- Review Price: £357.00
Believe it or not, Sharp takes its name from one of its first inventions, the Ever Sharp pencil, (you know, one of those mechanically propelling pencils that carries its own lead/carbon rods). Well, that was developed way back in 1915 and a lot has happened since then.
One of the company’s strengths is its research into LCD technology. With four Japan-based factories under its LCD division, Sharp is obviously no lightweight in this market. According to the Sharp Laboratories of Europe Ltd website the company will replace all of its CRT television range in Japan with LCD versions by 2005, so Sharp is obviously very serious about LCDs.
First things first. The LL-T17D4 is available in two colours, namely ivory and black. Here, denoted by the letter ‘B’ in the model name, is the black version that, in my opinion, gives the unit a professional look. The chassis is put together well too, and feels sturdy to the touch unlike some of the creaking plastic designs I’ve tested in the past. The matt black finish does a good job of minimising any eye distracting reflections around the inner edge of the bezel, but it does tend to show up dust pretty quickly. That said, the dark colour offsets the display rather well despite the opinions of those that dish out the latest TCO ratings. In fact, after many hours of use the contrast between the black bezel and a white background did not induce any eyestrain for me.
Moving on, this 17in panel comes complete with what the industry terms as a ‘Z’ stand which didn’t feature on Sharp’s older LL-T17D3. This comprises two hinges at which the neck can move. One can be found at the interface between the panel and neck and the other meets between the neck and the stand. This gives a height adjustment of around 4.7cm, which can make all the difference to varying eye-levels and ultimately posture. Furthermore the upper hinge permits a tilt angle of approximately 20 degrees back and 5 degrees forward so it shouldn’t be hard to find a comfortable viewing position. Sharp has also been thoughtful enough to include a swivelling base that travels though a total of 90 degrees – not the widest, but nonetheless useful if you want to share the information on the screen with your neighbour.
At the rear of the LL-T17D4, you’ll find both a DVI-I and a D-SUB port so you’re connectivity options are only limited by the fact that Sharp doesn’t include a DVI cable.
At least all the ports point downwards making the option of wall mounting a real and flush prospect. A VESA rated 100mm interface is present too, so that an extendable arm can be used. As with many TFT displays available today the power adapter is integrated into the cabinet. This inevitably adds to the width of the panel’s casing, but on the other hand there’s no ugly power brick lurking on the desk or on the floor. Unlike other models the cables cannot be routed in any way, but at least when you look head on at the display the breadth of the stand’s neck hides them.
Sitting along side the D-SUB port is a 3.5mm mini jack that accommodates the bundled audio cable for transferring your PC’s sound through to the LL-T17D4’s built in speakers. Output from these speakers is reasonably loud but, as you might expect, there’s little to write home about in the lower frequency range. Still, the speakers are fine for speech and general sounds but not ideal for high-level entertainment. However, I do like the headphone socket conveniently mounted on the front of the facia next to the six adjustment buttons.
The buttons comprise of a dedicated input switch that allows quick switching between the analogue and digital ports, direct volume controls that double up as left and right level adjusters, a menu button and a mode/down button. Now, I have to say that using these buttons to move around the OSD is not intuitive. For instance, there are four menus covering image adjustment, gain control, white balance and mode select and cycling through these requires sequential presses of the menu button rather than the left and right buttons. In other words you can’t step backwards through the menus. Furthermore, the brightness level adjustment sits alongside the volume level, which is not the first place I would look. Still I got used to it over time and there’s a good range of settings including phase and clock, black level and contrast, as well as five defined colour temperatures and a user adjustable one.
Well, so far so good. I am suitably impressed with the design, and most of the features apart from the weak bass and awkward OSD menus, but what is the picture quality like? Under DisplayMate tests using our Matrox Millennium G550 graphics card, and both the DVI-I and D-SUB port with the supplied ICC profile this 1,280 x 1,024 display’s overall picture quality is rather good. The 64-step greyscale test was excellent. I could easily maximise the visibility of the darkest greys right down to the third step while still maintaining a black background. The same could be said of the white-level saturation test screen where the steps in the high-end of the greyscale were evenly graduated and I could just make out the 254th level. The colour ramps were smooth too and there are minimal signs of banding. The RGB test screens were also suitably vibrant despite the pretty standard brightness of 250cd/m2 and 430:1 contrast ratio. The performance did drop slightly when switching to the analogue signal but this mainly manifested itself as a slightly dulled down vibrancy and some signs of interference after a full days use (correctable by instigating an auto-adjust by pressing the menu button and then the right volume button – see, told you that the OSD isn’t instinctive).
Resolution and sharpness cannot be faulted and as for our test pictures and DVD movie; skin tones, skies, explosions and water all appeared natural with no severe graininess or heavy blocking of closely toned colour. Motion smearing is also kept at bay thanks to the 20ms response time. Finally, I have to say it’s not all a bed of roses and the Sharp’s main problem is one that plagues the majority of LCDs – viewing angles and resultant colour shift. The LL-T17D4’s horizontal viewing angle is as wide as you’ll ever need, but the vertical viewing angle is limited. While the illumination drops somewhat, there’s also a distinct colour shift as you elevate or lower your eye level through a range of about 15cm or more. Move up and the colours wash out and become more pastel, move down and they become dark and more saturated. However, don’t go thinking that Sharp has manufactured a dud. Far from it, and to be frank I’ve yet to see a 17in display that doesn’t suffer from this to some degree. I would place the LL-T17D4B as an average performer in this department, but well above average when you consider the whole package.
Apart from the criticisms I’ve mentioned, this display is nevertheless a fine performer in the areas that really matter. Image quality, head on, is very precise while the design and build is equally good. It also comes with a 3-year on-site exchange warranty, giving piece of mind, and I was able to find the LL-T17D4-B for £357.20, which represents reasonable value.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
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