With an HDTV, size is everything. The size of the picture affects how far you can sit from the screen and still feel immersed, how much detail you can discern, and how many flaws you'll notice in the source or in the TV itself. At 37 inches, Sharp's LC-37D90U is as big as many other flat-panel LCDs, but it costs a heck of a lot more. That's because it has a native resolution of 1080p, meaning that its screen is composed of 1,920x1,080 pixels; nearly double that of comparable 1,366x768 displays. All those extra picture elements do indeed deliver more detail to the screen, but whether that detail makes it to your eyes is another matter. In the real world, with a screen this size, you have to sit pretty close to tell the difference between 1080p and 1366x768. The Sharp LC-37D40U has the lower resolution, for example, and at the time of this writing it costs about $800 less than its 1080p brother. Most buyers won't feel the LC-37D90U is worth the difference, but it's still one of the best-performing LCD TVs available today. The Sharp LC-37D90U looks like any other Aquos LCD: darned attractive. Its finish is called Titanium by the company, and in person it looks like silver with a little gold mixed in. The top edge has a burnished metal accent running the width of the panel, and at the bottom, you'll find a long, detachable speaker. Edging the screen on all four sides is an inch-wide black frame, which helps set off the onscreen image.
Orienting the speakers below the screen as opposed to placing them to the sides saves some width. The LC-37D90U measures 36.6 by 28.7 by 12.1 inches (WHD) atop the removable swivel stand, and weighs 62.9 pounds. Stripped of both speakers and the stand, the panel clocks in at 36.6 by 23 by 4.8 inches.
The remote and the menu system are the same as other Aquos sets'. The clicker has 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 used 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. The chief feature of the Sharp LC-37D90U is its high native resolution. Although models such as the Westinghouse LVM-37W1 have been out for more than a year, this is Sharp's first 37-inch LCD with 1080p resolution, which means its screen consists of an array of 1,920x1,080 pixels. All those pixels allow it to display more detail with 1080i and 1080p high-def sources--as well as high-resolution computer sources--than standard LCDs, which typically have resolutions of 1,366x768, and 37-inch plasmas, which usually have 1,024x768 resolution.
The benefits of 1080p on a relatively small screen are limited, however; it's simply easier to see the increase in detail on bigger screens unless you sit very close. In any case, you won't see more detail if you're watching 720p HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition television. As with all fixed-pixel displays, all incoming resolutions are scaled to fit the available pixels.
Aside from pixel count, the Sharp LC-37D90U has an average feature set, but we were surprised by the lack of picture-in-picture at this price. Sharp also skips the CableCard, which doesn't really bother us, but it does, of course, include an ATSC tuner. We were happy to see four aspect-ratio selections available for high-def sources, including a dot-by-dot mode. It's available only for 1080-resolution sources, it doesn't scale the image at all, and it's the mode we recommend you use to watch HD with the LC-37D90U (see Performance for more).
Sharp includes the typically extensive range of picture adjustments found on its other wide-screen Aquos models. The company 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 (optical picture control), which adjusts the TV's light output depending on how much ambient light it detects, should be left off if you're taking time to adjust the picture to your taste. 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.
Around back, we found ample inputs of the digital variety, but you may be disappointed if you have a lot of analog sources that you want to connect directly to the LC-37D90U. There are two HDMI inputs, both of which can accept 1080p sources, and one DVI input, which can also handle resolutions as high as 1,920x1,080. You can also use this jack connect a PC that has a standard VGA-style analog output by using an RGB-to-DVI cable, but the maximum resolution will be limited to 1,280x1,024. Sharp does include a pair of IEEE-1394 (a.k.a. i.Link) ports. They can connect to so-equipped D-VHS decks, hard-disk recorders, high-def (HDV) camcorders, and some set-top boxes; the manual also mentions connections to Blu-ray disc recorders, but they aren't available in the United States yet. We did not test the i.Link connections.
The Sharp LC-37D90U lacks side-panel inputs, so there are only two input slots available for external analog devices. One slot makes you choose between component-video or composite video; the second between S-Video or composite video. Rounding out the jack pack is a pair of screw-type RF antenna connections for digital and analog cable and over-the-air TV, an optical digital output for over-the-air digital soundtracks, an analog audio output, and an RS-232 connection for use with custom installations. The Sharp LC-37D90U is undoubtedly one of the best-performing flat-panel LCDs we've ever tested. It's capable of delivering a highly detailed, extremely clean image with deep blacks and relatively accurate color, although to see the benefits of its 1080p resolution, you'll need an excellent source and a seat close to the screen.