certainly seems that Sharp has gone out of its way to improve the flaws we've previously seen.
We took a gander at some HD movie clips from our Popcorn Hour A-100 media streamer. A 720p clip of the US comedy Weeds looked nice. It was very detailed and even the smallest things on screen were crisp and clear. The Dark Knight trailer also looked superb.
We tested Men in Black and Anger Management on Blu-ray and both won our praise for exceptional detail. We were especially impressed by the sharpness and the decent black levels really appealed to us. To get the best performance, we did need to turn the backlight down again, but we're aware this is generally necessary with LCD TVs. Hopefully, manufacturers will get better in the future at calibrating TVs for the home.
Sound, which is so often a problem on flat panel TVs, was actually very crisp and clear. We noticed there was very little low-end bass, but this isn't a surprise.
The Sharp is a nice-looking TV with decent picture and sound performance. We've got some reservations about the way the TV de-interlaces standard-definition content, but it's not a showstopper. Overall, this is a competent TV albeit with some 'Sharp-isms' that make it irritating at times.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday