Sharp LC-52D85U LCD TV

Many companies have gotten into the LCD TV game over the last few years, hoping to capitalize on the high demand for flat panels. But most are newcomers compared to Sharp, which was among the first to offer LCD TVs in Japan way back in 1988. Since then, Sharp has remained ahead of the curve in terms of manufacturing and environmental concerns, investing billions of dollars in new plants and processes.

Among the company's current lines is the D85 series, which comes in several sizes, including the 52-inch LC-52D85U reviewed here. This series represents a growing trend in which upscale features are migrating into lower-cost sets, a trend I heartily applaud.

The most obvious high-end feature of the LC-52D85U is 120Hz operation—frames are flashed on the screen at a rate of 120 per second, twice the normal video rate of 60fps and five times the film frame rate of 24fps. In conjunction with a setting called Fine Motion Enhanced—Sharp's frame-interpolation algorithm—this is intended to reduce the motion blur that has plagued LCD TVs since their introduction.

Frame interpolation creates new frames to insert between the actual frames in a video signal, calculating where moving objects should be in those new frames to smooth out the motion and sharpen the image. However, this process can introduce artifacts of its own. Unlike many 120Hz LCD TVs, the 52D85U's Fine Motion Enhanced control has only two settings—On and Off. Such controls on other TVs typically offer different degrees of interpolation so you can balance the increased sharpness with any artifacts that might intrude.

As I mentioned earlier, Sharp has been making LCD TVs for a long time. That includes the LCD panels themselves, which, in the case of the D85 series, use 10 bits to represent the intensity of each primary color (red, green, blue). This results in smoother color gradations and less solarization—banding in areas of subtle gradations—than the 8-bit panels used in lesser sets can manage.

Another upscale feature found in the 52D85U is a color-management system (CMS). Sharp's implementation lets you tweak the hue and saturation of each primary (red, green, blue) and secondary (yellow, cyan, magenta) color, effectively moving the color points as needed. (A complete CMS also includes a brightness control for each color, which is missing here.) This is a potentially great feature, but it should not be attempted without the requisite tools and training.

Like many modern TVs, the 52D85U includes several dynamic "enhancements," such as automatic backlight and contrast adjustments that respond to the overall brightness of the picture (technically called average picture level or APL). These functions are intended to increase the contrast ratio and deepen the perceived black level, but I normally find them to be much more distracting than helpful, so I leave them turned off.

The backlight can also dynamically respond to the amount of light in the room, which can be of more benefit than adjustments based on APL. In particular, the best backlight setting for a brightly lit room is higher than the best setting for a darkened room. Also, engaging this function, which is called Optical Picture Control (OPC) in Sharp TVs, can save substantial amounts of energy. Enabling the dynamic APL response can save even more energy—Sharp claims a total of up to 20 percent over the previous generation—but I don't like the way that looks, so I'll take a slight energy hit for the sake of a better picture.

The D85-series TVs provide five—count 'em, five—HDMI inputs, more than most sets these days. And with HDMI version 1.3, the Sharp supports Deep Color (increased color bit depth), xvYCC (expanded color gamut, sometimes called x.v.Color), and CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), which Sharp calls Aquos Link. No commercial titles are created using Deep Color or xvYCC, but some HD camcorders use them, so the TV can display your own content from such a camcorder in its full glory. Otherwise, I find these features to be useless.

On the other hand, CEC can be useful. This function sends control codes via HDMI to any compatible devices, turning them on and off and setting their inputs or outputs automatically as required. The TV recognized my Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player via Aquos Link, turning off when I powered down the TV. However, it did not turn on with the TV.