The Good: Deep blacks; good color reproduction; plentiful input options
The Bad: Contrast suffers; speaker must be attached; relatively pricey
The Bottom Line: A well-rounded, full high-definition set that stands out from most of the competition
It's a rare feat to deliver a product with just a few flaws in the hypercompetitive world of high-end TVs—a blur of new software and hardware that manufacturers rush to market in hopes of standing apart. That's why I've got to give Sharp credit for its new LC-52D92U. There was very little I didn't like about this stylish 52-in. liquid-crystal display TV. Of course, you'll pay a pretty penny for its charms: The Sharp set sells for between $3,100 and $4,000, well above similarly sized plasmas that can be found for less than $2,000.
In the past year, Sharp has consistently upped the ante as it battles Sony (SNE) and Samsung for the top spot in this growing segment. With the LC-52D92U, it shows. The set offers stunning, very deep blacks and decent color reproduction right out of the box, even before you tweak any settings.
It's a nice-looking set, too. The framing around the screen has a glossy black finish with silver accents at the bezel, lending it a subtle air of sophistication. The screen itself is also a lustrous black, which helps filter the glare from surrounding light that can spoil certain viewing angles. My only gripe with the aesthetics involves a long speaker that attaches to the bottom of the screen. Even if you hook the TV up to an external stereo system, you'll still want to attach this speaker to the bottom of the screen since it hides a rather ugly part of the base.
Trouble in Black and White
Cosmetics aside, the 52D92U delivered high-definition images the way they were meant to be seen—with such realism that you are practically drawn into the picture. I watched high-definition DVDs in the high-resolution 1080 progressive mode on both a Samsung Blu-ray player and Toshiba's HD-XA2 player (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/31/06, "Cool Player, Tepid DVDs," and 3/1/07, "Toshiba's Sleek, Pricey HD-XA2"). During the breathtaking cave scenes in BBC's Planet Earth series, my skin crawled as thousands of cockroaches swarmed over the carcass of a bat. Even though the Sharp TV's frame refresh rate was faster than that of the actual video—a common problem with 1080p—I couldn't find much in the way of the artifacts that usually mar a picture's edge.
That's not to say there weren't issues. The biggest was that in cranking up black levels, you lose contrast at the other end of the spectrum. That means the whitest whites don't show up, and the overall picture is a bit darker than in previous models.
But even the often-grainy images from Comcast's (CCT) analog cable channels were more palatable on Sharp's set, which still processes the feed in its native 1,900 by 1080 resolution, or full HD. There were occasional jagged lines in some moving images, but it still performed better than other sets I've tested. Indeed, the Sharp model sports the new 120-hertz data refresh rate being adopted by many of the top LCD makers to eliminate the motion-blur common to such sets.
Changing Its Stripes
The only odd incident in my weeks of testing came while watching Bravo's Top Chef. The set was hooked up to TiVo's (TIVO) Series 3 HD cable unit (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/11/07, "A New Fix for the TiVo Fan"), and the picture suddenly starting pushing a squiggly red line across the screen. It went away when I changed to other channels, however, and did not reappear on a subsequent evening when I tuned in to Bravo again.
This TV did not suffer from a major issue that marred an otherwise stellar lower-end HD set that Sharp introduced last year. Many early high-definition TVs had issues with irregular dark stripes running either horizontally or vertically through the picture. I could find no evidence the problem persists in this latest generation from Sharp. I also checked out the set in a few electronics stores, and couldn't see any banding on those displays either.
Ambient Light Sensor
As I mentioned, the overall picture quality was quite good, and required little adjustment out of the box. Still, there are plenty of options for the videophile who likes tinkering, including five preset configurations for color temperature. There are dedicated modes for watching movies, playing games, and more, as well as a "user mode" that lets you fine-tune everything from tint and picture sharpness to contrast and brightness.
As with other Sharp sets, this one features an ambient light sensor that can automatically adjust the monitor's brightness to suit a room's lighting. While a neat option, this feature should generally be turned off with this model since the picture already veers toward the dark side, even in well-lit rooms.
Sharp's remote fits nicely in your hand, though the layout of certain buttons remains a problem. For example, it's hard to change quickly between those dedicated picture modes because you have to flip open a hatch. And while many programs now come in the 16:9 wide-screen aspect ratio, the button for viewing traditional TV in the 3:2 ratio format is tucked in among the many at the top.
Can't Reach Those Buttons
Fortunately, the set doesn't skimp on connectivity choices. Like nearly all sets nowadays, you can connect an antenna to the back to tune in any local stations offering digital broadcasts. There also are three high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) inputs, two component inputs, and both composite and S-video slots. There's also a digital video interface (DVI) slot for playing video and other media stored on a personal computer, as well as digital and analog audio outputs.
Other minor gripes: You won't get the picture-in-picture feature common to other high-end sets. And as with other Sharp TVs, the on/off and volume buttons are located on the top surface of the set, which can be hard to see or reach if the display is mounted on the wall. The consumer would be better-served if these buttons were moved to the side of the set toward the bottom, where they'd be within arm's reach, but out of sight.
Overlooking those quibbles, the Sharp LC-52D92U would have a place of pride in my home.