Sharp Aquos LC-52D92U 52-inch LCD HDTV

Had you asked me this time last year which of the competing flat-panel TV technologies I'd recommend, my response would have been quick and decisive: plasma. After testing a number of exceptional late-model LCD TVs, however, I can no longer hold that line. LCD performance has come a very long way. And some credit for that must go to Sharp, a company that seems dead-set on delivering LCD TVs with deep blacks - a characteristic that's traditionally been a problem for the technology.

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The company's newest top-of-the-line sets are those in the D92U series, which includes the Sharp Aquos LC-52D92U 52-inch LCD HDTV. New features making their appearance in this series include a five-wavelength backlight (to enhance color reproduction), 120-Hz frame-rate conversion, and an Advanced Fine Motion display mode. Those last two features aim to eliminate lag from fast-moving images and to smooth them out by quickening the display's response time. It also has a conspicuously high 15,000:1 rated contrast ratio - a 50 percent jump over the spec for last year's models. Of all these improvements, that last one is the most immediately noticeable when you first turn on the set.

Sharp certainly got the style part down with the LC-52D92U. Its screen is surrounded by a gloss-black bezel with metallic gray edging. A matching black stand comes with the TV, and Sharp also sells an optional wall mount for $349. The set comes with a horizontal speaker that you can attach to its bottom edge for built-in TV sound or leave off altogether.

The LC-52D92U provides a comprehensive array of inputs on its back panel. Along with three HDMI jacks, you get a DVI-I port, two component-video sets, and an RS-232C terminal for hooking up to a home control system. Its remote control has a fairly clean layout as well as a fully backlit keypad. To switch sources, you hit the Input button and scroll through active inputs using the remote's arrow keys. Depending on whether you're watching a standard- or high-definition program, hitting View Mode gives you a menu with appropriate aspect ratio selections. For standard 4:3 sources you can choose between Side Bar (displays 4:3 programs with no alteration), Zoom, Stretch, and Smart Stretch (stretches the picture edges and leaves the center intact). For high-def, you get the additional choice of Dot-by-Dot mode, which displays 1080i/p programs with no stretching or scaling.

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