Sagem is far better known for its mobile phones than its televisions, but last year the French company made an impressive showing with its Axium range of affordable, HD Ready rear-projection and LCD screens.
A new year means a new haul of Axium TVs, starting with this 32-inch LCD model. Like its older 27-inch brother, the HD-L27, it can display photos from a memory card, packs Virtual Dolby Surround technology and is compatible with high-definition TV -- the latter being an increasingly important string to a television's bow now that both Sky and NTL are poised to begin HDTV broadcasts. However, this isn't just a larger version of an existing Sagem screen -- it also sports updated styling and a handful of additional features.
The first thing we noticed about the HD-L32 is that it's far more attractive than its sibling. Not that that's saying much: the HD-L27's exterior featured more moulded plastic than a Pete Burns lookalike conference, giving it an unwanted cheap air to go with its cheap £1,000 price tag.
The HD-L32 is a different prospect. There's still plenty of plastic on show here, but the fact that it's offset by a gorgeous glass desktop stand means that any impressions of cheapness are quickly banished from your mind. It isn't perfect by any means, though: Sagem has opted to place the speakers on each side of the screen rather than below it, adding a generous slice of width to the thing. We were also a little surprised to see a shiny panel placed over the screen, as these tend to reflect objects in the room -- the last thing we want to see when a movie fades to black is our ugly mugs goggling in the middle of the screen!
The main TV controls are located on the right side panel of the screen, while the left features a small selection of inputs and a headphone jack, as well as a card slot for the photo viewer. This is CompactFlash-compatible only, but Sagem has helpfully included an adaptor allowing you to use SD, MMC, XD, Smart Media, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro cards too, so most brands of digital camera should work fine.
The rear houses the bulk of the connections. There's an HDMI input for digital high-definition video, as well as two RGB Scarts, one component video and one PC VGA input, along with all the necessary analogue audio connections. All in all, it's a decent selection, but the inclusion of a card slot for upgrading to Top-Up TV would have been handy for those who want to enhance the basic Freeview digital service.
We found the remote design confusing, with controls placed in an illogical arrangement, but it's probably just a matter of getting used to it. It's certainly the right size -- not too big, not too small -- and an improvement on previous Sagem remotes.
As mentioned previously, the HD-L32 is HD Ready, so it is able to display high-definition video in both 720p and 1080i formats. It's worth noting that the panel's native resolution of 1366x768 means that it doesn't do full justice to 1080i, though. You can feed it an HDTV signal through either the HDMI or component video inputs, although only the former will work with HDCP copy-protected material (such as Sky's forthcoming HDTV service, for example).
Unlike most Samsung, LG, Philips and Panasonic LCD screens, the Sagem doesn't make use of any particularly advanced video processing to scale the picture up to a higher standard -- what the TV receives is pretty much what you end up seeing. Feed it a high-quality signal, such as progressively scanned component video from a DVD player, and you'll get solid, stable results. Put in something dodgier -- let's say one of the highly compressed shopping channels from Freeview -- and the Sagem can't do anything special with it. There is an MPEG noise-reduction feature available in the picture menu, but it fails to make any real impact or improvement.
You can adjust various picture settings yourself in the menu, which is so straightforward that all but the most technophobic viewer should be able to sail through it with ease. There's not a great deal here to fiddle with, which seems fair enough, given this TV's place at the cheaper end of the market.
On the audio side of things, Sagem has included a basic stereo setting plus two more: spatial and Dolby Virtual Surround. Both are accessible through the menu system and, as usual, neither of the effects are particularly spectacular.
The inclusion of Freeview is always welcome, but the HD-L32's implementation of digital TV isn't among the best we've seen. The electronic programme guide only lists the current show and the one following it, so you can't use it to plan your viewing for the week ahead. As mentioned already, there's also no way to upgrade the basic service to Top-Up TV.
The Sagem's picture quality is solid, but far from superb. It works well enough when combined with a DVD player or Sky+ box, where its colour reproduction and decent resolution results in a fairly enjoyable image when viewed from a couple of metres away. There is a slight problem with the weak contrast range, which makes dark areas of the picture too indistinct, but overall it acquits itself well.
Gamers, however, will not be impressed with the slow response time, which results in fast-moving images blurring distractingly. We played a match of Pro Evolution Soccer 5 and the ghosting was immediately apparent. This was the norm with LCD TVs a couple of years back, but now even most of the Sagem's rivals at the affordable end of the market have stamped it out, so it's annoying to see it here.
The sound quality is at a similar level to the picture: good but not great. There's little to fault if you just want to watch TV programmes on it, but if you're seeking some scintillating sonics to enhance an action movie, you won't get them out of this television.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide