Sharp AQUOS LC-52D92U LCD HDTV
It has come to my attention that some of you out there feel that I am, for some reason, biased against LCDs. I would like to apologize. I am sorry for pointing out poor black levels, inaccurate color, horrendous viewing angles, mediocre contrast ratios, and, above all else, motion blur. Yep, my bad.
What I have said all along is that I am entirely technology neutral. I treat every display that comes to the lab the same way. Show me a good-looking display, and I'm happy, regardless of how it makes its pictures. Show me a bad-looking display. . .
My guess is that this rumor stems from more informal opinion inquiries. When someone casually asks me what they should buy in the flat-panel realm, I will reply that plasmas tend to perform better, although LCDs are better suited for bright rooms. I'm not saying plasmas look good, just that I've found they often perform better. Keep in mind, it wasn't too long ago that I was saying plasmas were unwatchable. (Man, they used to look horrible.) This fractional summation is based on countless tests and measurements over the past years. What I should have made clearer is that past performance is not indicative of future results. Certainly not. For example, take this LC-52D92U.
All New II
Built in the shiny new Kameyama II plant, the LC-52D92U has a plethora of goodies that show the recent rapid advancement in the LCD world. Last August, I reviewed one of the first displays from this factory. While the price was, ahem, a little steep, it showed where Sharp was headed. This 52-inch model takes all that was good about that TV, improves on it, adds some new features, and drops the price significantly.
Most notable on the features list is the 120-hertz refresh. This is the latest gotta-have feature in the LCD world, and nearly every LCD manufacturer has at least a few models that sport it. Check my GearWorks on page 30 for more info on this.
Out With the Gold, In With the Black
With these latest-generation displays, Sharp has abandoned the gold/champagne color for a more traditional black. I had no beef with the old color, but I have to admit that the new look is very attractive. Some of the champagne remains on the highlights.
The remote is the same as the one that came with most of the past Sharp LCDs. It's a little long, the buttons are a little small, and there's no direct input access. It is backlit at least, with a glow-in-the-dark backlight button.
Also the same are the menus. They're colorful and easy to follow. There are enough adjustments to make most videophiles content. On some selections, it's still a little hard to figure out what you have selected and what you haven't.
The First Step Forward
In the past, Sharp LCDs have not measured very well, specifically in terms of gray-scale tracking and occasionally color accuracy. The D92 series has gone a long way in remedying this. The color points are still a little off, but they're closer to accurate than most flat panels. The gray-scale tracking, which used to have a lot of dips and peaks, has evened out quite a bit. It's still not flat (and, disappointingly, you can't calibrate it), but it's a big improvement.
Contrast ratio and black level have never been LCD's strong suits, but, with each generation, both have gotten better. Take this series. With a black level of 0.006 foot-lamberts, it's darker than many front and rear projectors and all plasmas we've measured. Now, granted, at that level of backlight (–16), you're only getting 14.09 ft-L. At this level, most people would consider the picture to be too dim. Once you pump up the light output to a more reasonable level—say, the 41.45 ft-L that you get at the STD backlight setting—the black level is a still respectable 0.022 ft-L. The contrast ratio ranges from 1,900:1 to 2,300:1, depending on the backlight setting. For comparison, the last Panasonic plasma we reviewed, the TH-42PX60U, produced a contrast ratio of 2,314:1. We calculated this with a 27.77-ft-L full white and a 0.012-ft-L black. But plasmas work differently than LCDs, so the onscreen contrast ratio of plasmas will be higher than these numbers suggest. Still, the LC-52D92U's 2,348:1 is nearly twice what most LCDs are capable of. Real video material pops, a lot more than what we've seen previously with LCDs. Blacks actually appear dark, while the image is still bright.
There is one quirk, though. The backlight rides the video signal, much like an auto iris on some projectors. As the image gets dark, the screen dims. As it gets bright, the screen gets brighter. Unfortunately, it's really slow, taking far too long to catch up to what's on the screen. At the extreme, in Dynamic mode, it is possible to get a contrast ratio of 26,150:1 (104.6 ft-L and 0.004 ft-L). But, to do this, you would have to leave a black screen up for over a minute, then go to a full white and leave it there for over a minute. So, the 24,150:1 isn't a remotely realistic number. If you keep it in the Dynamic mode but switch back and forth between black and white quickly, the ratio drops to 11,672:1 (70.03 ft-L and 0.006 ft-L). Perhaps this is a more accurate measurement of what is really happening on the screen, but the backlight-tracking process is highly noticeable and rather distracting when you're watching actual video material. You can watch as the image gets brighter and darker several seconds after the image on the screen changes. It's enough that I wouldn't be able to watch the TV in this mode. In Movie mode, it still does this, which is annoying, but not as much. Movie mode is what we used for the official measurements. It is for this same reason that we don't use the picture modes that float the black level on some TVs, even if this means getting a higher black-level measurement. I would go so far as to say this slow pulsing of the light output is an artifact. In lesser modes (like Movie), it's not a huge deal. But, at its worst, it's too distracting to advocate, and, as such, is not indicative of how you'll use it in your home. Keep the TV Movie mode, and don't worry about it. The contrast ratio is excellent for a flat panel; let's leave it at that.
The scaling performance is decent, pulling a fair amount of detail from 480i material. A good scaling DVD player wouldn't hurt, though. Overall processing, on the other hand, isn't great. The 3:2 pickup with 480i is quick, but the set occasionally loses the sequence. Our standard Gladiator clip looked about average, with jagged edges on some of the rooftops. Video processing, judged with the waving-flag scene, was below average. There were small jaggies throughout the flag, regardless of the processing mode. The rotating-bar pattern from Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark disc started showing jaggies just below the red zone, which is slightly worse than average in my experience. The LC-52D92U does not deinterlace 1080i correctly with component, but it does do it correctly with HDMI. This is odd, but it gets odder; the TV picks up the 3:2 sequence with 1080i on both inputs just fine. So, if you can, stick with HDMI. For as good as the glass is, the processing is kind of a disappointment. The LC-52D92U accepts 1080p over HDMI but not 1080p/24.
A gray ramp isn't perfectly smooth on the TV, and there is some coloration in parts of the low end. As a result, some shadows have a different color than the rest of the image. The noise level, overall, was quite low.
Detail seems excellent; every fine detail in Corpse Bride and 16 Blocks on HD DVD was fully visible—at least with HDMI. Once again, component gets the short stick. With the analog input, the LC-52D92U can just barely reproduce a one-pixel-on/one-pixel-off pattern. Yet, with HDMI, it can do this same pattern just fine. True, there will be some of this difference on all displays, but here it is more pronounced.
Off-axis viewing is better than that of previous Sharp LCDs, but it's still not as good as with some other LCDs or any plasma. As you move to the side, the black level comes up, and there's a color shift.
By far, this TV's most impressive aspect is its lack of motion blur. This is my biggest pet peeve with LCDs, and this Sharp largely eliminates it. To test this, I used a Blu-ray demo disc that Pioneer supplied. One clip has a close-up of a book. The camera is close in on the text, then it pans. On most LCDs—and even some other display technologies—the text instantly goes to mush and is difficult if not impossible to make out. On the LC-52D92U, it remains almost exactly as sharp (pun unavoidable) as it did when there was no motion. Ironically, Pioneer intended this pattern to show off how much better plasma is at motion than LCD. With the LC-52D92U, I'd call it a tie in this department. Thankfully, my concern that creating new frames (which is how this TV does 120 Hz) would result in weird motion was for nothing. That's not to say that the same method by a different company won't be a problem.
With some better processing and a drop in price by about $1,000, I'd say this would be a tough flat panel to pass up. Sharp has fixed many of the issues I've had with LCDs. There are still some other disappointments with the LC-52D92U, but these were mostly problems that any display type could have (like processing). I'm sure I'll still get flack from the LCD fan boys, but I will concede that this TV is a huge leap in the right direction for LCD and is well worth consideration.
• Fantastical lack of motion blur
• Impressive contrast ratio