Sharp LC-52D62U LCD Flat Panel HDTV

I've never been all that impressed with the picture quality of LCD flat panels. I'm primarily a nighttime, controlled light environment movie watcher, and the poor blacks and lack of contrast just do me in with these things. On top of that, many LCDs have a "painted" digital look that never suspends disbelief, and the worst of the bunch have response time issues that make motion blur.

These feelings make me either the best or the worst person to review an LCD depending on your perspective. If you're a movie watcher like me and are waiting for a set that passes the grade there, I'm your guy. And the Sharp LC-52D62U goes farther than any LCD I've seen yet at making my grade, even with movies. On top that it's a full 1080p set with a 52" screen size. That's a lotta flatness for an MSPR of $3,999, and street prices considerably lower.

Also, consider this review something of a two-parter. Shortly after this review sample arrived it was announced that Sharp would ship a higher-end series of sets, the D92U series, in January. The '92 series sets are spec'd for the same 4ms response time, but claimed to have better blacks and contrast, plus a 120hz refresh rate for smoother, flicker free images.

Sharp is such a big player and innovator in the LCD market that rather than ditching this TV in favor of the '92 series 52" set, we decided to do both. Look for that review to follow this one in a few weeks.

Next-Gen? How About 8th Gen?!
Looking through the sales lit for this TV, it was produced in Sharp's new SOTA (State-Of-The-Art) Kameyama factory, which is referred to as an 8th generation plant. 8th! The set is curvaceous along the bottom finished in gloss black. It looks good, IMO. It comes with a tabletop stand, and while the inputs are easily accessible on the back panel, there's no conduit for video or power cables that would let the set sit quite flush on a wall. Most flat panels are this way, which still surprises me. The top right corner of the set has a power button, volume and channel up and down buttons, and an Input button that cycles through your sources.

But the Sharp is also built to be pretty on the inside. The set's contrast ratio is spec'd at 2,000:1 and. Sharp and other manufacturers have begun using a "dynamic contrast " spec, which is rated at 10,000:1 on this set. But at this point no one has provided a solid understanding of how this measurement is performed, so we're taking that one with the proverbial grain until we learn more. The panel response time for this set is rated at an impressive 4ms. Once engaged, LCD pixels often don't turn off as fast as they come on, which is how motion becomes blurred. As you'll read, this set is indeed a winner here, even if I can't bust out a stop watch and weigh in on whether the 4ms time is legit.

The set also uses a "four wavelength" backlight system. The spectrum of light emitted from an LCD panel's backlight impacts an LCD's color fidelity in much the same fashion that a lamp affects a front projector's color space. The new Sharp backlight is said to expand the color gamut. This can be good or bad. Good if the gamut wasn't previously "wide enough" to display an accurate color palette, or bad if it widens the gamut to the point of a different form of inaccuracy.

So, LCDs are claimed by manufacturers as being immune to screen burn-in, and thus safer choices than plasmas. Never mind that a decade ago all of us bought CRT displays that were at least as prone to screen burn as plasmas if not more. LCDs, this one included, are prone to some short-term image retention, but that's no big deal of course.

Features, Functions and Setup
The Sharp includes dual HDMI and component inputs, and integral ATSC and QAM HD tuners. Now that's an HDTV. It also has a Toslink optical digital out if you want to break out the audio from the integral tuner to a surround sound system, and if you're reading us, I hope this is you.

Unlike the '92 series sets referenced above (and currently in my garage waiting for deployment), the LC-52D62U uses a typical 60Hz refresh rate. In addition to being a 1080p set, the 52D62U accepts 1080p/60 signals but not the 1080p/24 native signals from Blu-ray (and soon HD DVD, we hope). That's a bummer. I'm coming around to believing that displaying 24p at multiples of 24fps is something I want to be doing on a regular basis. For now, I don't penalize components that don't, but I give extra brownie points to those components that do (brownie points are redeemable for nothing since in cyberspace they're not worth the paper they're not printed on).

If you've not had the LSD experience, er, excuse me, the LCD experience before, some of the user adjustments in the Picture Menu might be a little trippy. While the usual suspects- Brightness, Contrast, blah blah blah- are here, you'll also see something called OPC and another called Backlight. I'll deal with the latter first, since it's simpler. The Backlight simply controls the overall amount of light output from an LCD by adjusting, well, the backlight that is its light source. It works optically, not electronically, and by that I mean that raising it isn't going to clip blacks or whites in the way that ramping the Brightness and Contrast up or down does. It simply affects the overall light output from the set.

There's no simple or standard way to adjust the Backlight to be "right." You simply have to watch program material and season it to taste for the most impact. Dialing it up higher to get more light output unequivocally means raising absolute black level, so it's necessary to strike a balance that works best for you and your viewing habits. With my preferred setting of "Std" or "0" (in a range of –16 to +16) to maximize blacks and contrast for movie watching, I probably dialed it a little lower than most potential users.

The OPC (Optical Picture Control) is a feature that goes by many names from many different manufacturers, as it's all the rage these days with flat panels of all types and even some RPTVs. When OPC is set to On, sensors on the front of the set read the ambient room light and adjust the backlight brightness accordingly. The range of operation of the OPC can be set in the Advanced Picture menu, and you can select a Display setting that brings up a weird on-screen indicator that looks like leaves to show how much it's operating.

I typically shy away from settings like the OPC as I prefer to roll my own when it comes to light output. But I'm an admitted control freak as far as my video goes, and these things are getting better. I have to admit that I could sit down and watch this TV casually with OPC engaged and not be bothered by it most of the time. In addition, the OPC can be saved to an AV Mode in either the On or Off position, so you could save and recall a Mode that engages it for casual daytime watching and then switch to another mode with it disengaged for serious viewing.

I ran the Contrast control higher than its default position, even in the Movie AV Mode. It could be run up without clipping white, and I saw more punch and the best top end grayscale accuracy with a setting of 27 out of the maximum 40. If you strike the right balance of the Contrast and Backlight settings, this set doesn't have to be the torch that many LCDs are to look punchy, especially when the lights drop and movies start rolling.

The Advanced Picture menu starts with my biggest disappointment on this set- the Color Temperature settings. There are five selections starting at Low and ending with a too blue High. Not only is there no selection here that allows manual grayscale adjustment, as of yet Sharp hasn't been able to provide me with the info I need to get into and adjust color temp in the service menu.

The Mid-Low setting is closest to 6500K in temperature through the upper brightness range, but laughably off the D65 target even there. In other words, in spite of the respectable color temperature there was severe push toward blue. This is better than a push toward green, but far from ideal. We've just come too far for an otherwise terrific set like this to not provide some provision for grayscale adjustment. (For new readers, 6500K is necessary to meet the standard for a good gray scale calibration, but it is not sufficient; 6500K is a line on the color chart. We not only want every point across the full brightness range to be on that line, but at the same specific point on that line, a point known as D65.—Ed.)