Sharp Aquos LC-52XS1U-S Limited Edition LCD HDTV
Ultra Black and Ultra Thin
Less than two years after I accompanied a group of American journalists on a visit to a new Sharp factory, the company has developed yet another new plant. This one can support an even larger mother glass. On that same visit, we also witnessed examples of the company’s cutting-edge R&D, including new, ultra-black technology.
Today you can buy two new Aquos sets spun off from that advanced research—the Limited Edition 65-inch LC-65XS1U-S and the 52-inch LC-52XS1U-S. The latter has raised eyebrows as the most expensive set of its size in the consumer market. That alone has run expectations through the roof. Can it deliver?
Keeping It Thin
At just over 2 inches thick and less than 1 inch on the top and sides, the LC-52XS1U-S is among the thinnest sets currently available. The panel has a stylish silver bezel trimmed in black, and you can either wall-mount it or position it on the optional stand ($749). The speaker, which is housed below the panel in a separate enclosure, is removable.
One factor that makes this ultra-thin design possible is the set’s separate AVC system (the TU-X1U controller). This includes most of the set’s connections (there are also recessed front-panel connections for convenience). The power cord is also permanently attached, which avoids the bulk of a detachable power cord and its chunky socket. A standard HDMI cable links the AVC System and panel.
The set’s manual controls and the IR receiver for the remote control are located just below the panel. You must aim the remote at the panel to perform any function. The functions themselves, as well as all the tuning, switching, and video processing, are performed in the AVC system.
The AVC has no manual controls, but you can access all of the adjustments through the onscreen menus. There’s one annoying shortcoming. On many sets, when you select a control for an adjustment, the rest of the menu disappears so you can make the adjustment with a full view of the screen image. Not here. The entire Picture menu remains on the screen and covers as much as a quarter of the image. This makes it difficult to see the effect of your changes.
Key features in the new Sharp design are its LED backlighting and local area dimming. In contrast to the usual fluorescent backlight that most LCDs use, a local-dimming set uses clusters of LEDs arranged in many zones behind the screen. These zones can dim individually as required by the image on the screen at each instant of time. This technique significantly improves both black level and shadow detail, which have both been shortcomings of LCD technology.
Sharp uses red, green, and blue LEDs in the Limited Edition sets, although some local-dimming designs use filtered white LEDs.
We’ve seen this feature before in flagship sets from Sony and Samsung. Oddly, while Sharp claims that this set has a 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, it makes no specific mention of local dimming in its promotional materials, either directly or by a proprietary name.
The LC-52XS1U-S has eight different A/V Modes. You can select a different mode for each input or use any mode for more than one input. But only the User mode, which I used in this review, allows separate adjustments for each input.
An Advanced Picture Setting menu provides additional controls apart from the usual picture adjustments. The most useful are the Color Temp options (five different settings, plus overall red, green, and blue white-balance controls to fine-tune each of them), a color management system (CMS) with hue and saturation controls—but not intensity—for each color, and a two-position Color Gamut control. The set does not have separate high and low white-balance controls, not even (according to Sharp) in a service menu. Gamma adjustment is another feature I’d like to see here but don’t.
The Advanced Menu also offers other controls, including Film Mode (On/Off, for interlaced inputs only), selectable Digital Noise Reduction, and Active Contrast. The latter produced a garish, excessively contrasty, overly saturated image.
Fine Motion Enhanced is Sharp’s 120-hertz motion-compensation feature. It produces an additional, interpolated frame for all input sources other than 1080p/24. Fine Motion Enhanced does not operate with a 1080p/24 source; the set displays such sources at a 96-fps frame rate by repeating (not interpolating) the extra frames.
I rarely used Fine Motion Enhanced, but it did noticeably smooth out motion blur (depending on its speed) without making film-based material look totally like video. This is a failing of many such systems. (For more on this, see Gear Works in this issue.)
The Sharp is also loaded with other features. Aquos Link (Sharp’s version of the HDMI CEC protocol) provides interactive control of compatible components linked via HDMI. When you connect the Ethernet port to a home network, you can obtain (limited) Web access with a high-speed connection without a computer. And you can view still JPEG images through the set’s USB ports.
The remote is a good one. It can control four components apart from the set itself. However, it doesn’t offer direct input selection, and the backlighting only illuminates half of the buttons.
The manual’s table of contents (page 11) and On-screen Display Menu breakout table (page 22) were of little use, as the page references were incorrect. It required a tedious page-by-page search to find the right information.
The First Pass
The Sharp’s 480i-to-1080p upconversion of standard-def sources was excellent, with a couple of exceptions. In two of our standard tests, I had to use a nonobvious Film Mode option to get a passing result (Film Mode Off for one of our jaggies tests and Film Mode On for a 2:2 cadence test). But for most normal program material, whether film- or video-based, Film Mode On proved to be an artifact-free option.
The set’s high-definition processing (1080i to 1080p) was excellent nearly across the board. It only failed the moiré tests in chapters 7 and 8 of Mission: Impossible III on Blu-ray (the Vatican’s brick wall and staircase). This indicates that movies at 1080i will show artifacts from time to time.
On my first go-round with real program material, the Sharp showed no obvious weaknesses. In the Low setting of the Color Temp control, the picture had a very slight blue shift. The default Enhanced Color Gamut setting was clearly overripe, and I quickly abandoned it in favor of Standard, which was much better but still appeared to be a bit oversaturated. But the set’s resolution of detail was remarkable, as good as any other set I have tested.