Editors' note, November 15, 2007 The rating on this review has been lowered from 7.5 to 7.2 due to changes in the competitive marketplace.
Although consistent color and brightness across every part of the screen is the norm for plasmas and rare among LCDs, most LCDs produce a uniform-enough picture to satisfy just about everybody. When we reviewed the last two Sharp LCDs, models LC-52D92U and LC-46D62U, we certainly did not come away satisfied with their uniformity. Their screens evinced subtle horizontal and vertical "bands" that became visible in many scenes, especially those with camera movement. The company's LC-52D64U has the same problem. Otherwise it's a very good performer, delivering a deep color of black, relatively accurate color and even laudable video processing. We also liked its style, especially the thin bezel around the screen and the extra-skinny cabinet. We couldn't get over the uneven screen uniformity, however, which again keeps this Sharp out of the upper echelon of LCD televisions.
We've been fans of Sharp's Aquos LCD designs for a long time, and this model is arguably the nicest-looking flat-panel TV we've reviewed this year. Sharp grants the LC-52D64U a "slim-line" designation, which refers both to the depth and width of the panel. At 3.75 inches deep, this 52-inch panel is indeed the skinniest we've reviewed, pinching more than an inch off the depth of the LC-52D92U, for example. Compared to that set and indeed to other flat-panel HDTVs, the LC-52D64U is also one of the slimmest in terms of cabinet width for its screen size. As far as we know, only the Mitsubishi LT-144 series and the Toshiba RF350U series have slimmer bezels, and thus narrower overall widths, than Sharp's LC-D64U series.
Sharp's designers accomplished this feat by shaving another hard-won inch off the glossy black frame surrounding the LCD screen itself, leaving just about 1.5 inches of bezel between the top and sides of the screen and the edges of the panel. The area of frame under the screen spans more space and houses the logo, a series of indicator lights, and the silver-gray speakers, which are accented by a thin strip of classy, albeit vaguely smiley-faced, chrome that runs the width of the television.
Without the included, glossy-black pedestal stand attached, the LC-52D64U's panel measures about 48.7 inches wide by 30.5 inches high by 3.75 inches deep and weighs a feathery 62.8 pounds. Bolt on the stand and its dimensions expand to 48.7 by 32.9 by 12.8 inches and its weight to 74.9 pounds.
Sharp's been using the same remote for years, and the LC-52D64U continues the tradition. It has full orange backlighting, the ability to command four other pieces of gear, keys that are nicely spread out and well-differentiated, and a generally logical button layout. We say "generally" because the key controlling aspect ratio is stashed clear at the top of the long wand, the one for freezing the image is given an unduly important spot near the main directional keypad, and the one for changing picture modes is hidden beneath a flip-up hatch. The menu system is simple enough to navigate and includes helpful explanations that appear along the bottom.
A native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, aka 1080p, distinguishes the Sharp LC-52D64U from lower-resolution models. All of those pixels allow it to resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p HDTV sources; all other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, and standard-def TV, are scaled to fit the pixels.
Control over the picture is one of the most important items on an HDTV's features list, and the LC-52D64U falls into the middle of the pack in that category. We appreciated the five preset picture modes, all of which can be adjusted; a sixth that cannot; and a seventh, called "User," that's independent per input. There's a 32-step backlight control--plenty of range to coax and nice deep black from the set.
In the advanced menu we found five color temperature presets, with the Low option coming closest to the 6500K standard. The set also features a CMS (color management system) to let you tweak hue and saturation for primary and secondary colors--see Performance for details. There's also a control for Active Contrast that we left in the Off position because it changed the picture on the fly, and a film mode setting that engages 2:3 pulldown. In other video processing settings, you can turn "fine motion" on and off, which supposedly optimizes the image for fast movement, and engage or disengage the so-called I/P setting, which does something similar according to the manual. In practice, neither seemed to have much effect.
The set also features Sharp's light-sensing circuit, called OPC, which automatically adjusts the TVs light output depending on the brightness of the room--the TV gets brighter in well-lit rooms and darker in dim rooms. We set this in the Off position too for critical viewing, since we optimized the picture for a dark room ourselves. We appreciated that, unlike the OPC on the LC-52D92U we tested previously, the LC-52D64U's OPC did not reduce light output too much in a dark room.
In terms of conveniences, people who like to watch two images at once will lament the omission of picture-in-picture, which is extremely common among high-end HDTVs. The Sharp does have a freeze option, however. It can also automatically identify some HDMI gear and display the product name on its input menu. It correctly identified a Blu-ray and an HD DVD player, for example, and when we connected a cheap Helios HVD2085, the display gave us the cryptic identifier "MST35H1 Demo Set."
Aspect ratio control on the LC-52D64U is fine for an expensive HDTV. We noted four choices with HDTV sources, including a dot-by-dot mode that matches 1080i and 1080p sources directly to the display with no scaling or overscan. There are also four aspect ratio choices available with standard-def.
The LC-52D64U offers excellent connectivity by today's HDTV standards. The back panel inputs are actually split into two distinct groups, one of which faces downward and the other toward the side. Between them we counted two HDMI inputs, an analog PC input (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), one AV input with component video and composite video; another AV input with composite video and S-Video, an RF cable/antenna input, an optical digital audio output; a standard analog output; and an RS-323 port for interfacing with custom control systems. On the front-side panel you'll find a third HDMI input along with a second AV input with component video and composite video.