- Review Price: £1012.00
Unfortunately for Sharp’s 42in LC-42XL2E, it’s gone and got me all riled up before I’ve even switched the thing on.
Why? Because it claims to be something that, in reality, it’s not. Look up the TV on Sharp’s website, and it clearly declares that it’s a ‘slimline’ design. Yet I’m looking at its backside as I write this, and it sure doesn’t look especially slim to me.
A quick check with a tape measure confirms that the 42XL2E’s rear end sticks out around 95mm. Not particularly fat, admittedly, but hardly in the same ballpark as the 34mm depth of the majority of the rear on JVC’s ‘Super Slim’ LT-42DS9’s, or the 35mm of the whole of the ‘Ultra Thin’ Hitachi UT42MX70’s back end.
If Sharp considers the 42XL2E to be super thin, then presumably when the brand finally delivers sets as thin as the Hitachi and JVC models I’ve just mentioned it will have to call them super mega ultra thin or some such rot. Grr.
Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get back to the reality of the 42XL2E rather than its marketing spin. And I can at least report that despite not being especially thin it’s still a fine-looking TV. The black bezel is pleasantly glossy and impressively diminutive – barely an inch across – and the pleasingly retro feel is completed nicely by the way a little silver strip under the screen rests above an angled-back bottom edge.
The 42XL2E also tries to win me back to its cause by providing a healthy three HDMIs, all of which are v1.3 in nature and able to handle the Deep Color format. Plus there are the increasingly inevitable component video and PC D-Sub offerings, alongside a digital audio output, an RS-232C port you could use to integrate the TV into a wider home cinema system, and all the other more basic offerings found on any TV worthy of the name.
With a Full HD pixel count and impressive looking dynamic contrast ratio of 10,000:1, the 42XL2E also has the key specs to get me back ‘onside’. But that’s by no means the end of the 42XL2E’s up-front attractions, as it also rather crucially boasts 100Hz.
Well, at least I hope that the 100Hz will prove to be an ‘attraction’ rather than a curse. For while 100Hz can usually be relied upon to make motion on LCD screens look sharper and more fluid, on Sharp’s previous range of 100Hz TVs it actually made pictures look really quite weird, for want of a better description. Hopefully Sharp will have improved things considerably for 100Hz mk II.
Other noteworthy features of the 42XL2E include an ‘advanced’ film mode that adjusts the set’s progressive scanning to suit film as opposed to video sources; various thematic image presets (including a ‘fast response’ game mode); an ‘OPC’ mode that can adjust the picture settings in response to the ambient light conditions in your room; and an optional Active Contrast feature that can tweak the backlight output to deliver deeper black levels during dark scenes.
I was rather pleased to note, too, that the 42XL2E’s HDMIs can actually recognise what’s attached to them. For instance, the set automatically labelled my Sky input as a PVR, my Xbox input as ‘Xbox 360′, and my PS3 input as ‘PS3′. Clever.
Unleashed on Sky’s recent HD broadcast of ”Blood Diamond” and the PS3 version of ”Racedriver: Grid”, the 42XL2E performed really rather well. For starters, there’s plenty of sharpness and detail in ”Blood Diamond’s” impressive jungle photography, and you can even make out the texture in the concrete tracks of ”Racedriver”.
What’s more, this general sharpness remains even when there’s quite a lot of motion going on in the picture – such as during the army assault on the RUF diamond operation in ”Blood Diamond”, or during the frantic jostling of the first couple of hundred yards of your average ”Racedriver” event.
The 42XL2E’s motion clarity must be down at least in part to Sharp’s new 100Hz engine – an engine which, thankfully, does not spoil its motion clarity achievements with nasty side effects like its predecessor did. Nice one, Sharp.
The 42XL2E also enjoys vibrant colour tones that do good justice to the sumptuous designs of ”Racedriver’s” cars, as well as looking decently – though not outstandingly – natural throughout ”Blood Diamond’s” varied lighting conditions.
More good news concerns the 42XL2E’s black levels, which are certainly the deepest Sharp has managed, and among the deepest we’ve seen anywhere. The result is that we don’t have to squint through nasty grey mist while watching, say, the night-time ‘party’ scenes after the RUF have stormed Freetown.
There actually isn’t very much wrong with the 42XL2E’s HD pictures at all, in fact. As I hinted earlier, occasionally some colour tones look a touch over-ripe. Also you have to be a bit careful with some of the TV’s settings; for instance, I’d recommend always using the Movie preset but making sure the backlight is knocked back to no more than 60 per cent, and that the ‘advanced’ Film mode setting is deactivated as it can introduce some odd twitching artefacts over horizontal motion. But provided you take these precautions, the 42XL2E should leave HD fans very happy.
Shame the 42XL2E’s standard definition performance is nowhere near as good. Presumably because of issues with the set’s rescaling processors, colour tones tend to look markedly less credible while you’re watching standard definition fare; there seems to be more glitching around moving objects, and the picture generally looks a little softer than it ideally should – especially if you’ve got some low-level noise reduction in play to counter the otherwise slightly over-obvious MPEG noise.
Sonically the 42XL2E is a real disappointment. Things are OK during relatively quiet moments, such as the ”Blood Diamond” sequence where Archer, Vandy and Bowen head through the jungle after ditching their vehicle following an attack on their convoy. At such peaceful moments the amount of detail in the mix is impressive. But the moment things kick into any sort of action gear, such as during the RUF assault on Freetown, a pretty disastrous lack of dynamic range becomes apparent, leaving the soundstage sounding cramped, thin and flat as a pancake.
If you’re in the market for a pretty-looking HD telly, the 42XL2E is worth checking out, as it’s one of the best LCD TVs around when the source quality is high. But its weak audio and average standard definition efforts make it a trickier recommendation as a straight ‘living room’ TV.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
Sound Quality 5
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