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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.
In sum, the Sharp LC-52D64U performs about as well as previous larger Sharp LCDs we've tested, delivering excellent black-level performance and good standard-def picture quality, but evincing the same "banding" we've seen before. That issue alone is enough to keep it out of the top tier of LCDs.
During setup we followed our standard procedure to adjust the TV's user settings for best performance in our completely dark theater. Attenuating light output to a comfortable yet dynamic 40 ftl was first on the agenda, which as usual involved backing down the backlight control quite a bit. We also chose the Low color temperature preset, which actually came fairly close to the D6500 standard (previous Sharps have been worse), although it was minus-green overall and got quite blue in shadows. Of course we'd like the ability to further fine-tune the color temperature, especially for dark areas, but the Sharp's user-menu controls don't allow that.
During setup we also attempted to coax an improvement out of the Sharp's primary colors, which were relatively close to the HDTV standard to begin with, using the CMS (color management system). Green was the least accurate of the three, as shown on the Geek Box below, so we started there. Unfortunately every adjustment we made caused compromises elsewhere--although we did end up with a very small improvement in green. We had better luck with the secondary colors, especially yellow and magenta, which we were able to get much closer to the standard. Only the Hue section of the CMS seemed to have a positive impact, so we left the other section, Saturation, at its default settings. For our complete user-menu settings, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section above.
For our comparison we set the LC-52D64U up next to a few competing HDTVs, including the Toshiba 52LX177 and the Vizio GV52LF, both 52-inch LCDs, and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD, a 50-inch plasma. We watched The Bourne Supremacy via the Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player at 1080i resolution.
The opening of Bourne in Jason's Goa apartment and especially the porch outside includes some of our favorite dark-scene demo material, and the Sharp outclassed the other two LCDs at showing it. The shadows behind Matt Damon were deeper and more true-to-life, and shadow detail was quite good. We could make out the plucked eyebrow of Franka Potente and the glint of her shadowed eye, but the rise from black to brighter areas wasn't as gradual or realistic as that of the Pioneer--which, of course, also produced a noticeably deeper shade of black than any of the LCDs. We also noticed that shadowy areas, like Damon's half-lit face, appeared a bit bluer, a result of the Sharp's less-accurate color temperature near black. Dark areas were quite clean and free of noise, however.
Bright areas, as usual, brought out the best in this LCD, and the colors during Franka's shopping trip in the Goa market looked vibrant and relatively realistic. We had to back down saturation to make skin tones more accurate, which did rob some impact from the colors, but it was worth the sacrifice to get the red out of her skin, for example. The Sharp did deliver the most accurate primary colors in the room, which came across in the natural greens of the market vegetables and spot-on reds of the pinwheels.
Given our experiences with previous Sharp LCDs, namely the LC-52D92U and the LC-46D62U, we paid particular attention to the LC-52D64U's uniformity across the screen. In short, it seemed to exhibit the same problems as those other sets. Starting with full-raster test patters consisting of fields ranging from black through gray to white, we saw faint vertical and horizontal irregularities that were most-visible in dark-gray and mid-dark tones (5-30 IRE). In program material, we noticed these bands most during camera movement. They showed up in the sky during a pan over the beach in Bourne, for example, and again while watching the U.S. Open, where we saw faint horizontal bands in the blue backdrop behind the players as the camera followed them. Another example came during the shuttle liftoff sequence from Digital Video Essentials on HD DVD, where the white clouds and blue sky behind the ascending spacecraft evinced bands along both axes, especially a darker horizontal band near the top of the screen.
None of the other sets in the room showed uniformity issues to this extent, and while the Vizio did have comparatively minor vertical bands of slightly varying brightness, they only really showed up on the test patterns, not program material. We've been told by Sharp and we've seen reports by users online that some big Sharp panels don't suffer from this kind of banding, which supposedly varies from sample to sample. As far as we're concerned, however, the three we've been sent are evidence enough that uniformity is still a big issue for large-screen Sharp LCDs.
When seen from off-angle the banding became more visible, but overall the Sharp's picture stayed truer and less washed-out from the sides and top and bottom than either the Toshiba or the Vizio LCD. The LC-52D64U also has a somewhat shinier screen than many LCDs, so it reflected a bit more room lighting than the Vizio or the Toshiba, but its screen was still less reflective than the Pioneer.
HD video processing on the LC-52D64U was better than we expected. With the Film Mode setting engaged, the set succeeded in properly deinterlacing 1080i content for display on the 1080p screen, passing both the video- and film-loss resolution tests from HQV--few HDTVs we've tested can pass the film-loss test. Toggling between the two settings for Film Motion we noticed very slightly more flicker in some areas of the film-loss pattern, so we recommend leaving this function in Off mode. We couldn't really detect a difference between the Fast and Slow I/P Setting modes, so we left it on the default "Slow."
We also checked out the effects of the I/P setting and Film Motion modes when watching tennis, and honestly it was impossible to see the difference between the two--the quick-moving yellow ball appeared the same regardless of which setting we chose. The car chase from Bourne was the same story, with its frenetic camera movement and quick zooms. We also paid close attention to the 120Hz Toshiba in comparison to the standard 60Hz Sharp, watching tennis, football, and NASCAR, and couldn't really point to any motion blur on the Sharp--again regardless of which video processing mode we chose. The ticker from ESPNHD, our most consistent real-world indicator of motion blur so far, looked equally sharp on both sets, and noticeably softer on the Vizio when we compared them side-by-side.
The Sharp's standard-def performance was as good as any large 1080p HDTV we've tested recently. It resolved every line from the DVD, and the shot of the stone bridge with passing cars appeared well-detailed, too. Moving diagonal lines of evinced mostly smooth edges, and the shot of the waving American flag likewise looked relatively smooth and realistic. The Sharp has two noise reduction levels, and we found that High especially helped clean up the disc's noisiest shots of skies and sunsets quite well. The set engaged 2:3 pulldown processing quickly and effectively.
When fed PC sources the Sharp LC-52D64U performed much better via its HDMI input, connected from a DVI output of our PC, than it did via its VGA input. With the digital HDMI connection the set resolved every detail of a 1,920x1,080 source according to DisplayMate, text looked perfectly crisp, and there was no overscan. Conversely, via VGA we saw the best results by setting our graphics card to 1,280x1,024 resolution, and even then text looked soft and the 43 image didn't fill the Sharp's wide screen perfectly. We tried 1,360x768, the highest wide-screen resolution the set would accept, but text was nearly illegible, and the desktop was overscanned quite a bit. In short, if you're using a computer with this TV, be prepared to monopolize one of the HDMI inputs.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6715/6419K||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 162K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.643/0.325||Good|
|Color of green||0.259/0.593||Average|
|Color of blue||0.143/0.062||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Sharp LC-52D64U||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||280.22||142.32||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.24||0.12||N/A|
|Cost per year||$85.29||$43.41||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Good|