A 120Hz refresh rate is the current step-up feature of choice among LCD manufacturers, but Sharp's 120Hz D85U series, represented here by the 46-inch LC-46D85U, does things a bit differently. This set eschews the dejudder processing found in 120Hz models from many other manufacturers, so the benefits of its higher refresh rate are much more difficult to discern. However, more obvious aspects of picture quality--namely black level performance and picture uniformity--prove to be the LC-46D85U's weakest links. We did find a few high points, such as energy efficiency and relatively accurate color, but all told the LC-46D85U doesn't make a strong case for spending extra money to step up.
Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the LC-46D85U and the LC-52D65U we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some deja vu when reading the same sections below.
Sharp's latest Aquos looks, well, sharper than previous years' rounded designs, with a perfectly rectangular hard-edged panel and an angled bezel surrounding the screen. Below stretches a thin, perforated black strip for the speakers--the only external difference between this set and the step-down D65U is the color of the strip--separated from the glossy black surround by a chrome-colored accent line. One fly in the external design ointment is the glossy, plastic, nonswiveling stand, which doesn't seem up to the standards of the rest of the panel; maybe it's the rounded corners on the stand's base.
If you keep the stand attached, the 46-inch LC-46D85U measures 43.9 inches wide by 33.8 inches tall by 12.9 inches deep and weighs a feathery 51.8 pounds. Ditch the stand and the panel comes in at 43.9 inches wide by 27.7 inches tall by 3.9 inches deep and weighs 41.9 pounds. This is easily one of the most compact 46-inch televisions on the market.
Despite redesigning its displays nearly every year, it's been eons since Sharp touched its remote controls. The LC-46D85U's clicker is basically the same as the one that shipped with the LC-46D62U, which we reviewed in 2006. Our opinion hasn't changed so we'll just quote that review: "Sharp's long remote will be familiar to anyone who's played with an Aquos set in the last couple of years. 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."
Sharp's menu system design is also basically the same as in previous years, and its blocky look seems dated compared with the slick menus available from Sony and Samsung, for example. The pertinent information is all there, however, and we liked the text explanations that accompany various selections.
The major difference between the LC-D85U series, including the 46-inch model reviewed here, and the step-down LC-D65U series is a 120Hz refresh rate, which the company calls "120Hz Fine Motion Enhanced." The benefits of 120Hz on this model include blur reduction in the form of better motion resolution, and compatibility with 1080p/24 signals--although both will be difficult to discern for most viewers. We cover the details in the Performance section section.
Another big selling point revolves around saving energy. According to our testing, this is one of the most efficient TVs of its size on the market. Naturally it's Energy Star 3.0-compliant, and it includes the requisite home/store initial setup query that modifies the default picture mode (more information).
This TV uses a new power saving mode that's notably not engaged by default--you have to manually select one of two options in the menu or hit the remote's dedicated button. We prefer the manual selection because we believe default settings should be as basic as possible. Choosing Standard power saving mode causes the display to "optimize power consumption based on video content" and choosing Advanced also incorporates a room-lighting sensor Sharp calls "OPC." Additionally, you can adjust the sensitivity of OPC and choose to make the TV turn off automatically after a set period of time if it doesn't sense a signal (15 minutes) or if you don't press any buttons on the TV or remote for 3 hours.
In our testing of default mode versus the Standard power saving modes (we didn't choose Advanced because we do not currently account for room lighting sensors into our power test methodology), the LC-46D85U saved just 13 watts when we engaged power saving. That might explain why we could barely detect a difference between the picture quality in Off versus Power Saving mode. Check out the for the numbers.
A wide range of picture controls is available. There are seven total picture modes, five of which can be adjusted, one of which cannot, and one, titled User, that's independent per input. Among advanced controls, the most notable addition is a new menu that lets you set white balance for red, green, and blue, which can help hone the TV's color temperature beyond the five presets. A full color management system is available, along with a film mode to control 2:3 pull-down; a setting that changes the picture dynamically to optimize contrast (we left it off), an "Image Compensation" setting that supposedly optimizes the picture for fast- or slow-moving content; four flavors of noise reduction; and Sharp's peculiar "monochrome" setting that turns everything black-and-white. In all this is the most adjustable TV Sharp has ever produced.
Four aspect ratio options are available for HD sources, including one called "Dot by Dot," which we recommend using because it scales 1080i and 1080p sources correctly without introducing any overscan. The LC-46D85U lacks picture-in-picture, but it does include an option to freeze the onscreen image so you can write down a phone number, for example.
Connectivity is excellent on the LC-46D85U. As a late-model TV, we expected a handful of HDMI inputs, but its total of five is generous by any standard. Four can be found on the back panel while a fifth is located on the right side. Other jacks include two component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,600x1,200-pixel maximum resolution), one RF for antenna or cable, and two standard-definition inputs (one composite- and one S-Video) that, if connected, each replace a component-video input. There's also an optical digital audio output, an analog stereo audio output, and an RS-232 connection for custom control systems. That side panel adds another composite-video connection, but the USB-style port is for "service only," not for photos or music.
While it has its good points, the picture quality of the LC-46D85U was disappointing overall. Its black level performance was mediocre--even a bit worse than what we saw on the less expensive D65U--and while color accuracy was OK, we were miffed to see the same sort of uneven backlighting, or "banding," that plagued past Sharp LCDs.