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Sharp LC-37D40U LCD HDTV Television Page 2

Overall, the HDMI inputs produced a better image than component—visibly sharper with more easily optimized color. And although HDMI did not measure as well as the component in several key characteristics, its flaws were more visible on bench tests than on real-world video material (see "Testing and Calibration").

Gamma defines how the light output in the mid-brightness region varies once the Brightness and Contrast settings are correct. On the Sharp, those mid tones looked just a bit too dark (too high a gamma). I could lighten them slightly when using the Pioneer DVD player, which has its own gamma adjustment, and the result was a subtle but welcome improvement in the Sharp's image. I didn't have this option on the Toshiba HD DVD player, but the difference was small enough that I didn't really miss it. Still, some gamma adjustability in the display can be helpful, and the Sharp doesn't offer it. (To be fair, only a few consumer displays do.)

606sharplcd.3.jpgThe Sharp is also plenty bright. With the Contrast and Brightness levels set correctly and the backlight at or near the center of its range, I measured about 50 foot-Lamberts. My long-term reference television, a 50-inch Hitachi CRT, is adjusted for just over 30fL—in my opinion an optimum setting for viewing film-based material in a room with subdued lighting. But further reduction of either the backlighting or the Contrast control were not really effective ways to lower the light output. Reducing the backlight significantly below its midpoint made the image look drab, and reducing the Contrast control too much progressively compromised the Sharp's impressive image depth. Nevertheless, 50fL is, subjectively, just slightly brighter than 30fL, so I did not find the Sharp's light output overpowering.

I did all of my standard definition viewing of the Sharp in either HDMI at 720p or component at 480i. Its scaling and deinterlacing performance were both very good. On the HQV Benchmark DVD from Silicon Optix, it passed both jaggies tests with very good scores, sailed through the waving flag test with no visible problems, and in its film mode did an excellent job on the difficult, empty bleacher racetrack test. On the Faroudja test DVD the Sharp's performance also ranged from very good to excellent throughout. So it was no surprise that I saw no significant glitches or artifacts on normal program material.

The Sharp also provides a Digital Noise Reduction control. With its three positions, including Off, it was both subtle and effective with the noisy test scenes on the HQV Benchmark disc, though I did not feel a need for it with most of the material I watched.

Long time readers will know that my usual test location is in a particularly difficult Over-The-Air reception area, where receiving a half dozen major DTV stations is an excuse to party (I now get most of my HD via cable—though I expect HD DVD and Blu-ray to soon dominate as HD sources). The Sharp, however, was tested at our measurement lab, where there is a straight shot, with no intervening obstacles, to most of the LA area transmitters atop Mount Wilson. Using just a simple UHF indoor antenna, the set's on-board DTV tuner did a good job in bringing in over 40 highly watchable stations (though few were broadcasting HD during the day). Some of the stations exhibited occasional macroblocking, though this would likely disappear with a good outdoor antenna. Your reception, of course, will depend on your location, but the Sharp's HD tuner is plenty good enough to give you a fighting chance should setting up for over-the-air HD reception be on your to-do list. (The analog NTSC tuner would require a good outdoor antenna for decent results in my test location. I received many NTSC stations, but most looked like I was in a time warp back to pre-cable 1955, with their heavy helping of snow and ghosts.)

Conclusions
There was a time, not so many years ago, when flat panel LCD displays were considered a joke among serious video enthusiasts. They were ridiculously expensive, and the performance didn't even come close to living up to the price.

Sharp has probably done more than any other company to reverse that perception, aided by market forces that have driven prices down dramatically. Today, LCDs are definitely in the running to become the dominant display technology. They still aren't perfect: there's work to be done to make their blacks competitive with the best plasma sets and DLPs, not to mention the old standby CRT. But they already excel in sharpness, detail, and yes, even color fidelity, in the best examples of the breed. And this Sharp definitely belongs in that company.

A wider range of affordable 1080p sets are on the way very soon from many manufacturers, including Sharp. Some of you may choose to wait for those. But the smart buyer might well want to look for the bargains in 1366x768 sets that will inevitably follow the flood of 1080p designs. If you are looking for a set this size, the Sharp LC-37D40U definitely belongs on your must-see list.

Highs and Lows

Highs
Excellent color when adjusted, with natural foliage and flesh tones
Crisp, detailed, three-dimensional images, particularly in HDMI
Good ATSC over-the-air tuner, with easy setup

Lows
Black level and shadow detail, as in other LCD displays we've tested, remain inferior to the best from other technologies
Barely enough Color control to tame excess saturation
Clips levels above white and below black in HDMI

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