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Sharp LC-37D64U LCD HDTV Print E-mail
Friday, 01 August 2008
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Sharp LC-37D64U LCD HDTV
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I think I’ve been spoiled by my job.  Over the past year, most of the TVs I’ve reviewed have fallen in the 46- to 52-inch range.  When I first unpacked this 37-inch LCD, my reaction was, “Aww, how cute. It’s just so … little.”  But the truth is, if I were actually buying a new TV, this is probably the screen size I could afford.  The price of flat panels has fallen dramatically over the past few years, but these TVs still aren’t cheap.  It’s one thing to say that $2,500 is a good deal on a new 46-inch 1080p LCD; it’s another to actually shell out the cash yourself.

In the real world, a lot of people still shop in the sub-40-inch range and consider a 37-inch TV to be a big step up from their old 27-inch CRT.  Sharp obviously understands this, which is why the company recently added two smaller screen sizes to its popular Slim-line Series – or, as it’s more colorfully known by us reviewer types, the D64U Series.  Upon the line’s release last year, it included four models with screen sizes from 42 to 65 inches; the company has now added 32- and 37-inch models, both with a 1080p resolution.  The LC-37D64U’s $1,499.99 asking price puts it under Sharp’s new high-end gaming series, but that 1080p resolution still carries a price premium over the company’s similarly-sized 768p models.  As I sat down to review this TV, the first question that came to my mind was, do you really need to pay more for 1080p on a 37-inch screen?

The Slim-line moniker refers to the TV’s sleeker cabinet design, which is 25 percent slimmer and 20 percent lighter than previous Sharp LCDs.  The attractive gloss-black bezel measures about one-and-a-half inches to the top and sides and about two inches at the bottom; a slim, silver speaker bar runs along the bottom panel, recessed slightly behind the main bezel.  Indeed, the LC-37D64U’s smaller footprint was partly responsible for my “little” reaction, described above.  My 2006 HP MediaSmart LCD also has a 37-inch screen, and it barely fits in a large cabinet in my bedroom.  It also requires two people to move it from one place to another, due primarily to its bulk.  This Sharp, on the other hand, fits easily in said cabinet, and I can carry it myself.  On its own, the TV weighs a little over 38 pounds and measures three-and-three-quarters inches deep.  The LC-37D64U arrives with the stand detached – which makes sense, as this TV’s lighter weight makes wall-mounting a more realistic option.  Attaching the stand was a simple process that took only a few minutes.  On its own, the plastic stand feels a little flimsy, weighing only about seven pounds, but it holds the LCD securely in place and compliments the TV visually.

The Sharp’s input panel is solid but not as generous as that of competitors that offer four HDMI inputs and peripheral features like Ethernet connectivity and music/photo playback through a USB port or card slot.  The LC-37D64U has just two HDMI inputs, neither of which is located on the front or side panel.  The side panel does sport one component video input, along with a set of basic A/V inputs and a USB port for service only.  In addition to the two HDMIs on back, you’ll find one component video, one D-Sub 15-pin PC, one S-video, two composite video and one RF input for accessing the internal ATSC/NTSC/Clear-QAM tuners.  The HDMI inputs accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24, and the component video inputs accept 1080p/60, which is less common.  Optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs are included, as is an RS-232 control port.

The onscreen menu has an intuitive layout that I found easy to navigate.  The main categories (Picture, Audio, Power Control, Set-up, Option and Digital Set-up) run horizontally across the screen, while the sub-menu items run vertically beneath them.  My only gripe is that the Picture sub-menu doesn’t minimize when you make adjustments to the video parameters; even though the menu is translucent, it’s still a bit challenging to adjust color and tint in particular.  The remote has a clean, smart button layout, and the inclusion of exit and return buttons makes menu navigation all the easier.  It lacks dedicated source buttons, but it does sport partial backlighting, including desired buttons like input, volume, channel, mute and menu.  Seven buttons hide behind a panel at the bottom of the remote, including an AV Mode button that lets you scroll between the TV’s seven picture modes: Dynamic (Fixed), Dynamic, Standard, Movie, Game, PC and User.  Strangely, you can’t select an AV Mode directly via the onscreen menu; you can only scroll one way through the seven options via the remote, which is cumbersome.  As usual, the Dynamic picture modes are to be avoided, as they are exaggerated and inaccurate.  I stuck with the tried-and-true Movie mode, but the Standard mode is also a good base for a brighter viewing environment.

The LC-37D64U offers a solid amount of image adjustments, but it lacks some higher-end refinements that the enthusiast would appreciate.  For one, you can’t configure each AV Mode differently for each input. In terms of the basic contrast, brightness, color, tint and sharpness controls, it’s worth noting that, if you set the contrast too high, it crushes whites, robbing them of fine detail.  Edge enhancement is a concern at the higher sharpness settings, while softness is a concern at the lower settings; it’s best to stay near the default middle sharpness setting through both the HDMI and component inputs.  The LC-37D64U sports a 33-step adjustable backlight, as well as an automatic brightness adjustment called OPC, which uses a light sensor on the TV’s front panel to adjust image brightness based on room lighting. You can set the high and low range of the OPC adjustment or turn it off completely; I chose the latter and went with the fixed backlight control instead.  I also turned off the Active Contrast setting that automatically adjusts contrast based on image content.  Two settings dictate how the TV handles interlaced 480i and 1080i sources: Film mode (on/off) detects the 3:2 sequence in film-based sources, and I/P Setting lets you designate whether content is fast or slow.  The TV has a solid array of color adjustments, including five color-temperature options (high, mid-high, middle, mid-low and low) and a color management system that lets you precisely adjust the hue and saturation of the primary and secondary color points.  However, the menu lacks the advanced gamma and white-balance controls you’ll find in some comparably-priced LCDs. You do get a basic noise-reduction control (off/low/high) that’s oddly located in the Option menu instead of the Picture menu.

The Audio set-up menu contains your run-of-the-mill treble, bass and balance adjustments, plus a generic bass enhancer and surround on/off mode.  Again, this TV lacks more advanced options like preset audio modes, SRS processing and a sound stabilizer to minimize volume jumps between TV shows and commercials.  The set-up menu is where you can configure the RF input for analog and/or digital channels and launch the tuning process.  The switch is fairly quick, but doesn’t provide much information beyond the overall number of analog and digital stations tuned.  Deleting unwanted channels and selecting favorites is a bit more tedious than it needs to be, and the menu doesn’t include a program guide.  The omission of picture-in-picture is becoming increasingly common on newer HDTVs, and Sharp has opted to follow suit.  Aspect-ratio options are limited to four for both 4:3 and 16:9 programming; there’s no mode to reshape incorrectly stretched 4:3 programs on HD channels, but there is a Dot by Dot mode for showing 1080i/1080p with no overscan.  As was the case with the AV Mode function, you can’t switch aspect ratios via the onscreen menu; you can only do so via the remote’s View Mode button.

Other general set-up parameters include the ability to enable the AQUOS Link for more intuitive control of equipment connected via HDMI, power controls to automatically turn off the TV when no signal or operation is present, and an audio-only option that turns off the screen – a nice feature for those who like to listen to their cable or satellite provider’s digital music stations without wasting energy or bulb life.  Through the digital set-up menu, you can perform firmware upgrades using the side-panel USB port.

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