The Sharp LC-42SB48UT ($899.99 MSRP) is a 42-inch LCD at an average price designed to suit average needs. It would be suited to this role, too, if it weren't for a few very quirky aspects that make it stick out like a sore thumb.
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The LC-42SB48UT is generic-looking in almost every regard, except the remote, which makes many bold and sometimes conflicting stylistic choices. It is by no means a classy-looking television, like a similarly-categorized Sony or Samsung. However, it is not really obtrusive either, except for a bit of glare from the interior rim of the front bezel.
The front of the television is fairly standard-looking for a modern television. The screen is framed by glossy, black plastic and sits above a strip of grey metal, which conceals the speakers. A blue LED underlines the manufacturer logo, and is the only strong feature of the front panel.
The back of the LC-42SB48UT is a simple sheet of black, matte plastic bordered by horizontal scoring. Its ports are clustered in the lower right quadrant.
The LC-42SB48UT is about three inches deep on its sides, and fashioned of the same matte, black plastic as the back of the TV. The left side houses a few common ports, while the right side contains basic control buttons.
The stand is made of the same glossy, black plastic as that of the front bezel. This produces a strange effect when the bottom of the TV is reflected upon it; the TV's bottom was not crafted with too much care, and two large divots are plainly visible in the reflection, as in our product photo.
It does not allow for swiveling, nor does it give the increased balance hoped for in a stationary stand. As long as the house is not shaking, though, stability should not be an issue.
The side-mounted controls are smooth and featureless. Using them feels deceptive, because pressing them produces a tangible click, but they must be pressed a bit further to elicit any response.
The remote is center-weighted and very light. The design looks like it has no central theme, unless that theme is "made to look like starship controls envisioned in the eighties." The central directional pad is silver plastic, flanked by grey, rubber rockers for volume and channel controls. Apart from four brightly-colored 'favorites' buttons, the rest of the buttons are all dark grey rubber. Two of these, arranged at the bottom of a 3 by 4 grid, are not even labeled. They are literally just small tabs of rubber.
If those were the only qualms we had with the remote, its problems would be whimsical at worst. However, the central directional button is uncomfortably small and made of hard plastic. Pressing it far enough to register required that we press it awkwardly into its indentation with a thumb-tip. When we used the flats of our thumbs, they jammed painfully against the rim of the depression.
The LC-42SB48UT comes only with the standard inclusions: remote, batteries, and manual. The power cable and stand with screws are also inside.
The TV is light enough for most people to set up independently, but not without some effort. It's probably safer to find a helper. Screwing on the base feels a bit open-ended, and you may be left wondering when it can truly be called "attached." We decided to stop when the base ceased most of its wiggling.
The LC-42SB48UT has a good, deep black level. It scored comparably with other televisions in its class, including a plasma, which should generally have a richer black. More on how we test black level.
The LC-42SB48UT is about as bright as other LCD televisions in its class. It does much better than a similarly priced plasma, as one would expect; plasmas generally have problems producing very bright whites. Ultimately, a brightness output of 316.50 cd/m2 is enough to retain contrast in a bright room. More on how we test peak brightness.
A contrast ratio of about 4300:1 is quite good, as expected of a TV with a good brightness and deep black. It's not the LC-42SB48UT's contrast capability that's a problem; it's that all depicted images' dark details are crushed into black oblivion. More on how we test contrast.
The screen displayed good uniformity in both all-black and all-white tests. There was some minor flashlighting in the corners and some blotches near the center on a black screen. About eight horizontal stripes were faintly visible over the entirety of a white screen. Liquid crystals don't produce light on their own, only color. All LCD screens are backlit by a series of thin CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamp) tubes, plus diffusion material to make their locations less noticeable. The horizontal stripes we saw are large; we guessed this might be due to the arrangement of the CCFL tubes or the diffusion material. We weren't about to disassemble the TV to be sure, though. More on how we test white falloff.
Because the curve is weighted heavily at the black end, all dark shades appear similarly black. This is especially noticeable when watching scenes that are darkly-lit for dramatic effect. Even a during a daytime drama, looking at the folds on a man's flannel shirt was like staring into a portal to a dark dimension. The contrast of brightness between the middle greys and white is a bit too severe, as evinced by the steep slope of the rest of the graph, but this doesn't pose nearly as much of a viewing problem as the black crush.
We tried to improve our RGB curve results by lowering the contrast setting, but this alternate calibration ended up accentuating the flat tail of the greyscale gamma. A less severe black crush already made viewing difficult, so we had no problem deciding on the calibration below, which doesn't have nearly a third of its brightness output showing up as flat black.
It's also interesting to note that the contrast setting on the television is not a simple adjustment of greyscale contrast, because if it were, lowering its value should restore shadow detail instead of destroying it. It seems to control a combination of factors, but it would be difficult to pinpoint which ones. More on how we test greyscale gamma.
The LC-42SB48UT's color temperature is not bad. Deep greys dip into a warmer hue, while dark blacks appear bluish. Because most of the error falls within the margin of human perception, this shouldn't really affect daily viewing. More on how we test color temperature.
We mentioned previously in the Black & White section that we tried out two calibrations trying to get an optimal picture. The color curve below shows the result of lowering the contrast setting to optimize the red curve. While the red does look a lot better without peaking out 5/6 of the way to its brightest value, ultimately this calibration accentuated the black-weighting effect of the greyscale gamma.
The lack of detail in shadows is surely the worst quality of this television, so we went with the calibration depicted below, not the one above.
The individual RGB gradients for the LC-42SB48UT are quite smooth and linear. The result would be impressive if not for the abrupt peaking of the red strip for brighter values of red. Reds appear a bit brighter than greens and blues in general, and the brightest shades of red all look identical. This means that anything red, like a rose or apple, may appear overly bright, with no shading. Unfortunately, the darker values on this nice, straight line are often crushed into a flat black by the brightness processing of the TV. More on how we test RGB curves.
As seen in the color bars below, color gradients exhibit very little banding and are weighted less heavily in black, as seen in similarly-priced LCDs. The first sixth of the red band looks the same amount red, resulting from the peak shown in the RGB curves of our chosen calibration.
Motion Smoothness (7.38)
The LC-42SB48UT exhibited a little bit of blurring and flickering during our motion tests. This is common in LCD screens, and remained within the bounds of acceptable viewing.
Motion Artifacting (7.63)
The results of our motion tests revealed only minimal problems with artifacting. There was a bit of false coloration in large, flat areas of color, and a minor stair-stepping pattern. Be sure that you turn HDMI mode to Graphic if you're inputting progressive PC data; otherwise, the overscan will make the motion process more poorly. See our Resolution Scaling section for more information on this mode. More on how we test motion performance.
The LC-42SB48UT has a film mode that corrects conversion from 24fps formats (such as Blu-Ray). It works quite well, and we rarely noticed problems while displaying static high-frequency patterns for long periods; for normal viewing, judder should be no problem. More on how we test 3:2 pulldown and 24fps.
This HDTV persisted in overscanning, even in its native resolution of 1080p—until we changed the HDMI Mode to Graphic. This is the tricky terminology the LC-42SB48UT uses to mean "stop cutting off 4% of the screen on each side when you're inputting from a computer." Not only does this mode not work in interlaced resolutions, but it is very annoying to switch between different inputs because the HDMI Mode setting disappears from the menu entirely when sourcing from an interlaced resolution, such as cable TV. It remembers the Graphic setting, though, so some advanced video settings also become greyed out or dropped off the menu entirely. If this sounds confusing, it's because it's a very confusing and poorly-designed system that will annoy you endlessly if you plan on inputting source from a PC. More on how we test resolution scaling.
There were basically no problems with high-frequency patterns and very little problem with legibility in this resolution. This is due to the trade-off of displaying larger pixels.
The smaller pixels increased the legibility of small lettering, but there were still no problems with Moiré patterns.
In the most common HD resolution, this television performed the most poorly. Cutting off at least 4% of the picture with overscan due to the lack of Graphic HDMI mode, the TV had significant trouble displaying Moiré interference patterns and arrays of fine lines.
The LC-42SB48UT is a 1080p HDTV that supports all standard NTSC formats.
The LC-42SB48UT's viewing angle was even worse than normal for an LCD screen. Measured contrast dropped below 50% when only about 14˚ (degrees) from center. This translates to a total viewing angle that's only 28 degrees total, so we hope you don't plan on having a party.
In our graph, we compare this TV's optimal viewing angle to two LCDs in the same price range, the Sony KDL-40EX400 and Samsung LN40C630, as well as a similarly priced plasma. Plasmas tend to have a great viewing angle, which explains the Panasonic TC-P42S2's performance here.
When we shone an array of LEDs onto the screen, each individual light was visible upon a larger, diffused halo of reflectance. The glare was quite bad, but could be improved by either turning the light away or moving the television itself.
The LC-42SB48UT offers several advanced video settings, the most useful being Digital Noise Reduction, Film Mode if you're watching a 24fps source like Blu-Ray, and perhaps Game Mode if you use the television for video games.
For advanced users inputting PC video, HDMI Mode is the most critical and also the most annoying feature. It is necessary to prevent menu bars from being cut off by overscan, but it can only be adjusted while the television is receiving a progressive (60 full-screen refreshes per second) signal. Additionally, Auto detection does not seem to work. As a result, after changing input sources, you may find the Sharpness setting missing from the menu entirely, and most of the advanced video settings greyed out. To get these settings back, you'll have to switch inputs again. As we mentioned in the Resolution Scaling section, the system is essentially terrible.
We use DisplayMate calibration software in conjunction with a CS-200 ChromaMeter to calibrate our TVs. We try to achieve an ideal calibration for most situations, as defined by industry standards, but our settings may not be suited to your specific viewing needs. You can see how we adjusted things below.
All of our calibration is done in conjunction with the DisplayMate software.
The LC-42SB48UT offers a few video mode presets as a jumping-off point for finding your ideal configuration.
Input Ports (6.5)
There is a good selection of ports inputting to this HDTV: 4 HDMI, 2 component video, 1 composite video, 1 VGA, 4 analog audio, and 1 RS-232C. Most of them are clustered on the back.
Unfortunately, the stationary stand means that accessing most of the ports might be a bother. The only ones readily accessible from the side are one HDMI, a composite audio/video, and a USB port. There is also a headphone jack here.
Output Ports (3.0)
In addition to a digital audio out, there are two analog audio output ports. This is a strange bonus: one is for sound systems, while the other is for a 3.5mm headphone jack. Either way, you will probably want to use something external over the built-in speakers; their audio quality is approximately equivalent to a child's telephone made from a pair of plastic cups and a string.
Other Connections (0.0)
The LC-42SB48UT has no internet/network connectivity.
A side-mounted USB port could allow you to view photos or listen to mp3 audio files.
We've compiled a chart listing the LC-42SB48UT's ports, as well as the ones found on a few TVs of similar price range.
The ports are grouped reasonably on the back of the TV, plus a few on the side. They are all well-labeled, but as mentioned, the lack of a swiveling stand makes plugging cables into the back a bit of a hassle.
The LC-42SB48UT has some of the worst audio quality we have ever heard come out of a television. The sound is thin and muffled, and completely lacking in low-end. The TV then offers you bass and treble adjusters, as though that could possibly correct the problem. The equalizer does not allow for full-fledged control, but rather a handful of presets, rock, pop, live, dance, techno, classic, and soft. Finally, there's a "sound surround" mode, which doesn't really emulate surround sound, but does seem to boost the mid-bass to mid-range tones up to a more acceptable level. In short, if you care about audio quality, you will probably need to buy external speakers.
There is also an adjuster for balance to re-weight the audio to the left or right, and an Auto Volume Control, which attempts to keep the sound at a constant volume between television programs and commercials. For daytime TV, it seemed to take the volume down a couple notches for commercials and TV shows alike. It's a good idea, but does not seem to be implemented well enough to be helpful without reducing the impact of varying program volume.
The menus are fairly easy to navigate, with specific settings branching off of a bar of categories to the left. Their response time is also relatively quick. The only really unfortunate aspect of the menu design is the choice of font: robin's egg blue over sky blue. As a result, the settings are about as legible as the instant messages of a 13 year-old who has just discovered the color settings, except they aren't also in Comic Sans.
The printed manual is fairly comprehensive and available in English, French, and Spanish. Interestingly, the table of contents references pages that are lower in number than it is; this is because the manual opens with a Quick-Start guide. You can find the Sharp LC-42SB48UT's manual online here.
This TV has no internet or networking features.
The LC-42SB48UT can play photos off a thumb drive plugged into its USB port. It has a somewhat-confusing interface that's made worse by the fact that you need to use the four unlabeled, brightly-colored buttons at the base of the remote. They're awkward to access, and what they do (if anything) changes from screen to screen, as noted at the bottom of the interface.
When you get the hang of controlling it, though, you'll be sure to impress your friends with image rotation, duration, and box wipes. "Box wipes in or out?" you ask, your interest piqued. Sharp leaves that artistic choice up to you, the user.
This TV is capable of playing mp3 audio only, with an interface like the one for photos. It is less confusing, but also requires you to use the four colored buttons on the remote, which require some getting used to. The interface defaults to displaying photos on the USB device and can be toggled to show audio files instead.
The television has no other media playback capability.
The LC-42SB48UT, like most LCDs, does not require too much power. Still, it is more expensive than newer screens that use LEDs for back lighting rather than CCFL tubes. Even with the backlight all the way up, it should only cost about $27 a year if you use it for five hours a day. With the backlight turned down to 48, the minimum brightness needed to watch in a dark room, the cost will only be about $19 yearly.
In the chart below, you can see how a plasma drains electricity compared to the other three LCDs.
These two TVs have the same MSRP, but the Sharp has an additional two inches of screen in exchange for missing online content. If you have no preference between a 42-inch screen or a 40-inch screen, we recommend the Samsung in this situation. It performs almost identically in most categories, but it has online capability, a better viewing angle, brighter whites, and a swiveling stand.
The LN40C630's contrast is superior to that of the Sharp due to its superior peak white level. Both TVs have a problem displaying shadow detail.
The Sharp's color temperature is much more stable compared to the Samsung-branded LCD, which could be called "wayward" in its blue drift. Their RGB capabilities are similar, with the Samsung having curves that are slightly better.
The Sharp's motion smoothness rendering was a little better than the Samsung's, but it had more problems with artifacts. In sum, they performed about the same in our tests.
The Samsung has a better viewing angle than the Sharp, whose angle is terrible in the same way Jem is outrageous: truly. It in the comparison charted below, the Samsung (red lines) and Sony (purple lines) have exactly the same angle, making them hard to differentiate.
The Sharp has a couple extra analog audio ports compared to the Samsung, perhaps greedily acquired in an illicit deal with a hardware-swapping devil who has taken the much more valuable Ethernet and DLNA connectivity in exchange. This devil is not without a sense of humor, so it has also thrown in an RS-232C port, something useful only to calibration elitists who wouldn't bother with a TV such as this. Suffice to say, we think the Samsung's internet capabilities are much more useful than all these things combined.
The Panasonic TC-P42S2 costs only $50 less than the LC-42SB48UT, and they are the same size, as well. The major difference to consider is your personal need—the Panasonic is a plasma, and the Sharp is an LCD. If you'll be watching primarily films and favor color accuracy, the plasma will be a better choice. However, if you value motion rendering and brightness, such as for sports-viewing, the LCD might be better (though not if you plan having a room full of people viewing at a wide angle). LCDs have really improved in these areas, and the LC-42SB48UT showcases this change. Ultimately, it comes down to your minor preference and whether or not the greater cost of powering the plasma is a concern—if the TV is going to be on for longer than five hours daily, cost may be something to consider. We're hesitant to state a general preference due to the very different traits of these displays, but if pressed for a general use situation, we would lean toward the Panasonic.
The contrast capability of the LC-42SB48UT is better than that on the TC-P42S2. Its black level is just a tad darker than the plasma's, and its peak brightness is significantly better. Dim whites is a common problem for plasmas, and their contrast tends to suffer accordingly.
The color accuracy of the Panasonic is much better than that of the Sharp. Its color temperature is just about perfect, compared to the Sharp which has problems with darker greys. Its RGB curves are also a bit better.
Overall, the motion processing of the the TC-P42S2 was not as good as that of the LC-42SB48UT: it performed about the same on motion smoothness, but had a significant problem with artifacts.
Plasmas tend to have a viewing angle that shames that of LCDs, but this pairing is particularly comedic. The poor viewing angle of the LC-42SB48UT is outright laughable compared to the TC-P42S2, an average plasma display.
The Panasonic is a bit lacking in connectivity compared to the Sharp LC-42SB48UT. The TC-P42S2 has a memory card, but no audio out, while the Sharp has VGA, USB, and an RS-232C. The Sharp only has one composite port, though, which might be a problem for people with older devices.
The Sharp offers screen size, contrast, color, motion, and connectivity that are just slightly better than those of the Sony KDL-40EX400 in exchange for a few hundred dollars. Overall, we don't think these things are worth the price differential, especially when the viewing angle of the Sharp is so bad. We are talking about a price increase of 50% in the face of two inches of screen plus a series of slight benefits that nobody outside of a TV lab would ever notice. We would rather save our money and upgrade to a FutureTV in a couple years—by then, they'll probably shoot an image right into your eyes like a Virtual Boy (though hopefully without ruining them).
The LC-42SB48UT's contrast is a little bit better than that of the Sony due to its narrowly superior black and peak white levels.
Both the Sony and the Sharp had similar performance in the color department. The Sharp's color temperature was, in general, only a problem for darkest blacks, while more dark greys had issue on the Sony. The Sharp's RGB curves fell a bit short of the Sony's, though. Overall, we prefer the Sharp's superior temperature stability here.
The motion rendering of the Sharp was a little bit better than the Sony's during our tests.
The LC-42SB48UT's viewing angle could be defined in a word: bad. However, we've also defined it in a number: 14˚. The Sony KDL-40EX400 more than doubles this number, even though it's another LCD.
The Sharp's connectivity is strictly superior to that of the Sony, which is identical except for a couple missing audio ports.
The LC-42SB48UT ($899.99 MSRP) is something of a strange beast: it's not quite a no-frills HDTV on the cheap, nor does it offer any exciting features like networking. But at this price, we expect a little more than a 42-inch screen, decent performance, and some local multimedia playback.
If you don't have a problem with a bad viewing angle, think you'll watch brightly-lit shows, and don't plan on sourcing the television from a PC extensively, this TV could suit your needs. Otherwise, we recommend you look through our other reviews for a television that is more suited to your specific needs. Jump back a few pages in the review and check out our hand-selected comparisons.
The two televisions in this series are very basic, having all the ports one would generally need, but no internet or network features. A generic photo and mp3 playback feature for the USB port is the only thing that sets these TVs apart from other entry-level LCDs.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.