Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sharp LC42XL2E Image Quality

HD (Blu-Ray)

While I've never seen high-def material look anything less than acceptable on a calibrated flat screen television due to the sheer resolution and lush colours, the adeptness of Sharp LC42XL2E at portraying fine detail surpassed my expectations. Confirming what I observed during our resolution benchmark test, Night At The Museum (Blu-ray) on the Sharp LC42XL2E in [Dot by Dot] mode was a visual feast in terms of delicate nuances.


Take, for example, the above hilarious scene in which Larry (Ben Stiller) was held down by miniature cowboys/ miners (33:31). One could effortlessly make out the individual stones forming a bed of ballast for the unfinished rail track, the criscrossing strands of tiny rope, each dimunitive figure, and even the veins popping on Larry's forehead.

Similarly, when Larry attempted to impress Attila The Hun with magic tricks (58:06), the level of detail on the Huns' costumes – from the fur helmets to the ornate metal pieces constituting the armour vests – was simply astounding to say the least:

Attila The Hun

But perhaps the sequence most telling of the Sharp LC42XL2E's exceptional detail extraction and presentation is when Larry was talking to President Theodore Roosevelt (39:22). I had no difficulty reading the "Museum Of Natural History" badge on Larry's right sleeve even though it was not exactly the item in focus:

Teddy Roosevelt

Although eclipsed by the latest S-PVA panels found on the Sony W3000 and the Samsung F86, the black-level performance on Sharp LC42XL2E is still very good by LCD standards. The haunting silhouette shot of New York City skyline (38:32) never threatened to degrade into a fog of greyness so common on lesser LCD televisions.

And the good news is that shadow detail was not obfuscated by the impressive blacks (I used [Movie Mode] to obtain the best gamma profile). When retiring security guard Cecil (Dick Van Dyke) was showing Larry around the Temple of Pharaoh Ahkmenrah (16:22), the inscriptions on the pillars and the towering jackal-headed statues remained clearly visible.


If you're a D65/ Rec. 709 junkie, the Sharp LC42XL2E's uneven greyscale and cyanish green might take some getting used to, but generally speaking I found its colour rendition relatively realistic. My biggest gripe would be the set's tendency to exaggerate reds (i.e. red push). For example, as Rebecca was crossing the street with Larry outside the museum (48:32), to my eyes her red coat stood out too much against other colours in the scene.

While red push is strictly speaking a colour decoding error (I have the luxury of filters, light measuring instruments, calibration experience, and side-by-side comparison with other panels to tell me so), some viewers may actually like the vividness of red generated by Sharp LC42XL2E. This – of course – is a matter of preference, as long as you realise that there exist other screens with accurate decoding which can deliver a more balanced picture colour-wise.

Dr McPhee

The Sharp LC42XL2E accepted 1080p/24 signal from the Sony PS3 without any fuss. The panning camera shot away from a scale model of Mayan pyramid (14:26) did not reveal any telltale sign of telecine judder, nor did the scrolling credits at the end of the film.

Unfortunately while I was scrutinising camera pans for judder, I observed some "bands" in the sky as the camera tilted downwards (05:56 and 1:38:54). Otherwise these "bands" did not rear their heads again throughout the entire movie.

When fed with a 1080p/24 signal, the [100Hz] and [Film Mode] controls were greyed out on the Sharp LC42XL2E, making it impossible to gauge the effects of these video processing – if any – on such material.

SD (Freeview Digital TV)

Provided that the programme/ channel bit-rate was decent and a sensible viewing distance was adopted, good scaling and deinterlacing capabilities meant that the Sharp LC42XL2E delivered some of the most outstanding Freeview pictures I have seen so far for this class size in the LCD realm. Blacks was deep, shadow detail was excellent, and colours were more than acceptable though reds could still look a touch too angry.


Keen to check out the motion benefits that [100Hz] confers, I tuned in to watch Tottenham Hotspur's European odyssey in the UEFA Cup:

UEFA Cup football

Engaging [100Hz] certainly produced a visible improvement to the typical drop in motion resolution that affects most LCD televisions, without introducing any major interpolation artifacts such as picture tearing. As the camera moved sideways to follow the football action, individual figures in the crowd and the words on the pitch-side advertisements were less blurry compared to when [100Hz] was switched off.

Unfortunately, live football also fulfills two of the conditions which make any screen uniformity issues much more noticeable: lots of camera panning, and a largely uniform background (football field). In the case of the Sharp LC42XL2E, a few vertical bands of uneven brightness cropped up time and again whenever the camera panned horizontally, which may annoy the more discerning viewers.

PS3 Console Gaming

Until the day arrives when I receive confirmation that a video game is authored strictly to D65 standard (which may not be too far in the distant future given that more and more games are incorporating cinematic experience into gameplay, e.g. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune), I usually refrain from applying my own calibration settings for console gaming. Instead, more often than not I find myself resorting to the [Game Mode] if it's available on the television.

On the Sharp LC42XL2E, the result was vibrant and bright, yet there was still sufficient dynamic range to render the compelling shadow and lighting effects in an incredibly detailed environment:

Set PS3's [RGB Full Range (HDMI)] to "Limited" to avoid crushing shadow detail

I turned on [100Hz] for its motion resolution advantage, and did not witness any significant ill effects. There were the occasional screen tearing when playing Uncharted, but as they persisted regardless of whether [100Hz] was on or off, and also on other HDTVs I had at hand, I attributed the tearing to the game engine itself.

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