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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 Juice Box 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.
Calibration the Sharp LC-46D85U took a bit more doing than on previous Sharp models that had fewer controls, but we were able to improve the picture somewhat. Unfortunately, the white balance controls weren't comprehensive enough to fix the tendency of the grayscale to become quite blue in dark areas (20 IRE and lower). Brighter areas, however, stayed close to the ideal color temperature, thanks in part to the controls we were able to adjust. We also tweaked the color management system in an attempt to improve primary and secondary colors, but we couldn't make much headway. Check out the Geek Box for more details and the bottom of this blog post for our full picture settings.
Before our formal image quality tests, we checked out the image quality impact of Sharp's power saver setting. We're happy to report that, unlike with the Philips Eco TV, the effects were subtle and didn't affect our enjoyment of program material at all. We did detect some slight variation in the backlight brightness with test patterns, but that's about it. Engaging power saving only saved a tiny bit of power, however, so videophiles might want to leave it turned off anyway. Note that we didn't test any mode that engaged the OPC room lighting sensor; as usual, we find that its automatic adjustments aren't as effective from a picture quality perspective as simply changing the picture mode manually for different lighting conditions.
For our comparison, we lined the LC-46D65U up next to a few competing 120Hz LCD models, including the Sony KDL-46W4100 and the Samsung LN52A650, as well as Sharp's own 60Hz LC-52D65U. Reference displays also included the Pioneer PRO-111FD and the Sony KDL-55XBR8. Our movie of choice this time was the spectacular Baraka on Blu-ray, delivered via the PlayStation 3.
Black level: The LC-46D85U didn't deliver as deep a shade of black as any of the other displays in the lineup, including the company's own less-expensive LC-52D65U. In dark areas, such as the starry sky wheeling above the tree at the very end, the night surrounding the eclipse in the title sequence, or the shadows around a monk lighting candles, blacks and shadows looked slightly brighter than on the D65U and a good deal brighter than on the other displays. Shadow detail, on the other hand, was relatively good; better than the other Sharp, which had a tendency to appear a bit bright in middark areas, but not at the same level as the Samsung or the reference displays.
Color accuracy: In brighter scenes, such as the "Monkey" chant, the LC85U looked more accurate and closer to the reference than its less expensive brother, and skin tones, such as those of the subway riders, again looked accurate. Our biggest complaint had to do with the bluish tinge we saw in dark areas and blacks, which was more prevalent than any of the other displays aside from the Sharp D65U, which was about the same.
Primary colors, like the lush greens of the Balinese jungles or the blue sky above a volcano, appeared relatively true, although the greens did look a tad bluer than on the reference displays. We also noticed that deep reds and yellows, like the dresses of the tribeswomen in the body adornment section, seemed somewhat too orange and pale, respectively, and not quite as vibrant or saturated as the reference displays. As usual we chalk up most of the comparative lack of saturation up to the LC-46D85U's lighter black levels.
Video processing: One advantage the LC-52D85U has over other 120Hz LCD displays we've tested is that it can achieve blur reduction without having to resort to dejudder. In terms of motion resolution, the LC-46D85U measured between 500 and 600 lines with Fine Motion Enhanced mode engaged, and the standard 300 to 400 with it turned off. The former number compares favorably with the other competing 120Hz displays in our test--Sony's KDL-46W4100 and Samsung's LN52A650--with their dejudder modes engaged. If asked to split hairs, however, we'd give the slight nod to the dejudder-equipped sets in terms of lines resolved on the test pattern. Of course, turning off dejudder on those sets, which we prefer to do especially with film-based material, drops motion resolution down into the standard 300 to 400 range again.
We found it almost impossible to detect any real-world difference in blurriness (as opposed to differences brought out in test material) between, in this case, the 120Hz D85U and the 60Hz D65U. Then again, we couldn't see any disadvantage to FME, so we'd recommend leaving it on.
We also checked out how the D85U handled 1080p/24 sources, and the results were as good as we've seen on other 120Hz displays. We switched our PS3 to 1080p/24 output, turned off the dejudder processing on the Samsung and Sony LCDs, and compared them all using some of our favorite Blu-ray scenes, such as the flyover of the aircraft carrier from I Am Legend and the pan over the workbench from Iron Man, and the D85U looked good, without any of the telltale hitching motion seen on displays that perform 2:3 pull-down. In these scenes it was impossible to tell any difference between the 120Hz displays' handling of 1080p/24 material.
The Sharp successfully resolved every line of 1080i and 1080p sources, and deinterlaced both film- and video-based sources correctly.
Uniformity: As we mentioned at the top, the LC-46D85U sample we reviewed exhibited the same kind and intensity of uneven backlight "banding" we complained about on previous Sharp models. In dark to midbright full raster patterns from our Sencore signal generator (from zero to 70 IRE, or 70 percent of available light levels) we could see evidence of horizontal and vertical bands of varying brightness. They were most obvious in dark to middark areas, but visible in all of them. We noticed the bands in lots of program material, too, but they showed up best in flat fields like the sky behind an ascending space shuttle, for example, or the gray side of a passing subway car in Baraka.
It's puzzling that the bands appeared on the D85U sample we reviewed but not on the D65U right next to it in our comparison. We can only assume banding varies from model to model within Sharp's line, and, for some reason, we got one "bad" one and one "good" one. We don't think the difference in series has anything to do with it; in other words, we don't assume all 85U models have banding while all 65U models do not. The same goes for screen size. We asked Sharp to comment on the banding, and the company said it couldn't do so by the time this review posted. If we have an update, we'll modify this review accordingly.
When see from off-angle, the Sharp's screen washed out more quickly than either the Sonys or the Samsungs, and bluish discoloration set in that was again somewhat more noticeable than on the other LCD displays.
Bright lighting: As with other matte-screen LCDs, the Sharp LC-46D85U performed well in a bright lighting environment. It showed dimmer reflections from in-room lighting sources than either the Samsung LCD or the plasmas, although it didn't maintain black levels as well as the Samsung. Compared with the matte-screened Sonys, it seemed to reduce reflections even more effectively, although the difference would probably be difficult to discern outside of a side-by-side comparison.
Standard-definition: The LC-46D85U performed below average with standard-definition material from the HQV test disc. It resolved every line of the DVD format, although the detail shot, which includes the grass and the stone bridge, appeared relatively soft. It did a worse job reducing jaggies in moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag than most displays we've tested recently, although its three strengths of noise reduction performed well when asked to clean up difficult, low-quality shots of skies, flowers, and sunsets. Finally its film mode kicked in quickly to provide proper 2:3 pull-down detection.
PC: Unlike most 1080p LCDs, the Sharp LC-46D85U isn't that adept with PC sources delivered via VGA. The manual states that the highest resolution the TV can accept via analog is 1,600x1,200. In our tests, that resolution worked OK, except that it didn't fill the screen. The highest resolution that did was 1,360x768, which looked even worse than we expected, with blocky lines and, in the 10-point font size, rendered text basically illegible. Via HDMI the Sharp performed as well as we expect of any 1080p LCD, delivering every line of a 1,920x1,080 source with great-looking text and no overscan. We did detect a bit of edge enhancement that we couldn't eliminate without softening the image, but it was minor.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7375/6695||Average|
|After color temp||7140/6493||Poor|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 366||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 168||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.627/0.336||Average|
|Color of green||0.265/0.588||Average|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.063||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Sharp LC-46D85U||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||182.32||122.97||170.86|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.2||0.14||0.19|
|Cost per year||$56.43||$38.06||$52.88|
|Score (considering size)||Good|