Sharp Aquos LC-46D85U LCD HDTV
From Sharp Minds
Sharp is a prime mover and shaker in the flat-panel business. The company has been dedicated to LCD technology from the beginning of the beginning—all the way back to the earliest LCD pocket calculators.
The competition in the flat-panel business has become fierce in recent years, but Sharp has remained in the thick of it with its major investments in production capacity and cutting-edge technology. One of Sharp’s newest lines is the 85U series, which is available in two sizes: 46 and 52 inches (diagonal). Our mission here is to take a close look at the 46-inch LC-46D85U.
With its narrow black bezel and silver trim, the Sharp has a look that’s subtly different from the solid black frames that most of today’s flat-panel sets sport. The audio comes from downward-facing speakers that are located just below the bottom frame. As with most flat-panel displays, the onboard sound is adequate for non-critical viewing but little more.
The set has nine numbered video inputs, plus it has an analog RGB PC terminal, an RS-232C connection, and a USB port for service and possible firmware updates. Most of the inputs (and the audio outputs for the set’s onboard ATSC/QAM/NTSC tuners) are on the back panel. But a terminal block on the side offers easy access to one of the HDMI inputs, a composite input (plus audio), and the USB port.
There’s a full range of features here, and only a few relatively common ones are conspicuous in their absence. The Sharp doesn’t have PiP or PoP for viewing two sources at the same time, and it doesn’t let you view your own photos and/or videos directly from a flash drive or other USB source. However, the set is compatible with both the new (but as yet rarely used) x.v.Color) and Deep Color.
The programmable, backlit remote control can operate the TV and four other components. It also offers Aquos Link, Sharp’s name for the generic HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) protocol. Using HDMI CEC, a set’s remote can interactively control compatible equipment that’s linked together via HDMI. I did not test this feature.
The Sharp has the usual range of preset A/V modes. With the exception of the Dynamic (fixed) mode, they are all user adjustable. You can assign any of these modes to any number of inputs, but the User mode is the only one that can have unique settings for each input you assign it to.
In addition to the usual video controls, the set has an assortment of specialized adjustments, some that are useful, others that are not. The Optical Picture Control (OPC) adjusts the image according to the ambient light in the room. The color-management system (CMS) offers Hue and Saturation controls for all six primary (red, green, blue) and secondary (cyan, magenta, and yellow) colors for adjusting the set’s color gamut. (For more information on color gamuts, see this month’s Gear Works column on page 30.)
You can individually fine-tune the five fixed Color Temperature settings using the Red, Green, and Blue Gain adjustments in the user menu. While I found these controls sufficient to perform a respectable calibration, the Sharp also supplies a full set of high and low controls in a code-locked service menu.
The set has an Active Contrast control, which I left off. For me, the “improvement” it produced was a mixed blessing. For more on this, see “Grayness Falls,” a bit further on.
As with many new LCD sets, the LC-46D85U operates at a native refresh rate of 120 hertz. Sharp’s Fine Motion Enhanced feature is designed to make use of this higher refresh rate to reduce motion blur, which is a common problem with LCD sets (though less so now than in the past). It adds new, interpolated frames to the source frames to smooth the motion and bring the refresh rate up to the panel’s native 120 Hz. Fine Motion Enhanced cannot be used with 1080p/24 sources.
The problem with this technique (variations of which are available in 120-Hz sets from all manufacturers) is that it can make film-based material look like it was shot on video. The resulting smoothness is definitely not film-like. Some viewers don’t dislike or even mind this. Others (including me) hate it. The good news here is that this effect is very subtle in the Sharp. The bad news is that the changes the Fine Motion Enhanced feature produces are so subtle, they had practically no visible effect on motion lag. Fortunately, the Sharp’s inherent motion lag is relatively low. I left Fine Motion Enhanced off for all of my tests.
This set retains the advantages of film-based 1080p/24 sources all the way to the screen. According to Sharp, 24-Hz signals are displayed at 96 Hz using 4:4 pulldown.
Sharp Is Sharp
While the Sharp’s video processing is not perfect (we’ve yet to see a display that is), it’s among the best we’ve tested. In my usual battery of tests, its 480i-to-1080p upconversion was beyond criticism. It excelled on everything I threw at it. I recommend leaving the Film Mode control on; this worked best even with interlaced, video-based material.
The Sharp’s HD video processing failed our test for 2:2 progressive material. It also fell short in our 1080i-to-1080p 3:2 pulldown tests from Mission: Impossible III. (It produced moiré on the Vatican wall in chapter 7 and flicker on the staircase in chapter 8.) But in the real world, I watched hours of 1080i cable programming on this set. Most of this was HD, but some was SD that my cable box upconverted to 1080i. I saw very few distracting video artifacts. The few I did see came only on the worst SD material and could have originated in the source.