Sagem might not be the first manufacturer you'd think of when looking for an LCD television, because the French giant is far more famous for its stylish mobile phones. However, the company produced a barnstorming entry into the television world with the Axium rear projection and has swiftly followed up with this budget LCD screen.
Initial impressions are that this screen could come from some Korean manufacturer, because the screen is both thick and physically underwhelming. But the HD-L27 gets everything right when it comes to performance, with all that we could expect from an LCD TV, including a back panel that's filled to the brim with connections, and full high-definition compatibility.
While the HD-L27 quite clearly licences technology from various vendors, Sagem has pulled it all together to create a bargain package that's well ahead of the LCD pack. There may be better quality displays out there, and ones that are much better looking, but if you're in the market for a flatscreen bargain, then this is an ideal choice.
The slick black exterior of the HD-D27 divided opinion in the CNET office -- some people thought it looked classy, but the plasticky finish certainly makes it look cheaper than Sony and Toshiba's LCDs. However, its main disappointment is the thickness, because it really detracts from the main attraction of buying an LCD. It also feels a bit unstable on the included stand, even though it does allow you to swivel the display both vertically and horizontally.
Another part of the package that disappoints is the remote control. We've seen the exact same model included with ViewSonic's LCD, and it's extremely generic. It's not particularly difficult to use, but the lack of a Sagem logo hints at its budget origins -- it's neither attractive nor ergonomic. One good thing is that the inputs have separate buttons assigned to them, so you don't have to cycle through them all to get to the one you're after.
While the style of the display may be up for question, the connectivity certainly isn't. The standard board that Sagem has used can also be seen on ViewSonic's latest LCD, so it is likely to have been bought in from a third-party manufacturer. Thankfully though, whichever company is behind the device has managed to hit the nail right on the head -- every demand we could think of is comprehensively satisfied.
Remember, this is a 27-inch TV, so you shouldn't reasonably expect too much from what is midsize in television terms. But we've seen televisions double this price that don't offer anywhere near the same choice of connections. There's also a set of progressive scan component inputs, three Scarts and an HDCP-DVI socket. Add to that list a card reader that can handle Compact Flash, Smart Media, Secure Digital, xD and Memory Stick formats and you have one of the most innovative (not to mention crowded) displays on the market.
At least everything has been quite logically laid out. The main board is a square shape that avoids the usual hassle of all the cables bunching up together. The generous allocation of Scart sockets allow the television to accept all current video standards, plus the DVI input means it'll be fully compatible with Sky's HD broadcasting service (due in 2006).
The Sagem is characterised by its ease of use and the whole setup process is a joy. The television will search through the analogue channels in record time and even orders them correctly, at least on our test model. While setting up the screen itself is a cinch, the menu system is not particularly lavish. In fact, it's positively retro, with an 8-bit, Atari ST kind of feel. The fact that it's not from one of the major manufacturers explains why there are no advanced picture processing modes, and there's not much else that you can play around with.
Aside from the usual contrast and brightness options, the only other variables in the picture settings are for colour temperature, colour tint and sharpness. In other words, hardcore tweakers are going to find themselves very bored, very quickly. The visual presets on offer are quite useful, though. Studio, Cinema, Sport and Neutral adapt the general settings automatically to the sort of material you're watching, but you can always set your preferred options manually and keep them saved in the User mode.
There's also an option that allows you to turn off the inputs that you aren't using, so you don't see them when switching inputs. It can be a little confusing at first, but it's really useful to be able to switch off all the connections that are left over.
Bonus features on the audio front are also pretty sparse, but Sagem has managed to include Virtual Dolby Surround, which is something of a luxury for such a modest price. It doesn't really add anything to the performance though, so thankfully you can turn it off and listen to regular stereo. You can also tweak how loud you want sound to be on the headphones.
Another feature that's quite impressive for this price is PiP and PaP -- Picture in Picture and Picture and Picture respectively. This basically means you can have two sources displaying on top of each other simultaneously, which is not an everyday concern but a bonus nonetheless. You can also set the display to sleep after a certain amount of time, perfect for when you're in bed and begin to doze off.
The memory card slot works incredibly well. The television finds the pictures stored on the media automatically. Just bear in mind that if you have a high-resolution digital camera, you need to drop the image size down to that of the LCD panel (1280x720), because the television can't scale down.
All in all, picture quality is excellent when judged against the price. The analogue picture quality is about as bearable as you'll find on any LCD and it's even better when you upgrade to a Freeview box. Like Thomson's LCDs, it can struggle with motion at times, resulting in heavy motion blur -- this could be down to a low response time. However, the set is subject to quite a poor contrast ratio, meaning that images never really get away from a slightly grey finish. It also has a poor viewing angle, so don't deviate too much from the straight-on position.
We were very pleased with the powerful sound that emanated from the HD-L27's speakers. If you turn them up past 50 per cent, they start to rattle quite noticeably, but you shouldn't really need to go that loud. Speech is always very clear through the standard speakers and it creates enough of a soundstage to cope with movies, too.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide