Sharp LC-B2U review: Sharp LC-B2U

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The Good Slim, stylish design; component-video input; 3D-YC comb filter; 170-degree viewing angle.

The Bad Expensive; can't reproduce deep, detailed blacks; insufficient resolution for wide-screen DVDs.

The Bottom Line This flat-screen LCD solves the problem of large, bulky TV boxes, but for most viewers, its price will be a bigger issue.

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6.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

Sharp, a leader in LCD technology, has jumped into the lifestyle-television game with a line of thin-screen sets that is clearly the wave of the future. The company's 20-inch version, the Aquos LC-20B2U, is currently one of the larger models available. Even so, it's designed to be more of a bedroom or office set than Sharp's smaller Aquos TVs, such as the LC-15B2U and the LC-13B2U, which work better in kitchens or bathrooms. While online merchants routinely charge less than half of the LC-20B2U's $3,299 list price, we can't say that this flat-panel set is a bargain, particularly considering its middling resolution and black-level performance. But if you don't demand the ultimate in picture quality and have the money to burn, there's no denying this set's space-saving, stylish design. Weighing 18.5 pounds and measuring a mere 3 inches deep, the LC-20B2U enjoys a modern look that begs for a spot on the wall. The pattern of holes concealing the left and right speakers creates a unique flourish, and the matte-silver frame curves outward like a wave. The whole set looks more like a framed video painting than a TV. No buttons clutter the unit's front; instead, a full complement of manual controls--including buttons for power, menu, input, volume, and channel--runs along the top-right edge.

The Aquos LC-20B2U comes ready for tabletop use, complete with a silver, boomerang-footed pedestal base that adds even more personality. The base can tilt forward 5 degrees, backward up to 10 degrees, and horizontally up to 50 degrees. The mounting bracket offers a grab-and-go handle, which gives the impression of a portable, move-with-my-modern-lifestyle TV.

The overdesigned remote is shaped like a large Y but looks more like a paddle for some new game console. It is very lightweight and has the minimum number of needed controls, but it could have been made much smaller.

Unlike regular TVs, this Aquos has back panels to hide the usual knot of wires, allowing the set to sit in the open--away from a wall--and still maintain its clean look. The LC-20B2U also has a big, external AC adapter in place of most TVs' simple power cords. With its 640x480-pixel resolution, the LC-20B2U has plenty of pixels for regular TV--including cable, satellite, and VHS sources--but it can't show every detail of wide-screen DVDs. It also won't accept progressive-scan DVD or HDTV signals. Nope, this space-age set is designed for standard TV, and like other Aquos models, it includes a built-in, cable-ready tuner.

Although you won't find conveniences such as a picture-in-picture mode or a fancy audio system (you get two miniature speakers driven by 2.5 watts of power each), Sharp does throw in some extras. For example, there's a Bright button with three presets to adjust the TV for varying ambient-light conditions. The company describes the Bright preset as "maximum" and suitable for bright rooms; Normal as 60 percent of maximum; and Dark as 20 percent of maximum, for use in dimly lit environments such as a home theater.

This set allows the image to be inverted upside down or flipped for a mirror image. The Aquos also performs overseas. Its standard, RF coaxial input--for antenna, satellite, or cable--works with NTSC 358 in the United States, PAL-M in Brazil, and PAL-N in Uruguay. The composite-video and S-Video inputs encompass N358, N443, PAL, PAL-M, PAL-N, SECAM, and PAL-60. Alas, if you plug your A/V source into the component input, compatibility is for NTSC and PAL only.

Around back, you'll find inputs for composite video (two), S-Video, RF, and component video. This Sharp lacks a VGA input for computer signals and the ability to accept progressive-scan DVD and HDTV. We found the Aquos's picture to be a sort of a Jekyll-and-Hyde story. It looked sharp and clear during bright scenes but lacked detail and seemed too blue in darker passages. After we measured color and light output, our suspicions were confirmed: the picture came close to the NTSC color-temperature standard while showing bright scenes but registered as overly blue during darker sections.

The maximum Bright setting delivers extremely high light output--far above the norm for TV viewing--but the set showed no distortion. The product literature boasts that you can place the LC-20B2U in front of a sunny window and still have a strong picture, and that's likely true. The Dark setting showed the truest grayscale but was far too dark for watching anything, even in a darkened room. We found the Normal setting to be the best compromise, even though it was overly blue at low light.

The color decoder looked about average; yellow was a bit on the green side, and though the red was inconsistent, it wasn't overpowering, as we've seen from other sets. We turned this TV's sharpness all the way down, which noticeably cleaned up the edges on visual lines. As is the case with LCD technology, convergence was perfect. On DVD material, the effect was obvious: This Aquos delivers a clear, vivid image. Edges are squeaky-clean, making the picture seem to pop out from the screen.

We watched Insomnia and found that the grays of the Alaskan landscape were detailed and realistic, as were the skin tones--no unnaturally rosy cheeks on the actors. In the restaurant scene when Pacino and Martin Donovan have a falling out, we noticed this set's two major weaknesses: A loss of detail in low-lit scenes and blacks that are not truly black. Donovan is wearing a brown sports coat with a fine, gold line running through it; on the LC-20B2U, this detail is indistinguishable.

In the Kennedy-room scene from Mars Attacks!, Martin Short tries to seduce a martian in a room lit mostly by light from a fish tank. On the Sharp, the black letterbox bars actually appeared to be a lighter, purplish-brown than the onscreen image. This set couldn't handle details of the animal-print bedspread and the carpet pattern, due to both its difficulty creating true black and its 640x480 resolution. Mars Attacks! is also full of more vibrant scenes with richly saturated, over-the-top color. The Aquos handled these portions of the film well, creating a bright, enjoyable image.