When we reviewed the LC-46D62U, we were surprised by a couple of its picture-quality characteristics. It managed to display a deeper shade of black--an important ingredient in HDTV performance--than any other display we'd tested yet. Unfortunately, its screen was pretty uneven from one area to the next. The new model, the 52-inch LC-52D92U, has basically the same characteristics. This higher-end set does offer excellent connectivity, slick styling, a well-rounded feature package, and plenty of commendable picture-quality attributes, including those same inky blacks. Unfortunately we just can't overlook its uneven uniformity, especially in an HDTV this expensive.
Sharp has always made eye-catching LCD televisions, and in our opinion the look of the LC-D92U series is one of its best efforts yet. A glossy black frame of middling thickness--two inches wide on the sides and 1.5 inches on the top and bottom--is bordered above and below by a rounded, off-black strip. The subtle chrome accents on either side of the panel are not visible from the front but, along with the glossy plastic and matching stand, they lend the LC-52D92U a sophisticated, jewel-like appearance that certainly befits its high price. The frame's only adornments are indicator lights and a tiny Dolby Digital logo on the lower right, the Sharp logo on the lower bottom, and a subtle Aquos logo on the upper left.
Just when we thought we'd seen everything in flat-panel design, Sharp springs a small surprise with its newfangled speaker. It's basically a very slim bar that when attached to the panel extends a mere inch below. The classy cloth grille is in low-key black and further deflects attention by being mounted about an inch back from the main frame itself, almost hidden by the bulk of the panel. With the speaker and stand attached, the LC-52D92U measures approximately 50.2x34.4x12.2 inches and weighs 92.6 pounds. Sans speaker and stand, its dimensions shrink to 50.2x30.6x4.9 and its weight to 71.7 pounds.
Sharp's been using the same remote for years, and the LC-52D92U continues the tradition. It has full orange backlighting, the ability to command four other pieces of gear, keys that are nicely spread out and differentiated well, and a generally logical button layout. We say "generally" because the key to control 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-52D92U 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-definition TV, are scaled to fit the pixels. Sharp also adds a 120Hz frame rate conversion mode to the spec sheet, which is not the same as a true 120 Hz refresh rate (we mistakenly thought it was for the initial publication of this review). We'll deal with its effects in the Performance section below.
Control over the picture is one of the most important items on an HDTV's features list, as far as we're concerned, and the LC-52D92U 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 Warm option coming closest to the standard. There's also a control for black level (low and high), which we left in the Off position because that setting delivered better shadow detail than did the On position; a setting labeled "fine motion advanced" that we left on since it supposedly reduced blurring in motion; and a film mode setting that engages 2:3 pull-down detection.
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. That's all well and good, but for critical performance testing we left it off because in our completely darkened theater, OPC capped light output at a very dim 12FTL. That's actually the standard for a movie theater but we consider 35 to 40FTL ideal for testing because it increases the contrast ratio--adding more pop--without becoming blinding or washing out dark areas of the picture.
Aspect ratio control on the LC-52D62U 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. There are also four aspect ratio choices available with standard-definition.
In terms of conveniences, Sharp throws in the requisite ATSC tuner although the company skipped putting a CableCard slot on this model. People who like to watch two images at once will lament the omission of a picture-in-picture view, which is extremely common among high-end HDTVs. The Sharp, however, does have a freeze option.
Once area where Sharp didn't skimp is with the LC-52D92U's connectivity. The back panel is home to no less than four digital inputs: three HDMI and one DVI for PCs (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution). The DVI input can also accept analog VGA-style computer connections, albeit at just 1,280x1,024 maximum resolution. In addition, there are three dedicated analog input slots: one offering a choice of component- or composite-video; the second a choice of composite- or S-Video; and the third component-video only. The LC-52D92U also has one RF-style input for an antenna or a cable; an optical digital-audio output; a standard analog output; and an RS-323 port for interfacing with custom control systems. Sharp left out easy-access side-panel inputs though.
The picture quality of the Sharp LC-52D92U was mostly solid with one glaring exception. On one hand it delivered the darkest shade of black any flat-panel display we've tested yet, LCD or plasma models including the former champ, Sharp's own LC-46D62U. On the other, it evinced the same uniformity problems that plagued its predecessor. While we liked a lot of things about its picture, we found it hard to forgive the uneven uniformity, and wouldn't recommend the LC-52D92U to sharp-eyed videophiles.
As always we began by setting up the Sharp in a completely dark room and adjusting its picture accordingly. We set maximum light output to a comfortable 40FTL and set the brightness control to as dark as possible without sacrificing too much shadow detail. We chose the Low color temperature preset, which came fairly close to the 6500K standard (see the Geek box at the end of this review) but was minus green, meaning there wasn't enough green in the gray, and too much red and blue. We did not subject the LC-52D92U to a pro-level grayscale calibration because, in our experience, it's not worth it with Sharp sets. For a full list of our user-menu picture settings, click here or see the Tips section above.
For our main HDTV tests we always try to compare different sets side-by-side using our HDMI distribution amplifier and the same source material. In this case we checked out the Sharp alongside the Pioneer Pro-FHD1 and the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK--both 50-inch plasmas--as well as the Vizio GV47LF HDTV, a 47-inch 1080p LCD TV. We chose Black Hawk Down on Blu-ray, delivered via a Sony PlayStation3, for our source material.
As we mentioned at the top, the black levels delivered by the LC-52D92U were superb, outclassing anything in the room (including the Panasonic by a hair). The letterbox bars and black screen were the most obvious example, but shadowy areas were also darker; the recesses in the stalls and the back of the Jeep during the opening shots of Bakara Market, for example. Good black-level performance depends on more than just deep blacks, however; it also requires full shadow detail. That's where the Sharp's picture didn't appear quite as impressive as either of the plasma models. Close-ups of the dramatically lit faces during the military debriefing, for example, didn't look quite as natural on the LC-52D92U; the rise from black to light was slightly steeper, and some fine details were obscured. We could bring them back by increasing the brightness control, but that sacrificed too much depth of black and still didn't achieve as natural a look as the plasma TVs.
Colors on the Sharp LC-52D92U were mostly accurate, although we definitely missed the ability to tweak the grayscale easily. As a result, we couldn't reduce the color control to compensate--that simply desaturated the image too much--and skin tones appeared a bit too ruddy in dark areas. We also noticed that the blue of the water and sky was more intense than it should have been, again a function of the less-accurate grayscale. Otherwise, the Sharp evinced fine color decoding with no red push while primary color accuracy was about average (see the Geek box for more). The grass and brush outside of town, for example, appeared slightly bluer than they did on the Pioneer, but the difference wasn't drastic.
At the top we mentioned the LC-46D62U we reviewed last year, with its uneven uniformity across the screen, and this year's LC-52D92U has the same problem. We first noticed on a test pattern that filled the entire screen with what should have been a flat gray field; instead, there were alternating darker and lighter strips that ran vertically down the screen. There were also regular horizontal bands of light and dark that appeared to be grouped more visibly on the bottom and the top third of the screen.
Evidence of these issues was easy to spot in program material as well as test patterns. During one example, where the camera on a DiscoveryHD special follows a rocket through the sky during liftoff, we could see the faint yet clear horizontal bands across the screen, and the larger brighter and darker areas arranged vertically. Once we noticed the unevenness, it was difficult to ignore. None of these issues appeared on any of the other displays we had on hand, and they were noticeable enough to reduce the LC-52D92U's performance score.
Most LCDs have uniformity issues that manifest as irregular bright areas on dark screens (or vice versa), and the LC-52D92U we reviewed was no exception. With completely black scenes, like the void of space, a letterbox bar or just some blankness between a disc loading and the menu appearing, we saw a lighter streak angling down out of the upper-left corner.
In its favor, the LC-52D92U did do a better job than most LCDs of remaining true when seen from an off angle. The image did wash out slightly when viewed from the far right or left (or above or below), but it wasn't drastic by any means. The Sharp did not have a problem with false contouring. During a shot of Earth's atmosphere, for example, we saw distinct lines on the Panasonic and the Vizio as the blue of the atmosphere faded into the black of space, but on the Sharp and on the Pioneer plasma, the gradation was smooth without any visible lines.
The LC-52D92U also delivered excellent detail, although as usual its 1080p resolution didn't noticeably outperform the lower-resolution display--in this case the 1,366x768 Panasonic TH-50PH9UK--unless we sat closer than about 7 feet and paid very close attention to the very best 1080i and 1080p material. Test patterns revealed that in the dot-by-dot aspect ratio setting the display delivered every detail of both 1080i and 1080p formats.
We were also curious to see how the Sharp's 120Hz frame rate conversion affected the picture, and we must say the impact was nearly unnoticeable. Comparing the LC-52D62U directly to the Vizio, which has the standard 60Hz refresh rate, we didn't see any evidence of the image appearing smoother or less blurry during motion, even during the fast-paced combat scenes in Black Hawk Down. We also watched a basketball game on ESPN, and the only time when the Sharp might have looked slightly less blurry was when the camera panned quickly to follow a player's fast-break dunk, but it was really difficult to see.
We checked out the Sharp's ability to handle standard-definition signals by putting it through the HQV benchmark test via its component-video input at 480i. Overall its performance was slightly above average. It delivered the full resolution and bandwidth according to the disc's color bars pattern; detail in the stone bridge was very good; and 2:3 pull-down detection was exceedingly quick. We appreciated the LC-52D92U's excellent three-step noise-reduction control; the high mode did as good a job of reducing video "snow," in low-quality shots of skies, trees, and sunsets, for example, as any HDTV we've tested recently. The Sharp's main standard-definition weakness was in smoothing out moving diagonals and other lines; it left more jagged edges than most displays we've tested.
As a PC display, the Sharp LC-52D92U does a bang-up job with digital sources. It handled a 1,920x1,080 digital signal via its DVI input with no problem; text looked very good, although not quite as crisp as some LCDs we've seen; and according to DisplayMate's resolution patterns the Sharp delivered every detail on both the horizontal and vertical axes. The DVI input can also accept analog VGA-style signals (when used with a VGA-to-DVI cable) but it maxed out at 1,280x1,024 resolution, which came with letterbox bars to either side and looked downright fuzzy on the big screen. As long as you're using a DVI output to drive the Sharp, it makes a fine computer monitor.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6763/7218||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 577K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.654/0.319||Average|
|Color of green||0.277/0.620||Average|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.055||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|