When we reviewed the LC-46D62U, we were surprised by a couple of its picture-quality characteristics. It managed to display a deeper shade of black--an important ingredient in HDTV performance--than any other display we'd tested yet. Unfortunately, its screen was pretty uneven from one area to the next. The new model, the 52-inch LC-52D92U, has basically the same characteristics. This higher-end set does offer excellent connectivity, slick styling, a well-rounded feature package, and plenty of commendable picture-quality attributes, including those same inky blacks. Unfortunately we just can't overlook its uneven uniformity, especially in an HDTV this expensive.
Sharp has always made eye-catching LCD televisions, and in our opinion the look of the LC-D92U series is one of its best efforts yet. A glossy black frame of middling thickness--two inches wide on the sides and 1.5 inches on the top and bottom--is bordered above and below by a rounded, off-black strip. The subtle chrome accents on either side of the panel are not visible from the front but, along with the glossy plastic and matching stand, they lend the LC-52D92U a sophisticated, jewel-like appearance that certainly befits its high price. The frame's only adornments are indicator lights and a tiny Dolby Digital logo on the lower right, the Sharp logo on the lower bottom, and a subtle Aquos logo on the upper left.
Just when we thought we'd seen everything in flat-panel design, Sharp springs a small surprise with its newfangled speaker. It's basically a very slim bar that when attached to the panel extends a mere inch below. The classy cloth grille is in low-key black and further deflects attention by being mounted about an inch back from the main frame itself, almost hidden by the bulk of the panel. With the speaker and stand attached, the LC-52D92U measures approximately 50.2x34.4x12.2 inches and weighs 92.6 pounds. Sans speaker and stand, its dimensions shrink to 50.2x30.6x4.9 and its weight to 71.7 pounds.
Sharp's been using the same remote for years, and the LC-52D92U continues the tradition. It has full orange backlighting, the ability to command four other pieces of gear, keys that are nicely spread out and differentiated well, and a generally logical button layout. We say "generally" because the key to control aspect ratio is stashed clear at the top of the long wand, the one for freezing the image is given an unduly important spot near the main directional keypad, and the one for changing picture modes is hidden beneath a flip-up hatch. The menu system is simple enough to navigate and includes helpful explanations that appear along the bottom.
A native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, aka 1080p, distinguishes the Sharp LC-52D92U from lower-resolution models. All of those pixels allow it to resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p HDTV sources; all other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, and standard-definition TV, are scaled to fit the pixels. Sharp also adds a 120Hz frame rate conversion mode to the spec sheet, which is not the same as a true 120 Hz refresh rate (we mistakenly thought it was for the initial publication of this review). We'll deal with its effects in the Performance section below.
Control over the picture is one of the most important items on an HDTV's features list, as far as we're concerned, and the LC-52D92U falls into the middle of the pack in that category. We appreciated the five preset picture modes, all of which can be adjusted; a sixth that cannot; and a seventh, called "User," that's independent per input. There's a 32-step backlight control, plenty of range to coax and nice deep black from the set. In the advanced menu, we found five color temperature presets, with the Warm option coming closest to the standard. There's also a control for black level (low and high), which we left in the Off position because that setting delivered better shadow detail than did the On position; a setting labeled "fine motion advanced" that we left on since it supposedly reduced blurring in motion; and a film mode setting that engages 2:3 pull-down detection.
The set also features Sharp's light-sensing circuit, called OPC, which automatically adjusts the TVs light output depending on the brightness of the room: the TV gets brighter in well-lit rooms and darker in dim rooms. That's all well and good, but for critical performance testing we left it off because in our completely darkened theater, OPC capped light output at a very dim 12FTL. That's actually the standard for a movie theater but we consider 35 to 40FTL ideal for testing because it increases the contrast ratio--adding more pop--without becoming blinding or washing out dark areas of the picture.
Aspect ratio control on the LC-52D62U is fine for an expensive HDTV. We noted four choices with HDTV sources, including a dot-by-dot mode that matches 1080i and 1080p sources directly to the display with no scaling. There are also four aspect ratio choices available with standard-definition.
In terms of conveniences, Sharp throws in the requisite ATSC tuner although the company skipped putting a CableCard slot on this model. People who like to watch two images at once will lament the omission of a picture-in-picture view, which is extremely common among high-end HDTVs. The Sharp, however, does have a freeze option.
Once area where Sharp didn't skimp is with the LC-52D92U's connectivity. The back panel is home to no less than four digital inputs: three HDMI and one DVI for PCs (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution). The DVI input can also accept analog VGA-style computer connections, albeit at just 1,280x1,024 maximum resolution. In addition, there are three dedicated analog input slots: one offering a choice of component- or composite-video; the second a choice of composite- or S-Video; and the third component-video only. The LC-52D92U also has one RF-style input for an antenna or a cable; an optical digital-audio output; a standard analog output; and an RS-323 port for interfacing with custom control systems. Sharp left out easy-access side-panel inputs though.
The picture quality of the Sharp LC-52D92U was mostly solid with one glaring exception. On one hand it delivered the darkest shade of black any flat-panel display we've tested yet, LCD or plasma models including the former champ, Sharp's own LC-46D62U. On the other, it evinced the same uniformity problems that plagued its predecessor. While we liked a lot of things about its picture, we found it hard to forgive the uneven uniformity, and wouldn't recommend the LC-52D92U to sharp-eyed videophiles.
As always we began by setting up the Sharp in a completely dark room and adjusting its picture accordingly. We set maximum light output to a comfortable 40FTL and set the brightness control to as dark as possible without sacrificing too much shadow detail. We chose the Low color temperature preset, which came fairly close to the 6500K standard (see the Geek box at the end of this review) but was minus green, meaning there wasn't enough green in the gray, and too much red and blue. We did not subject the LC-52D92U to a pro-level grayscale calibration because, in our experience, it's not worth it with Sharp sets. For a full list of our user-menu picture settings, click here or see the Tips section above.