Sharp's Leader of the LCD Pack

Got $11,000 to drop on a TV? You won't find a bigger screen and better resolution than that offered by the Aquos LC-65D90U

In the high-definition television market, screen size and picture resolution are the two main components of an ongoing arms race among the top manufacturers. One of the earliest pioneers of the liquid-crystal display TV segment, Sharp, now enjoys the lead on both fronts with its Sharp Aquos LC-65D90U (though Samsung and LG recently announced LCD panels that will wrest the crown away in 2007).

One of the first things you notice about Sharp's 160-pound, 65-inch LCD is its gargantuan price, with a suggested retail price of about $11,000 (online retailers sell it for an average price of $10,000). With the outsize price, you get a gigantic screen meant for viewing in very large rooms and 1080 progressive resolution—the pinnacle of today's high-definition standards. Next-generation DVD players, both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, look best when viewed on 1080p sets.

The Aquos delivers impressive picture quality for such a large LCD. While many of the key differences between plasma and LCD sets have been quickly addressed by manufacturers, the Achilles' heel of LCDs has been the pixellation, or fast-motion blurring, that occurs in action scenes and scene changes. While Sharp could not entirely eliminate this problem in the new set, it occurs much less frequently than I've seen in the past. For the geeks out there, the response time offered is 6 milliseconds.

Time for an Updated Remote

And while I've faulted Sharp's color palette in the past for being far more muted than Sony's (SNE)" primary="true" />) or Samsung's, the reds and blues were amazingly vivid right out of the box, without calibration, thanks to a new technology the company calls 4-Wavelength Backlight System. Greens and earth tones still were slightly off the mark, but the set offers advanced adjustments of six color hues, saturation, and image value for the professional installer.

Most important, the image processor did a nice job of improving standard broadcasts that look lousy on big-screen HD sets. While such pictures still look grainy, they weren't as bad as I would have expected with the large-screen real estate.

Sharp's elongated remote hasn't changed much over the last few years. While it's well-designed for universal control of DVD players and the like, it should be updated to better-serve the set itself. In particular, there's no dedicated buttons for each of the inputs, meaning if you have a lot of devices connected, you typically have to press three buttons to cycle from one peripheral to another (a flashback button lets you flip quickly, if you only use two connections).

Aiming for a True Home Theater

Sharp offers fairly generous connectivity options, including a built-in digital and analog over-the-air broadcast tuner; two component, three composite, and one S-video connection, as well as two Firewire connectors to watch pictures directly from a digital camera or camcorder with similar connections or attach a HD video-recorder.

The set offers bottom-mounted 10-watt speakers, which most people are likely to ignore. A digital audio connector on the back lets you plug into 5.1 channel stereo systems for a true home theater experience.

One major disappointment in my book is the set's sole high-definition multimedia interface, or HDMI, link that connects uncompressed HD audio and video via a single cable to the set. With many manufacturers offering new audio-visual equipment that connects via HDMI, including the upcoming PlayStation 3, I've been recommending sets that offer at least two HDMI inputs. Companies such as Gefen sell four-port HDMI switchers, but that will set you back another $350.

Try Disabling the TV Guide Software

Sharp does include a digital video interface, or DVI, input that can be used for high-definition products, but you would need a separate audio connector that adds unnecessary clutter. For such an expensive set, the sole HDMI connection smacks of nickel-and-diming the customer.

Another curious omission is picture-in-picture functionality. For many high-end sets, this feature has become almost standard. On a screen as large as the Aquos', splitting the picture would still deliver images larger than most people get on a single screen.

My final quibble is with the included TV Guide software that many manufacturers are installing to accompany CableCard functionality. That lets a cable customer get rid of their cable box by using an access card plugged directly into the set to decode digital programming. Because CableCards currently provide only one-way inbound access, the downside is you cannot get the provider's guide programming or order pay-per-view.

Not for Everyday Use

Set manufacturers have added the TV Guide to address customer concerns, but there's no way to disable it in the Sharp set, and it appears automatically each time you turn on the set and requires an extra button press to get rid of it—an annoying problem if you are a DirecTV or Dish Network customer, or if you simply want to watch a DVD.

That said, this is not likely to be a set for everyday use in the kitchen or bedroom. This is for the home theater, through and through. I found myself firing it up to watch The Dukes of Hazzard, Phantom of the Opera, and other high-definition movies being offered for HD-DVD and Blu-ray players. Other times, it was mainly to impress friends and neighbors who couldn't believe its size.

Impress it does. If you've got the bucks and space to spare, this Sharp Aquos should be right up your alley.
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