Not quite as visible as the Samsung and Sony televisions of this world, nevertheless Sharp has kept beavering away for the last few years at producing LCD televisions of good quality. However, it's been a while between drinks for the company, and so we look at what Sharp's LC42D77X has to offer.
Several years ago, in what we call "the putrid stage", televisions came in an odd combination of silver and black, and not even Sharp got off lightly. However, its last few ranges have shown some up-to-date cosmetics. For the D77X the company has taken a leaf from LG's book with the TV's transparent plastic and piano black/blue finish. The base of the unit is also constructed from shiny black plastic.
The remote is functional, even if the buttons are a little small. It's not the easiest to use, as the volume and channel buttons are placed above the D pad in an awkward spot, and it requires a little bit of juggling to operate correctly.
As this is a mid-priced television the feature count is relatively modest: no fancy interweb doohickeys here. You get a 1080p panel "proudly" manufactured in Japan — where most are from Korea or China — and it features a dynamic contrast ratio of 50,000 to one. Like many modern flat panels, it features a 100Hz mode, here called Fine Motion Advanced 100Hz, and is designed to smooth out motion artefacts like "judder" and "ghosting".
The television comes with three HDMI ports (which is typical for a TV of this size and price) in addition to two component inputs. If you have a lot of legacy equipment you'll appreciate the three AV inputs plus the inclusion of the technically superior (but mostly shunned) S-Video connection. A VGA input and optical digital and AV output (for the on-board tuner) round out the connectivity.
We've been a fan of Sharp's TV sound for a while, and on the LC42D77X it has the "invisible speaker" where the speakers are integrated into the bezel. The system is driven by a digital amplifier, which traditionally boasts better efficiency — meaning less heat and better power.
Like all TVs, you'll see from the close of this year onwards that the Sharp comes with an Energy Star rating, and in this case it scores a semi-respectable 3.5 stars. This is due in part to its suite of Eco features, which include energy save, no signal off and no operation off modes.
Finally, the TV also features a large, easy to read seven-day EPG (Electronic Program Guide). The EPG has a search feature, but is no more useful than that on any other EPG — you can only search by date or genre, and both are time consuming.
Having been impressed with Sharp TV performances in the past, we weren't prepared for what we got after plugging an antenna cable into the back of this one. Tuned to David Attenborough's Planet Earth in HD, the Sharp looked stunning with natural reds and blues. As with all of his documentaries, there were little furry things scurrying through the underbrush in extreme close-up, and the D77X made sure the wiggling noses and twitching fur were detailed, and motion was smooth.
So, it can handle off-air pictures, but what about all the discs you have lying around? We plugged in a copy of King Kong on DVD and found it was able to relay the results with natural colours and deep blacks — though the image wasn't as "three dimensional" when compared to other sets. TVs such as the Pioneer Kuros and the LED-backlit LCDs are able to generate a sense of depth due to incredibly high levels of black. While the Sharp didn't give us the sense that we could reach out and touch the objects on-screen, blacks were still "black" and not shades of green. Similarly, the river demonstrated the TV's quality image processing by reducing the appearance of purple and green bands from the shots of the Hudson River as seen from the top of the Empire State. Blurring wasn't a problem either, and the TV was able to track the planes in the panning shot at the penultimate scene without issue.
Though we were generally impressed with last year's LC46D83X, one of its main faults was poor motion resolution (interlaced pictures when showing anything but static images). However, the company appears to have rectified the issue this time around.
When switching to HD discs, we experienced the same impressive image quality we'd seen on the FTA tuner. MI3 on Blu-ray wasn't too grainy, while detail levels were still high, and colours were natural and yet still well-saturated. There was also solid support for the 24p Blu-ray standard with very little judder. But don't bother with the 100hZ if judder does show up — it's as bad as all the rest.
In common with the Sharp screens of yore, we experienced no problems with backlight clouding, which is where solid slabs of black can come out "blotchy" due to inconsistencies in the backlight. However, it did suffer from the other common problem of today's LCDs in that when viewed off-axis blacks become purple. While this isn't usually an issue, if you're looking for a television you can watch at an angle — say because you have a rectangular room — then an LCD such as the Sharp LC42D77X isn't for you.
Our only quibble with the Sharp LC42D77X is that the sound quality has gone backwards. We still have fond memories of the Sharp LC46D83X, which is probably the best sounding TV of the last few years, and so it's a shame to see the company falter in this regard. Voices lack depth and authority, and despite the Bass Enhancer being on there was almost zero bass response. As a result movies like MI3 were vaguely ridiculous, turning nail-biting action sequences into the aural equivalent of a reading of the minutes from the local philatelists club.
ConclusionThe Sharp LC42D77X is a good all-rounder: it features modern design, excellent visuals, and a modicum of features for the price. Where it falls down is in the audio department, but presumably you'll buy a home cinema as well. Say yes. Please say yes.
Another point is that Sharp has a new TV coming very shortly, which promises to blow this one away. We got a sneak peek of it this week and think it's going to be a winner, and for a price not that much more than this one. If you're looking to buy a Sharp specifically in the short term it may be worth waiting a couple of weeks and checking out the impressive-looking LED-backlit LC40LE700X.