Sharp Aquos LC42B20E Full HD LCD TV Review

Sharp's latest 42-inch high definition LCD TV combines slim line and stylish looks and cracking features, so how does is fare in its Best4Reviews test?

The Sharp Aquos LC42B20E is the latest flat screen TV from Sharp and features a new space saving slim line design and is also the TV we’ve given away in our June, competition. This AQUOS LCD TV is an impressive and attractive set, combining a host of advanced features and Sharp’s clever eco-friendly mode that automatically adjust the screen brightness to match the ambient lighting.

The new AQUOS B20 TV has as compact footprint and solid build plus Sharp’s black screen technology plus a stylish piano black lacquered finish frame, so it really looks the part even if the frame is not quite a svelte as Toshiba’s Picture Frame "style" option.

A neat stand is in the box and bolts quickly and easily into place – or you can wall mount the TV; the various ports on the reverse are recessed with manual controls discreetly placed on the right edge of the set (from the front) for channel selection, on/off and volume.

The B20 is quick and easy to set up with auto tuning for the digital TV side of things and its 1920x1080-pixel Full HD resolution provides excellent output from your HD sources such as Sky or BBC HD, Freesat set top boxes or a Blu ray player, for example.

That all important native 1080p “Full HD” resolution ready screen means any HD signal is presented as broadcast so no down sampling as with lower resolution HD Ready screens and that means picture quality is stunning and razor sharp with good colour and contrast, more on which later.

There were a couple of anomalies though. Black areas of vertical lettering or black vertical stripes would sometime flicker oddly, fast moving type on adverts would be the most affected image types.

Despite this, connectivity includes dual SCART sockets (each Composite/S-Video and RGB capable) and three HDMI ports (one on the side making it ideal for HD camcorder users for example as a direct connection), there’s a set of Component video and stereo audio jacks. So, a comprehensive set of connections.

Sharp’s menus are simple to use and are akin to a computer operating system in terms of layout, each option is placed in a DROP down menu across the top of the panel, you then scroll and select options using the excellent remote control. You get a separate DROP down for each aspect of control: set up, picture adjustment and audio settings for example.

One aspect of the remote that’s not so fast is the EPG which uses the entire screen (so looks good and is easy to read) but scrolling options can be slow with lag between pressing a button and the option changing onscreen. However, you do get used to it and it is still much faster and easier to use than, say the sluggish EPG implemented on Philips flat panel TVs.

The LCD refresh rate of 4-milliseconds means pictures are judder-free but for slight blur during fast action from standard resolution sources. Nevertheless, picture pre sets of Game, Movie, Standard and a User mode allow you to quickly set the picture to the type of viewing you’re doing. The User mode is excellent since you can control most aspects of the picture to suit your taste including backlight intensity, sharpness, colour and contrast to name a few.

My favourite setting and arguably the most accurate is the Film Mode option set to standard, though it has two settings: Standard, which activates cadence detection, where the LC42B20E LCD TV recreates clean progressive video when supplied Film content buried inside an interlaced signal. The other mode is Advanced, which goes even further since it uses the recovered progressive frames and generates new in-between frames thus creating a smoothed, video-like picture.

You can turn this off and that keeps the TV in Video mode, but there’s no reason to use this setting, as you’ll loose the programme maker’s intended “film look”.

The Optical Picture Control (OPC) and the Eco Power Control system the B20 uses has a small light sensor to help adjust the picture in real time to changes in ambient lighting, to keep the optimal contrast. But it also means it can save money since it only provides the brightness intensity for the lighting so helps keep running costs down too. As OPC adjusts, small green leaf icons appear on the screen (if switched to display them in menus), the more bunches of leaves that appear the less power is being used and the dimmer the screen.

Backing this up is the Active contrast system that subtly enhances the video signal to provide a greater contrast range without affecting the backlight’s output level since that’s sorted via the OPC system.

Gone is the picture flaw from the LC-46X8E TV we tested a few weeks back where low contrast images or areas of a moving image with dark, even colour (such as fog or mist or shadow areas) revealed trials and banding.

Activating the set’s Dot by Dot mode for 1:1 pixel mapping for both 1080i and 1080p sources ensures clarity and using my standard test scenes from Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (and now more recent Blu ray discs such as National Treasure (the first movie) and I Am Legend) all have elements that push the B20.

In Spiderman 3, the Sandman character’s first appearance is a good test where each grain of sand that represents the character slowly reforms. Here, subtleties of shade, colour and highlight are all there, and underline the sheer level of detail that can be obtained.

Colour balance is excellent, although a slight blue tint is evident off neutral areas and greens seem pushed as well, although as these sets don’t have user controllable colour profile management, there’s little you can do about it. It’s subtle but anyone used to a calibrated screen will notice it.

Excellent noise processing never gets in the way as it can be finely controlled; you can tune your picture quality to get some excellent results no matter what the source. 50 and 60Hz playback plus 24Hz for the right input source, such as Blu ray discs from my PS3 so no judder thank you very much.

With black levels and contrast more than adequate, particularly given the price, plus excellent built in tuner pictures and reasonable speaker set up (though a good home cinema surround system will add loads of impact and certainly worth investing in) providing surprisingly rich, sound without distortion, the LC42B20E is a cracking TV and one well worth a look.

Great looking, slim and easy to handle (hmmm, that sounds a bit like my misses, minus the cooking skills of course!) the Sharp AQUOS LC42B20E is a cracking HD set worth every penny and while it might not be class leading, it certainly gets close – but at a much better price.