Sharp 56DR650 DLP HDTV
Someone at Sharp noticed a gap. They make all sorts of flat-panel LCD units, from dinner-plate size to plasma size. Then they have two DLP projectors that handle the huge-screen market. (In fact, we gave the XV-Z12000 our Best Overall Projector RAVE Award for last year in our May 2005 issue.) But there's this gap, you see, above 45 inches for flat panels and below 80 or so inches for front projectors. What to do? How about rear projection?
Using DLP, Sharp has come up with two new rear-projection sets to fill in the gap between their flat panels and their front-projection displays. The model pictured here, at 56 inches, is a great size for most rooms. If you have a bigger room, or a bigger appetite for screen inches, there's also a 65-inch model.
Both rear pros use the 0.55-inch 720p HD3 DMD chip from TI. This chip is quite interesting, as its actual resolution (that is, the number of micromirrors on the chip) is 640 by 720. An additional large mirror vibrates, shifting the image back and forth slightly, which allows each micromirror to address two horizontally adjacent pixels on the screen. The result is a 1,280-by-720 image. The benefit of such a chip is that it's smaller, which means it's cheaper, which means you end up with a cheaper display. Hewlett-Packard created this technology, which they call "wobulation." (TI calls it SmoothPicture.) Since I heard about this chip, I've been curious to see how it performs. Does it make the screen wobble? Does it produce new artifacts? If I put a glass with ice, tequila, and mix on the display, will it blend me a margarita? Questions, questions, questions.
At first glance, you could easily confuse the 56DR650 with one of Sharp's LCD panels. In the space below the screen, speakers are hidden behind a plastic mesh. Since the mesh covers essentially the entire space below the screen, it breaks up what would otherwise have just been the obvious front of a rear pro. This, coupled with the elegant stand, helps make the 56DR650 one of the most attractive rear-projection sets I can remember.
The remote is one you've seen 100 times before if you're a regular reader of HT. Although it normally comes with receivers and pre/pros, it works great as a TV remote, as well. Direct-input access buttons and a blue backlight go a long way toward making a good remote. The TV's menus are DOS-esque, three-color jobs that don't look very cool, but they get the job done.
Light in the Dark
Amazingly, the TV is not as bright as I expected. After a run of displays that measured more than 100 foot-lamberts, it was a welcome change to get only 83 ft-L from the Sharp. It's bright enough to see fine in a well-lit room and not fatiguing to watch for a long period of time in a dark room. You really don't need any more light than this. Since it doesn't have a screaming light output, the 56DR650 also has a pretty low black level. The 0.08 ft-L I measured on a full-black screen is better than most LCD flat panels and better than all two of the rear-projection sets we've tested since we started measuring displays' contrast ratios. With regular video material, it looks punchy and has a good black level. With letterboxed material, when you really notice the black bars, it looks OK. It's not quite as dark as a good front projector or a dark plasma, but the bars are far less noticeable than they are with most other RPTVs, LCD panels, and some of the high-black-level plasmas. There was some loss of detail in the darkest blacks, but it wasn't a lot.
With Master and Commander, on the other hand, the black level was all too apparent. The dark, below-deck scenes at the beginning of the movie are a dark gray. Worse, when the screen is mostly dark, I saw occasional, small reflections from the inside of the cabinet. It's dim enough that you can only see it when that part of the screen is totally dark.
The 56DR650's processor picked up the 3:2 sequence on both test patterns and actual video material very quickly. All in all, it deinterlaces very well. It also processes video well, as evidenced by how it handled the waving flag on the Video Essentials DVD. There were barely noticeable jagged edges on the flag. From a normal viewing distance, I couldn't even see them. This display also scales nicely. When scaling a DVD, the picture is very detailed. Still, there was some increase in apparent detail when I used a good scaling DVD player.
Gradations from light to dark are fairly smooth, with some noise present, especially in the low end. This noise was especially visible in chapter 5 of The Fifth Element. While Bruce Willis' character was sitting on his bed rubbing his face, a strange shadow appeared along his jaw and neck. It looked like a quantization error. There is a shot on Video Essentials of a young man sorting vegetables (or something). I saw the same problem here. These artifacts pretty much disappeared after I carefully set the brightness levels. The 56DR650 made this difficult, though, as it ignores "below-black" info. So, no matter what your DVD player is capable of, you're not going to see PLUGE. When I switched to the Bravo D2 using the HDMI input, the artifact went away. (It was still visible with different DVD players using the analog inputs.)
HD looked really good. Thanks to a decent contrast ratio, the black level seems deep when the scene is brightly lit and only portions are dark. These types of scenes are the 56DR650's strong suit. Color was a little rich but very watchable. While there was plenty of detail, it wasn't as sharp (no pun) as other TVs I've seen in this size, but only by a small amount. Disappointingly, the 56DR650 doesn't have an aspect-ratio control for HD sources.
As the Color Wheel Turns
The tuner has a slightly faster-than-average channel scan. Its sensitivity is about average. With an inexpensive indoor antenna, it tuned in most of the stations in the Los Angeles area, but not all. There were periodic breakups (although that could have been in the content of the crappy daytime TV I was watching). I used an inexpensive indoor antenna, because, if I used our big outdoor antenna, every tuner would get every channel. Keep in mind that your reception will vary. The 56DR650 switches between channels pretty fast, as well.
My concerns about the new TI chip seem to be unfounded. I didn't see any artifacts that I could trace to the horizontal interlacing of pixels. While the 56DR650 didn't have quite the detail of some other 720p RPTVs (although it was close), I can't conclusively trace that back to the chip. No, the picture didn't wobble. Unless someone told you, you'd never be able to tell that there weren't 1,280 by 720 micromirrors on the chip. And, no, it didn't make me a margarita. I mean, come on, let's be realistic here. Like I would waste perfectly good tequila by diluting it in a mixed drink.
Although it requires careful setup (to avoid that weird shadow artifact), there is a lot to like about the Sharp 56DR650, not the least of which is its price. For an MSRP of $3,300, you get a 56-inch display with great processing and a decent contrast ratio (for an RPTV). This makes for a very watchable image. Add in a beautiful cabinet, and you've got one impressive TV that can hold its own with Sharp's stable of LCD and DLP displays.
• Beautiful cabinet design
• Decent black level for a non-CRT RPTV