LCD TVs still sit in a niche market, but already Sharp is carving itself out as the manufacturer to beat. Just as we'd recommend anyone buying an MP3 player to consider an Apple iPod, we'd do the same for Sharp's LCD TVs. Not only has the Japanese company's range consistently outperformed the rest on picture quality, it has also managed to pioneer a huge 45-inch model that sits comfortably on our gadget wish list. However, as the 45-incher costs around £4,000, it's simply not a realistic prospect for the average consumer, leaving the 32-inch LC32GD1E as the most practical solution.
Aside from its expected picture performance, we were impressed by the range of features on the LC32GD1E. Sharp's canny inclusion of a media box means the package offers all the connections you could hope for, in addition to an integrated Freeview tuner and powerful stereo speakers. In real-world terms, it's still a premium television, but if you're as excited about the hi-def revolution as we are, this is the Little Red Book of the television world.
We like the sleek silver styling of the Sharp because it reminds us of TVs that hang on the walls of Scandinavian designer pads in Wallpaper* magazine. Simplicity and minimalism are to the fore, with a thin, graphite-coloured frame surrounding the pixel-perfect display. A rather large speaker protrudes underneath, hinting at the power contained within, but you can remove this if you've got a home-cinema system, which is recommended for such an expensive display. And if the price still seems high, consider that the television comes packaged with instant respect as standard.
The accolade for sharpest piece of design (no pun intended) goes to the bundled media box. It houses all the connections, so instead of having a spider's web of cables running between your AV equipment and the screen itself, everything neatly runs into a central box that can be tucked away in a cabinet. Unfortunately, this idea is spoiled by the media box and TV requiring three separate umbilicals to link them together, which we think is overkill. Most other manufacturers using media boxes get away with two interconnects at the most, and who wants a mass of cables running up the wall if they decide to hang their TV up?
Another weird characteristic of the design is the massive remote control. It's about 50 per cent longer than it needs to be, but no matter where you hold it, it never balances correctly in the hand. The battery pack also overhangs uncomfortably at the bottom -- if the remote control were human, it would be asking, "Does my bum look big in this?" Having said that, the main buttons are nicely coloured in a darker shade of the primary hues, so you always have a point of reference, and it's always easy to navigate the menus when you're using it. It's also good to be able to switch between Freeview and your other main source at the touch of a button (which is named DTV on the remote).
Connectivity on the Sharp is also very good. The best feature is the HDCP-enabled DVI socket, which means that if you decide to shell out the money for the set, you can be assured that it's fully high-definition ready. But let's not get carried away -- HD isn't going to be around until 2006, and the set also has to cater to the mass market. Thankfully, it also includes two RGB Scarts for connecting up standard equipment such as a DVD player and games console, plus composite if you get desperate.
Obsessive connectivity fans will be downbeat about the lack of S-video input, which can be very useful when connecting a video camera. However, for everyday DVD playback, we urge you to make use of the component inputs. When you supply the set with a progressive-scan feed, you're treated to a smooth, highly detailed picture that far surpasses that of RGB Scart.
This Sharp may be an iDTV (Integrated Digital Television), but you can still pick up a regular analogue signal by plugging into a different aerial socket on the media box. While the picture quality is dreadful, anyone living in an area lacking Freeview coverage will have no other option apart from a satellite or cable subscription.
iDTV functionality also means that the LC32GD1E has an built-in electronic programme guide (EPG), which lets you view programme details for the current and next programme. While the design won't give Humax or Thomson any nightmares, it's functional and the ability to sort by 'Entertainment' and 'Sports' programmes is a nice touch usually only seen on Media Center PCs. The LC32GD1E doesn't support the Freeview seven-day EPG, which is a disappointing omission.