As competition among flat-panel HDTVs intensifies, traditional manufacturers such as Sharp have to scramble to lower prices or lose sales to cheaper, less recognizable brands. Sharp's LC-37D40U, a 37-inch LCD-based HD TV, exemplifies that trend, selling for less than $2,000 at some online merchants. That price still won't match the most aggressive no-names, but this Sharp's combination of style and picture quality, including black levels deep enough to challenge comparably sized plasmas, will appeal to folks willing to spend a bit more on a new HDTV. The Sharp LC-37D40U improves on its predecessor, the LC-37D7U, with both a lower list price and a newer, better-spec'd LCD panel, but the most obvious difference between the two is skin-deep. Like many TV makers in 2006, Sharp dropped the silver coloring, surrounding the screen of the LC-37D40U with a thick frame of glossy black. Beyond the frame on all sides is a charcoal-gray cabinet that houses the bottom-mounted speakers and matches the nonswiveling stand. The overall look is rounded off and attractive, although the set doesn't have as snazzy an appearance as that of Samsung's LN-S4051D, for example. Including the stand, the LC-37D40U measures about 37.3 by 28.5 by 12 inches (WHD) and weighs 53.8 pounds.
Sharp's remote is the same as ever, with full orange backlighting, the ability to command four other pieces of gear, nicely spread-out and well-differentiated keys, 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 behind a flip-up hatch. The menu system outdoes most in its simplicity and includes helpful explanations of menu items, and we appreciated the ability to rename used inputs and to skip unused ones. As with most LCD-based flat-panel HDTVs, the Sharp LC-37D40U's native resolution is 1,366x768 pixels, which should be enough to convey every detail of 720p HDTV sources. All sources, including HDTV, DVD, and standard TV, are scaled to fit those pixels.
The feature package on Sharp's LC-37D40U includes an ATSC tuner to receive over-the-air HDTV but omits the CableCard found on last year's model--not a big loss in our book. It also loses picture-in-picture but includes the aforementioned ability to freeze the onscreen image with the push of a button. Unfortunately it can't change aspect ratio modes with high-def sources; you get four aspect selections with standard-def.
We definitely appreciate the range of picture adjustments on this set. Sharp was among the first with a backlight control, which affects the overall intensity of the picture and lets you coax a darker color of black if you turn it down. There are four picture presets that can be adjusted--Standard, Movie, Game, and Dynamic--along with a fifth that cannot, as well as a sixth User mode that's independent for each input. A room-lighting sensor called OPC can be enabled, which adjusts the TV's light output depending on how much ambient light it detects. Advanced adjustments include five color-temperature presets, black-level expansion--which actually appears to improve the picture in dark scenes, so we left it on--and a mode that lets you adjust the sensitivity of the OPC.
The LC-37D40U offers five total input slots in addition to its TV tuner. Two are devoted to HDMI sources (one includes stereo audio for use with DVI-to-HDMI connections), another to composite or S-Video, and two more to component or composite video. We would have appreciated an additional S-Video input, and a side-panel input would have been nice too, but the biggest omission is a dedicated PC input. The manual makes no mention of using one of the HDMI inputs with PC sources, although dedicated users can probably find a way. Overall, the Sharp LC-37D40U offers superior picture quality to that of most LCDs we've reviewed, with deeper blacks and excellent detail, although its color accuracy leaves something to be desired.
After setting the picture controls for critical viewing in our completely dark lab, it was immediately apparent that the Sharp was able to coax a relatively deep color of black compared to other LCDs we've reviewed recently. During the nighttime shot of the ship aground against Skull Island on the King Kong DVD, for example, we saw that the shadows on the water and the ship, the night sky, and the black letterbox bars all appeared noticeably darker than those displayed by either the Dell W3706MC or the Samsung LN-S4051D that we had onhand to compare. The depth of black lent impact to every scene and made colors look more vibrant and less washed-out. The Sharp also evinced very good detail in shadows; as the great ape stands over Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), for example, we could see more of his fur, which appeared less distinct on other LCDs.
We compared the Sharp's contrast-ratio numbers to those of other LCDs we've measured recently, and it surpassed them all in its depth of black, with the Sony KDL-32S2000 coming closest. Its black levels even approached--but didn't quite reach--those of some of the better plasmas we've reviewed.