After setting up the Sharp alongside a first-generation Pioneer Kuro plasma and feeding both TVs the same signal through an HDMI splitter, I began my viewing with Close Encounters of the Third Kind on HDNet. The Sharp delivered an incredibly impressive picture that compared favorably with the Pioneer.
Blacks were noticeably deeper on the Sharp with both sets tuned to deliver the same level of shadow detail. In a scene showing a blackout overtaking a town, a low-angle shot of a tall McDonald's sign accurately reproduced the familiar red and yellow colors with essentially total blackness behind the sign. The edges of the black letterbox bars above and below the film's widescreen image were virtually undetectable from night sky when viewed from 8 feet away, and both the bars and the sky were noticeably darker than on the Pioneer.
Another scene shows a neighborhood viewed from a hillside as the house lights go out block by block. The starry sky here made for another staggering demonstration of the Sharp's excellent black levels and picture contrast. It again blended perfectly with the letterbox bars, and the white and red speckles representing stars looked more convincing and stood in greater relief against the black than on the Pioneer.
Switching to the Blu-ray Disc of Iron Man, I generally found the Sharp's colors vibrant and accurate. Occasionally scenes with heavy white or gray content would expose the Sharp's bluish color balance, but other scenes looked amazing. For example, in the sequence where Robert Downey, Jr. dons his armored suit, its pearlescent burnt-red finish, the brushed-stainless-steel straps on his boots, the brushed gold of his helmet, and the blue-green glow of his power generator were reproduced with striking punch. Close-ups of these -- and of the industrial-yellow robotic arms that fit the parts to him like a puzzle -- moved across the screen in a flowing concert of rich color and fine detail.
On some scenes, however, the Sharp blew out highlight detail even when the rest of the image looked just right. For instance, during a cocktail party where Downey is confronted by a reporter while standing at a translucent white bar lit from below, both of their faces looked washed out and very video-like where the light hit them hardest. Reducing contrast or the set's backlight can tame this, but not without sacrificing needed punch in the rest of the image.
The LC-52XS1U scores big on its stunningly thin design, super-deep blacks, and mostly excellent color. On these points, it's the best LCD I've seen and competitive with better plasmas. Its tendency to wash out some highlights and its slightly off-kilter white balance keep me from declaring it a rave, but this is an impressive HDTV, and Sharp gets big kudos for advancing the LCD state of the art.
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