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Sharp LC-52D62U LCD Flat Panel HDTV Page 2

The timing of these grayscale findings is ironic. I used to be Video Editor at The Perfect Vision. In the February 2007 issue TPV announced it would be skipping grayscale calibration in TVs that cost less than $10K because "every display's grayscale can be professionally calibrated to near perfection." Ahem. If you read UltimateAV you can find out if this is actually true before throwing your money down on the assumption that it is. End of shameless plug.

There is a Black setting that is said to automatically adjust "the dark portion of an image for easier viewing." It didn't seem to do much more than knock the Brightness down a few clicks, but it could have been altering the low-end gamma curve. I didn't care for it. Off with it!

Fine Motion is said to make viewing of "fast action video more clear(ly)." The manual also says that this feature adds noise to the image. I didn't find that it did any noticeable harm, but it didn't seem to do any noticeable good, either. I left it Off.

Also in the Advanced menu is a Monochrome setting, presumably for black and white material, and a Film Mode (3/2 pulldown) setting that can be turned to Off to force the deinterlacing into video mode. I didn't need to do this and you probably won't either.

There are seven separate global AV Modes of picture settings, including Standard, Movie, Game, User, PC, and two Dynamic settings. The settings on one of the Dynamic modes are fixed. All the other AV Modes can be adjusted and your personal settings stored, with one exception. The LC-52D62U has an "Enhanced Picture Contrast" setting that adjusts the screen brightness according to the source material. It appears that this operates electronically, tweaking the Brightness and Contrast and/or gamma, as opposed to simply altering the backlight level. Enhanced Picture Contrast is active on the Standard AV Mode and both Dynamic AV Modes. It cannot be disengaged in these three Modes, nor can it be engaged in the other modes: Movie, Game, PC or User. This still leaves four adjustable AV Modes with this feature disengaged, which is still probably enough for most systems. I saw a more natural, pleasing image from the modes that don't use Enhanced Picture Contrast, and in my mind it would be better still to simply provide a way to defeat this "feature" in all AV Modes.

One thing I don't understand is that the Noise Reduction control is in an Option menu, completely separate from the Picture Menu. The NR setting isn't saved with the other image adjustments in the AV Modes, which is a strange choice. So, if you're using Standard and engage or disengage NR, it will remain at its last set position even if you switch sources or another AV Mode. The default is the Low setting, which wasn't noticeable one way or the other so I left it on most of the time rather than fussing with it.

There is no direct access to input sources. You have to hit the Input button on the remote, which brings up a list, and even then you can't enter the number associated with the input, but instead have to scroll to the desired source and hit the Enter button. That's frustrating.

Aspect ratios are tricky to name. You select them here with the View Mode button. While it would appear, at first, that Stretch is the proper mode for 16:9 material, you don't want to use it with 720p or 1080i/p signals if you can help it. As with a number of sets I've seen lately, using the Stretch mode with 720p or 1080i/p signals had a noticeable impact on bandwidth at the highest frequencies (see "Tests and Measurements").

There are, however, two other View Mode aspect ratio options that offer much better performance with high definition material: Dot by Dot for 1080i/p and Full Screen for 720p. Both produce sharper, cleaner images with HD signals than Stretch mode. The Sharp has essentially perfect performance to the limits of our tests when Dot by Dot is engaged for 1080i/p and Full Screen for 720p. This is how I used the set. Dot by Dot suggests no scaling is engaged, and there is also no overscan in either that mode or in Full Screen.

One oddity- when 720p or 1080i/p signals are input, the set cannot be put into a 4:3 View Mode. If you're using an upconverting DVD player or Set-Top Box, better dial it in so that it outputs 4:3 material with sidebars to the Sharp if you don't want o use the Zoom mode.

As something of a purist, I didn't miss the fact that this Sharp doesn't have PIP or POP, or any other kind of Ps. And the menus are clean and not terribly rife with confusing choices, which is important. It's not difficult for the uninitiated to get a damned good picture out of this TV, but it is necessary to dial down the Backlight, even in Movie Mode.

I'll also add that while I cannot get over-the-air HD signals or cable TV in my area, according to the Sharp's manual this set will automatically find digital channels and offers a signal strength meter for antenna adjustment for digital channels.

A last note is that while the menus are clear and concise, it takes them long enough to load on-screen that I sometimes hit the Menu button again, which then turned the menu back off. And the menus overlay onto a broad portion of the screen and don't minimize when individual parameters are adjusted, which makes it difficult to see the test patterns on-screen.

The remote is a mixed bag. It's mostly good, if just a bit on the large-ish side, but it is backlit and while it's not overtly bad in any single way, it doesn't group buttons in clusters that make ergonomic sense during use. The input button, for example, is small and is located just below the number keypad, even though you can't use the numbers to select an input source. The View Mode, which is the aspect ratio control, is up at the top of the remote clustered with a group of buttons used to control DVD playback functions (it is a code-driven universal job). Worse still, the bottom quarter of the remote is taken up by a flip-up panel that hides only five small buttons. One of them is the AV Mode button, and in a horrible oversight this is the only way to make this critical selection- it can't be done by navigating the on-screen menus.

Performance
I used the Sharp primarily with the Toshiba HD-XA2 for DVDs and HD DVDs and Pioneer Elite's BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player. TV viewing was sourced from DirecTV's HR20 HD DVR. I used all these sources via HDMI and also used Anthem's AVM 50 surround processor as an HDMI switcher but double-checked all critical results with a direct feed to the display. Judging by the emails I've received on this set the first thing you want to know is whether this display has the banding and uniformity problems that have been reported on some of Sharp's LCDs. Unfortunately the answer to this question appears to be yes, if we're in fact describing the same thing. Looking at lower level gray fields reveals that there are areas on the LC-52D62U's screen that are darker than the rest of the image. While some are apparent in cloudlike formations that I found impossible to spot with program material, there was a slightly darker horizontal band a couple of inches in height that goes almost all the way across the middle of the screen, being most noticeable on the left side.

Although this band is prominently placed, it's not always noticeable on program material, and even after I confirmed its presence with test patterns and watched for it, it wasn't always easy to spot and didn't prevent me from watching and consistently enjoying the set. I've had problems with other displays that made it a chore to keep watching them. This wasn't that kind of issue, even after I knew where to look for it. I don't doubt for one second, however, that this banding might drive some people nuts. It shouldn't be there.

This is apparently a known issue. When I told Sharp I was seeing this, its reps said they were aware and confirmed to me that a small number of LC-52D62U and LC-46D62U sets were effected, and "aggressive steps" had been taken at the factory to resolve the problem. I asked directly if refunds were being offered or if owners would have to send their sets in for repair. All I was told was that consumers experiencing this problem should call 1-800-BE-SHARP and that "each case will be resolved."

I would personally want to be very clear about my retailer's knowledge of this issue, and the store's return policy, before putting my money down. And I'd want to know if either the retailer or Sharp would perform on-site service if there is a remedy that can be implemented on an effected set.

Digging into what else I saw, the Sharp immediately impressed me, especially with 1080p HD from Blu-ray and HD DVD. And this set had a tough act to follow as it came in right after my second tour of duty with the Pioneer PRO-FHD1. What hit me immediately was how naturally detailed and organic this LCD set looked. With the backlighting and contrast optimized, the Sharp entered a realm of believability that I've only seen bettered by the very best plasmas. The technology got out of the way to a degree I've not experienced with LCD.

We've described many times how three–chip projection technologies D-ILA, SXRD and even LCD have a more natural, seamless look to their image quality. Compared even to excellent plasmas, this set has something intangible along these lines that I found seductive. I saw every ounce of fine texture and detail in the best of the best HD transfers, and yet the image has soft natural edges that belied its digital origins.

I can't think of any two discs that exemplify this LCD's considerable strengths more than The Prestige on Blu-ray and Batman Begins on HD DVD. Both films have a lot of dark imagery and as much fine detail as I've ever seen from an HD source, and each looked gorgeous on the Sharp. With Pioneer's PRO-FHD1 I was amazed that I could sit down and watch Batman Begins without wishing I could fire up the projector. I had the same experience here. I don't think the Sharp's absolute blacks were quite as dark as the Pioneer Elite's, and the Pioneer's shadow detail was better. But it wasn't as far off as I'd expected. Although I could see the contrast compressing in the darkest scenes, it was never distracting enough to wreck the artistic intent of the movie or pull me out of the movie emotionally. And there was no noise or false contouring near black either. I'm a picky movie watcher and this set sufficed even with darker material, even if it wasn't perfect. This is the first time I've said this about an LCD.

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