The current market for LCD televisions is squarely focused on High Definition units, and with the new 1080p full-HD models coming out, it is easy to ignore the Standard Definition units that still have a role to play in the flat panel space. The Sharp 32-AF3X is a 32in Standard Definition LCD television with a native resolution of 960x540. It is designed primarily to be used with Standard Definition television signals and PAL SD sources like DVDs. We tested the unit in Standard Definition and were taken aback by the high image quality; it performed excellently in almost all our tests. Although it is an SD unit, it can also accept High Definition sources with downscaling but, understandably, this was noticeably inferior to the picture produced by native HD units on the market.
- Excellent Standard Definition performance, Good design
- Mediocre High Definition performance, Price
If you want to watch DVDs or SDTV the Sharp 32AF3X will do the job nicely.
Price$ 2,599.00 (AUD)
To test the unit in Standard Definition (576p) we used a series of DVDs including the Digital Video Essentials test DVD, the Philips CE2006 demo DVD and the lobby scene from "The Matrix". In High Definition we used the Xbox 360 gaming console to play games at 720p and 1080i and view HD video authored at 720p.
Digital Video Essentials uses a series of still image test patterns to discover the limitations of a television. The AF3X had no problems with any of the tests. Both the grayscale and colour block tests displayed no noise and had excellent colour reproduction. The SMPTE colour bar test was displayed flawlessly and the black on white contrast test showed no discolouration where the two shades met.
There was a moderate level of motion jitter during the Philips CE2006 motion tests but it was on par with the average level of jitter for most LCD panels. The colour tests were handled exceptionally well with no over-saturation, while the sharpness tests did reveal a slight over-sharpening at default settings which could easily be eliminated with a minor amount of calibration. The most impressive test result came in the pixilation test. The normal level of pixilation we see when playing DVDs on most High Definition televisions was non-existent on this unit, since it is designed for Standard Definition. Keep in mind however, there is still a minor level of interpolation required to display a DVD since the native resolution only has 540 lines of pixels and a DVD has 576 lines. This means that a DVD needs to be scaled to be displayed on the AF3X but the scaling is only slight and, from what we have seen, does not affect image quality.
Watching the lobby scene from The Matrix cemented our opinions about this unit. This scene is always rife with problems when displayed on HD panels since there is so much motion and the entire image is saturated in green, making it difficult for most panels to display properly. In our testing, this scene looked better than we have seen it on any HD panel. We found no problems at all with the quality of the image and were very impressed at just how good it looked.
Unfortunately, the Sharp 32-AF3X didn't fair so well in our High Definition tests. While it is meant to be used as a Standard Definition device, it can also accept High Definition signals at 720p and 1080i. It then scales the image down to the native resolution of the panel, which causes a reasonably high level of degradation. When Playing "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas" on the Xbox 360 we noticed a fair amount of pixilation on curved edges and some visible image noise as well. The over-sharpening issue was also prevalent but, like before, it could be compensated for via calibration.
We also ran 720p trailers for "BioShock", "Halo Wars" and "Mission: Impossible III" and noticed the same problems. However, realistically, this unit shouldn't be used to display HD content; it just isn't suitable. The fact that it even supports HD is commendable but at the same time, if a job's worth doing, its worth doing properly. We would have liked to see more stable interpolation when downscaling but since the trade-off is top notch SD performance, for many people it will be worth the sacrifice.
Design & sound
The design of the Sharp AF3X series is very similar to the AX3X in that it has the bottom mounted speaker, manual function and navigation buttons on the top of the unit and the majority of ports running along the rear. They also both have the same stand. However, the AF3X is silver/gray in colour while the AX3X has far more brown and charcoal grey in the chassis. The remote control for both is the same.
The rear panel houses an excellent array of ports for a Standard Definition model. The connection options include two component, two composite, one S-Video and one HDMI port. As this is an SD panel, these options are more than you will ever need but, that being said, the option to connect to a PC would have been helpful.
The sound quality of the built-in speakers is quite good with rich bass and a wide range. We found no distortion at high volumes and felt that while the audio capabilities of the unit weren't particularly spectacular, they were certainly more than adequate for basic TV and movie watching.
The Sharp 32AF3X will suit a viewer who has no interest in High Definition and only needs to watch regular free-to-air television broadcasts. At the same time, the cost of this model is rather high when you take into account the price of the 32BD6X - a High Definition model with integrated HD tuner, which is only a couple of hundred dollars more. Considering this is a Standard Definition unit and the tuner is only analogue, you may want to wait. Especially, since with the analogue tuner, the image quality will be quite dependant on where you live. However, as stated earlier, for DVD viewing, we haven't seen a unit come close to the image quality that this one produced, so perhaps if you planning to wait a while before plunging into the HD-DVD or Blu-Ray market, then this unit should be a considered.
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