Design is not the Sharp's LC-52D85U ($2300, as of November 4, 2008) strong point. The on-screen menus, the remote, and even the manual could have used a once-over to make them more friendly. But this model does well on the most important criterion, image quality.
In our PC World Test Center evaluations of performance, it tied with the LG 52LG70 for third place overall in this size category. Our judges tended to give it Good or Very Good ratings on most measures, and one juror specifically praised the set's clarity in showing details. Even so, our judges detected some shortcomings: One noted visible artifacting, and another complained that in a 480p DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King scene (chapter 12), colors looked washed out. I noticed pixelation and found many scenes excessively bright. And though this set has a 120-Hz refresh rate, we saw no evidence that the faster refresh helped smooth out motion in our NASCAR clip.
The Sharp delivers acceptable sound, but there was no real depth to its artificial surround sound, and no oomph to an organ blast. Loud sounds suffered from slight harshness.
Unfortunately, design deficiencies make Sharp's remote and its menus difficult to use. The remote is freckled with tiny, difficult-to-press buttons. Though it has a backlight, this feature doesn't provide much help in the dark. Press the Light button (which glows quite nicely), and only the elongated Volume and Channel buttons, plus four others, light up. Since the labels aren't illuminated, it's unclear which button is which.
Other interface issues abound. Click the Input button, and you get a list of all available inputs, whether you have any hardware connected to them or not; worse, the inputs are titled 'Input 1', 'Input 2', etc., without any indication of which is an AV input and which is an HDMI (at least you can rename the inputs). The manual has a busy, unattractive layout, and the absence of an index makes finding needed information unduly difficult.
Furthermore, the Sharp LC-52D85U doesn't support picture-in-picture or any multimedia capabilities via USB, SD Card, or ethernet.
At $2300, this model provides the best picture for its price among the 50- and 52-inch sets. It's not the easiest television to use, and it lacks some features, but maybe those features aren't worth the extra $200 you'd have to pay for the Samsung PN50A760 (which has them). On the other hand, buyers on a budget may be lured away by the LG Electronics 50PG30, a 50-inch plasma-screen HDTV that costs about $600 less than the Sharp.