Sharp AQUOS LC-45GX6U 45-Inch LCD HDTV

Mmmm, 1080p.

There is something to be said for 1080p. It is, after all, the so-called holy grail of HD. As far as the mainstream end of the market is concerned, there are only three displays available now that support it: This Sharp, the "mine's bigger than yours," 1-inch-larger Samsung LCD, reviewed in the April 2005 issue, and the Sony 70-inch LCOS (sorry, SXRD) rear-projection TV. If you have money to burn, there are several front projectors that are 1080p and cost more than a Camry—and a couple of plasmas that cost more than several Camrys.

How's That?
LCD is uniquely suited to produce displays with extremely small pixels, which is what you need to have such high resolutions in a relatively small panel. It will be a while before we see plasmas that are capable of this resolution in a size that would fit in a living room. On the other hand, LCDs are significantly more expensive to manufacture than plasmas.

Both LCD and plasma panels are cut from what is called "mother glass." This is essentially a huge sheet of the basic glass used to create a flat panel. For example, one 92-inch diagonal sheet of LCD mother glass can be used to cut out six 37-inch diagonal LCD panels, or eight 30-inch diagonal panels, or twelve 26-inchers, and so on. If a portion of the glass used to make 12 panels has a damaged or otherwise nonworking section, there are still 11 other panels to even out the cost. But, when a piece of mother glass is broken up into only six pieces, the price has to go up to ameliorate the cost of the nonworking sections.

Yeah, But It's 1080p
In the gotta-have-it factor, 1080p has all the draw. So, right off the bat, the LC-45GX6U has a pixel up on the plasma competition. Whereas the color of most flat panels' bezels can be anything you want as long as you choose black or silver, the LC-45GX6U's stately bronze color is a welcome change. The remote matches, although its tiny, similarly shaped buttons don't make it the easiest remote to navigate. Its backlighting sure helps, though. Onscreen menus are colorful and fairly extensive.

Bring on the Patterns
Test patterns revealed several strengths and weaknesses. A gray ramp, where the left side of the screen is bright white and the right side is black with what should be a gradual transition between the two, was very smooth. It was far more so than on most plasmas at any price. On many digital displays, these types of transitions have noticeable steps. With real-world video material, this was evident in smooth transitions from light to dark, as in a shadowy area to a brightly lit area of an image.

The LC-45GX6U, on the other hand, was extremely slow in picking up a 3:2 sequence. On the Snell & Wilcox Zone Test Plate from Video Essentials, it almost seemed like the processor wasn't going to pick it up at all, and then it finally did. During the flyover scene at the end of chapter 12 of Gladiator, the LC-45GX6U didn't pick up the sequence at all, making all diagonal lines jagged and stair-stepped. There were several menu settings to adjust this processing, but none of them made much of a difference. Video processing, while not bad, wasn't as good as I've seen. Jagged edges were noticeable, but they were slight and small.

On the other hand, scaling was done well. I didn't notice much of a difference between 1080i from a decent-scaling DVD player like the Bravo D2 from V, Inc. and 480i from a decent analog player direct into the LC-45GX6U.

Black Level?
Much has been made about LCD panels' inability to create a decent black level. The LC-45GX6U, in its lowest backlight setting, is capable of 0.049 foot-lamberts, which is better than almost every other LCD or plasma we've reviewed since we've done contrast-ratio measurements. I compared the Sharp with a similarly priced (though larger) plasma that I had on hand, and the Sharp's black level was noticeably better than the plasma's. This, in itself, isn't that remarkable; but, when the lights were turned on, the difference between the two became even more distinct. Plasmas have a highly reflective glass front, bouncing any room light back at the viewer. In extreme situations, this leads to a washed-out image; but, even in less severe instances, it adversely affects picture quality.

LCDs, on the other hand, reflect very little ambient light, thanks to the filters built into their glass that allow the LCD to create an image at all. When there is any room light, LCDs hold their contrast ratios far better than plasmas. In fact, because your pupils constrict when the room light is high, the black level on an LCD actually appears to get darker. (This shouldn't be confused with light sensors built into some TVs that actually adjust the light level according to room lighting. The Sharp has such a device, but it was deactivated.) With the TV's backlight all the way down, the picture appeared somewhat dim and lifeless. Thankfully, the LC-45GX6U has a 33-step backlight that allows you to fine-tune the display's light output to your tastes and/or ambient light level. Black level, light output, or varying degrees of both—it's your choice. If you let it run free, you'll be "rewarded" with a blistering 123 ft-L. I'm blind . . .

Can I Blind My Friends, Too?
One problem with LCDs is their off-axis response. All the numbers and measurements you see were taken directly in front of the display. Sit off to either side (or above or below), and it's a different story. Black level comes up, color goes down, and the overall picture quality is not what it is at the sweet spot. It's hard to say how far off to the sides you can sit and still get a decent image. My recommendation is to measure how far left and right your friends or loved ones sit, and stand at those locations (at the same distance from the TV) when you check out the LC-45GX6U in a store. In our 14-foot-wide listening room, while seated a little over 9 feet away, I could sit next to the walls and still have a decent image from the Sharp, albeit without the black level or color saturation of the center seat. This is about average for the LCDs we've reviewed.

What if I Sit Closer?
One of the greatest benefits of a 1080p display is the ability to sit closer to the screen. Even at 1X picture height, you'll have a tough time seeing pixels. I don't recommend sitting that close, as everything but HD is going to look blurry. (It would on any display; there just isn't enough resolution in 480i.) If you're sitting too far from your screen, you're not going to see all the extra resolution you've paid for. So, if possible, rearrange your room to sit at the correct distance, which, for this set, is 6 to 9 feet, or even closer.

I've mentioned the blurring of motion with large LCD panels. While the LC-45GX6U doesn't look as sharp (get it? Sharp!) with motion as it does with still images, it doesn't have the noticeable blurring effect that I've seen with other large-panel LCDs. This effect usually annoys more than any other artifact, but it wasn't noticeable enough to really bother me on the Sharp.

OK, Light Me Up
To whom and for where would I recommend this TV? This TV would be perfect for a living room or any space where light can't be controlled yet is small enough that the extra resolution will be seen and appreciated. It will certainly work in a light-controlled theater, too, as you can adjust the light output to have a decent black level. If your seating area is really wide, your guests or less loved family members won't have the same viewing experience as you. (Hey, you paid for it—you get to sit in the money seat.)

As the quality of cameras, telecines, and storage media improve, the extra resolution this set offers over the plasma competition will be even more noticeable as time goes on. Mmmm, 1080p.

• You can't beat 1080p
• Adjustable backlight

(800) BE-SHARP