Sharp wowed us last year with its for an LCD) and clean video processing. All of that helps make the latest Aquos a tempting target for high-end LCD shoppers, but bargain-hunters and people who prize home-theater image quality will likely opt for plasma at this screen size.
Though it takes away from the wide-screen feel, this Sharp's bottom-mounted speaker enclosure will help the panel fit into a narrower entertainment center opening (it measures about 37 inches wide). The company also sells an identical version with side-mounted speakers, model LC-37D5U, for those who prefer the wider look.
At about 4 inches on each side of the screen, the two-tone silver-and-black bezel can't be called small, but it is tasteful, nonetheless. Unlike some panels with their absurd backlit logos, the LC-37D7U's understated facade is broken only by two small indicator lights in the lower-right corner. The power, input, channel up/down, and volume up/down buttons are located on top of the panel, tucked into its 4-inch depth. The unit rotates on the included stand but does not tilt, and of course numerous wall-mount options are available.
The large remote, which is very similar to last year's model, is backlit and comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, some or the buttons hide underneath a flip-up panel, and while many were easy to reach, a few, such as the illumination key, were a bit more awkward. A side-mounted button would've been great for illumination.
The LC-37D7U's native resolution of 1,366x768 is enough to display full 720p HDTV but not every pixel of 1080i; for that you'll need a set with 1080p native resolution, such as the . The Sharp scales all incoming pictures to fit the available pixels. Both standard and ATSC tuners are on hand to serve up over-the-air analog and high-definition TV. Since this set is Digital Cable Ready with a CableCard slot, you don't necessarily need a cable box to watch digital and HD cable, provided you can pry a CableCard from your cable company's hands.
New for this year, Sharp includes the TV Guide electronic program guide, ostensibly so you don't lose out on the programming information ordinarily served up by your cable box. In our experience, and from reports of CNET readers throughout the country, the TV Guide feature seems to function erratically with some digital cable systems, failing to download program information in some cases. We can't say with any certainty whether it will work in your area.
Worthwhile features include independent input memories, color-temperature controls, and a full suite of color controls, which Sharp refers to as the Color Management System (CMS). Though somewhat effective, CMS is pretty complicated, even for advanced users. Aspect-ratio options number four: Side Bar (displays 4:3 sources properly), S. Stretch (for 4:3 sources; stretches the sides more than the center to fill the screen), Zoom (crops the top and bottom to fill the screen width), and Stretch (stretches program material evenly to fill the screen). Unfortunately, with high-def sources, you can't change aspect ratio at all.
Inputs are extensive and include two high-bandwidth component, one S-Video, two composite, three coaxial (one cable and two antenna), one HDMI, one RGB PC, and a pair of FireWire terminals that can be used to connect compatible D-VHS, Blu-ray, and hard drive recorders. There's also an A/V output with S-Video, along with one optical digital audio output.
The set's out-of-the-box image was definitely superior to that of most LCDs on the market. With A/V mode set to Movie and the color-temperature control set to low, the color temperature came very close to ideal on darker material and somewhat redder in bright areas. This left whites with a slight reddish-yellow cast that was noticeable in all program material but lent a decidedly filmlike look compared to the usual extremely blue cast found in so many TVs. We were unable to conduct a proper calibration prior to press time, but we were able to adjust some of the user controls to improve the image. For example, the color decoder evinced a red push that we were able to tame using the aforementioned CMS. And the primary colors, though slightly orangey in the reds, were also brought nicely into line with the user menu controls.
Turning down the panel's backlight control let us achieve a color that was much closer to the lush, inky black that we love from our reference CRT, , than to the blacks of most LCDs. Chapter 20 on the Seabiscuit DVD is full of dark scenes as Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) and Seabiscuit practice in the middle of the night. On lesser panels, Pollard's hat would be completely lost in these sparsely lit shots, but the Sharp managed to display plenty of detail in the folds of the hat and the features of Pollard's expressive face. In the beginning of the chapter, each rippling muscle on the flank of Seabiscuit's archrival, War Admiral, is clearly delineated as the trainers parade him in front of his stable. Thankfully, the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection clearly showed that this panel includes 2:3 pull-down. Another plus: we saw almost no false contouring at all in our viewing sessions, and there were very few video artifacts present compared to most LCDs we've seen.
High-definition content from HDNet and DiscoveryHD looked great. As can be expected, the panel does a better job of resolving 720p than 1080i, but both looked pleasing.
There's a reason we've been saying "for an LCD." Since this 37-inch flat-panel LCD is the same size as competing plasma sets such as the Panasonic TH-37PX50U yet costs a good deal more, it's difficult to recommend for home-theater applications. Although we haven't yet reviewed the Panasonic, the company's track record and that of plasma in general would indicate that, despite the Sharp's strengths, plasma is still superior to LCD in image quality. If you're going to be viewing in a brightly lit room, however, then the LC-37D7U is the superior choice.
|Before color temp (30/80)||6,900/5,000K||Average|
|After color temp (30/80)||7,600/4,900K||Poor|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,178K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 1,333K||Poor|
|Color decoder error: red||+15% (0%)||Poor|
|Color decoder error: green||+5% (0%)||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|