You might have noticed, but the Giz gang and I are starting to do head-to-head comparisons of gear inspired by all those Macho Man vs. Ultimate Warrior matches we grew up with. Here's my offering: Big, beautiful, flat panels, faced off, side by side.
By reputation, Sharp and Pioneer are near the heads of their classes. So if I had $5k to burn, I'd have considered either the ultra tweakable 50-inch Pioneer Elite Pro-1140HD, or the top-line 52-inch Sharp Aquos LC-52d92u LCD with a gonzo 15,000:1 contrast ratio. The Pioneer was the top-rated plasma by Consumer reports, while the 92 series Sharp is the successor to their top rated LCD. The Plasma is actually the one Walt Mossberg went with as a personal set, and its relatives, the 50-inch PDP-5070HD, and the Elite Pro-940HD are both highly regarded. This is the bigger, better combination of those two sets. A hard decision, and no one's really spent much time comparing them both.
So I tested them by spending a few weeks living by them side by side, through hours of HD movies, TV, games, test discs, regular TV and just about everything a geek can throw at a set.
What I found is that I prefer the newer, slightly more expensive Sharp LCD. But while testing, I couldn't forget that the aging Plasma tech in the Pioneer is on its way out. Tomorrow, the company is unveiling sets and full details on the new plasma technology built from the ground up. From what we've heard at CES, LCD and plasma competitors are going to have a nasty time pacing the new Pioneer gear coming later in the year.
But back to the sets at hand. Side by side, calibrated and uncalibrated, the Sharp never failed to be the TV my eye was drawn to using HD sources.
The Sharp has, what other reviewers at PC Mag and CNet claim are extremely deep blacks. In fact, they're the deepest black levels of any set I've ever seen in person. (Maybe that newly crowned Panasonic Plasma Gary Merson reviewed last week is deeper, or those LED backlit displays from Samsung we saw at CES.) It's got a powerful "5-wave" backlighting that is blindingly bright. Combine that with a 4ms response time and 120Hz refresh rate that interpolates the frames in between your average 60Hz signal, and you've got a bunch of powerful stats that amount to a powerful picture. I turned off the black level enhancement (doesn't need it and it washes out the grays.) That gave it much better shadow detail, even if not as good as the Pioneer. Before and after calibration with SpyderTV I found it blue/cold before tweaking white balance. But the colors were better out of the box. Yes, better.