Sharp LC-32LE210E £599
1st Dec 2010 | 16:10
Cute and good value edge-lit LED set sadly lacking Freeview HD
Sharp LC-32LE210E: Overview
Sharp's latest 32-inch TV is LED-powered and is cheap to boot. The edge-mounted backlight enables a depth of 46mm, which, while appreciably chunkier than the 10mm-and-under to which the true flatscreen aristocracy currently aspires, is nonetheless about half as thick as a comparable CCFL-lit set.
The fashionable diode technology is slightly overshadowed by the lack of that other must-have of 2010; a Freeview HD tuner. Although you wouldn't expect to find such a delight on a sub-£500 screen, it does leave the LC-32LE210E looking a touch out of date. Not that Sky or Virgin Media customers will care.
Almost as by way of an apology the LC-32LE210E does have something extra special in the shape of USB recording; slip a memory stick or external hard drive into its side and you can store shows from its digital Freeview tuner.
Although the operation manual for the LC-32LE210E suggests that there's also a 24-inch version, the only other alternative we could find on sale in the UK was Sharp's new 37-inch LC-37LE320E. Selling for around £700, this Edge LED-lit telly trades the LC-32LE210E's USB recording for a 100Hz panel. It's otherwise identical.
The real question you need to answer – if you're set on Sharp – is whether to go for this full HD, USB recording LED TV, or choose the LC-32DH510E, which can also record from USB, but does away with LED backlighting on a standard HD ready panel. Having road-tested the LC-32LE210E and seen it selling online for a mere £50 or so more, we can't see the LC-32DH510E lasting much longer.
Sharp LC-32LE210E: Features
The LC-32LE210E pulls off a gloss black finish better than most. By curving the frame widely around the corners of the screen, Sharp's designers have lent the set a distinctively smooth, round look that hides the fact that, at four inches, the bezel is rather wide.
It's interrupted only by an 'Aquos' badge on the frame's top-left corner. The under-slung speakers, completely hidden from view and down-firing, sport a Sharp logo and a green/red-lit upside down 'V' shape that helps create a simple, friendly appearance that ought to make it easy to house it alongside almost any AV gear. The only issues are reflections from, and fingerprints on, the glossy finish.
The rear is similarly curved and easy on the eye. A back panel holds more-or-less what you'll need, but does underline just how fast things have changed in the past few years. Three HDMI inputs are essential inclusions, and so is component video, but two less important – though normally standard – video inputs are missing. There's no sign of either S-video or composite video inputs, which will make hooking up an older games console or even a digital camera tricky.
It's all about space-saving back there, with the usual second Scart also omitted. Most of us won't have a problem with any of these exclusions, though the LC-32LE210E is perhaps a bit too big for its boots in declaring the death of old analogue ins and outs. After all, it doesn't even have its own Freeview HD tuner – so there's no Ethernet LAN port, either.
The side panel is fuller than most, with a USB slot, a 15-pin VGA port for a PC (strangely divorced from the PC audio minijack on the set's rear), a headphones jack, and a Common Interface slot that's ready to accept Top-Up TV viewing cards.
The USB slot isn't just capable of recording; TimeShift features mean it stores the channel you're watching on a loop, so pausing and rewinding live TV is possible.
We're impressed by the options available, but who would buy a dedicated PVR with a single tuner? The answer is no-one – they don't exist, and for good reason; recordings can only be made on the channel you're watching.
The chance to schedule a programme to record if you're going out for the evening – as well as the TimeShift options – make this (essentially free) feature a possible point-scorer in a showdown between the LC-32LE210 and a rival, though.
Considering that the LC-32LE210E's USB port also plays photos, music and video files, a second USB port wouldn't go amiss – and there's plenty of room for one below that side-panel's Common Interface slot.
What this set does lack is some serious picture processing – and 100Hz scanning in particular.
Sharp LC-32LE210E: Picture
It may have LED backlighting and a full HD resolution, but that's no guarantee of picture quality out of the box; the LC-32LE210E needs some serious adjustments.
The main problem is brightness. If the TV is in any of its preset modes – Standard, Soft or the dreaded Dynamic – the colours are just too intense and uncomfortable. It's possible to adjust only the major parameters – contrast, brightness, sharpness, etc. with no more comprehensive tweaking possible, though we managed to create a clean and quite cinematic image. Sadly, we weren't able to save our changes and create a 'user' preset.
To put it into context, the set 'eco' mode, which is flagged up as a major feature, has the backlight far brighter than needed.
During playback of our Blu-ray test discs, the quasi-calibrated image features solid and accurate reds, nicely muted greens (always a tricky colour) and some of the deepest blacks you'll see this side of £700. As well as being profound, the black doesn't dominate; tiny pinpricks of starlight within a black-as-night sky can be seen in our test footage, with little trace of haloing and a uniform quality.
That's rare on an edge LED set, where the magic of LED clusters weave their magic only at the sides of the screen. That's not an issue here, probably because of the small size of the display. The shadow detailing isn't always spot-on though. Black areas of image are rather two-dimensional, with clothes in particular lacking much texture.
That said, there is depth in larger images; within a clip of a room in almost total blackout we were just able to pick out enough detail to look into the image – but even a cheap plasma outperforms LED in this regard.
Excellent colours and contrast pervade, but the LC-32LE210E's image is not the finished article. The panel itself isn't as sharp as some, with full HD detail in close-ups and panoramas not as impressive as on some rival sets, though the image is free of any picture noise.
There is also some motion blur, with slow camera movements removing a touch of resolution. On fast pans the problem is more pronounced, though there's little of the irritating judder and 'stepping' that's too often endemic with budget LCD panels.
Still, these twin problems are born of a lack of complex picture processing circuitry; a 100Hz mode – a feature that's pretty standard not far north of this TV's price – would be welcome.
Switch to the LC-32LE210E's built-in Freeview tuner and the all-SD fare is handled with little quality. A sometimes noisy picture that suffers from some pixilation is to be expected at this size and price, but the standard-definition picture is soft and contains a lot of artefacts; the LC-32LE210E doesn't offer much in the way of quality upscaling or circuitry to boost the quality. Noise reduction can be switched to high, but to no avail. At least a USB recording is identical to the broadcast.
DivX HD files look good though, suggesting that Freeview HD channels – sorely missed here – would have sparkled.
Sharp LC-32LE210E: Sound, value, ease of use
Audio options are limited, with Music, Movie, Standard and Sports presets. The Music mode is fairly effective, dragging out some background effects, while the Movie mode adds a bit of breadth to create a wider soundstage. That latter characteristic is pushed (and pushed) by the LC-32LE210E's surround sound mode.
Although it doesn't in any way resemble a 5.1 home cinema setup, it does make a massive difference. Not a particularly great one, you understand, but the way the speaker pushes sound out sideways from the very edges is quite dramatic. Totally changing the audio characteristics, dialogue appears to come from below the TV, but it's worth trying out.
Surround sound on a TV is a gimmick, especially since most digital TV programmes will benefit much more from clear and concise dialogue. That's especially true since the LC-32LE210E's overall soundscape features adequate clarity and effective stereo.
Overall, the LC-32LE210E's innate qualities with colour and contrast produce a picture that's cinematic enough to make this an excellent mid-range screen for movies. A slight lack of speed and sharpness make it less than ideal for gaming, though its small size more or less masks these problems.
Elsewhere the USB recording might add appeal, but don't expect a Sky+ experience. Sound is acceptable, but the LC-32LE210E's SD pictures are disappointing, even at this price.
Ease of use
Sharp has finally ditched its dreary, PC-style user interface for a more colourful, icon-led approach that is far easier on the eye. It uses a white and sky blue colour scheme and plenty of bubble-style icons that are rendered with 3D-style effects.
It's also a cinch to work. The eight-day electronic programme guide (EPG) hosts schedules for six channels over two channels on any one page, with fastext buttons taking you to the schedules on the previous/next day and for setting reminders and inspecting recording schedules.
The EPG is fast and presents a thumbnail of the live TV channel planning underneath, complete with sound. Best of all is the way it handles recordings. Visit the USB Rec and TimeShift setup page and you can set the TimeShift to automatic (so it's always recording whatever channel you're watching, and deleting old files every time you change channel).
To do that – and to schedule recordings from the EPG – requires a USB stick to be formatted. We used an 8GB memory stick (1GB is the minimum it will take); the LC-32LE210E informed us that it could thus make 209 minutes of standard-def recordings, or 59 minutes of HD.
Only 512MB is set aside for TimeShift purposes, meaning that a 8GB stick provides only 14 minutes of pausing on a SD channel and a mere four minutes for HD, but that's probably enough. Unlike some similar systems, these recordings (as BUK files) cannot be played with common PC or Mac software (we tried WMP, Quicktime and VLC).
Although it's easy to schedule recordings direct from the EPG, no time slot must clash, and the single tuner that's at work means that you can't change channel if there's a recording in operation. It sounds logical and forgivable, but in actual use, it's very restrictive in practice and certainly no substitute for a PVR.
Unusually for Sharp, the LC-32LE210E's USB slot plays all major digital media files – and then some. In our extensive tests we managed to get a huge variety of files to play, including MP3, M4A, WAV and AAC music files, AVC HD, AVI (DivX/XviD) and MKV (DivX HD), MOV (H.264 – including HD versions), MP4 and MPEG video files, and JPEG, PNG and (though slow to load) BMP photo files to display.
That's some list, and though photos and music get a fairly rudimentary interface, videos are excellently presented; a list of files on the USB stick are shown alongside an all-action thumbnail – complete with sound – of the file the cursor is resting on. If you've a collection of downloaded video fare, this TV is well equipped to handle them – very rare at this price, where simple MP3/JPEG support is more usual.
Sharp LC-32LE210E: Verdict
A reasonably versatile set that can be tweaked to produce some solid images from Blu-ray, this is nonetheless a pick 'n' mix set that sees Edge LED backlighting and USB playback/recording pushed instead of some other features that are increasingly seen by us as essential in the flat TV market. That said, this 32-incher has been made to hit a particular price that is low enough for its lack of Freeview HD and 100Hz to be forgiven.
A wholly cinematic experience can be gleaned from this 32-incher, with plenty of contrast and accurate colours making it a candidate for any living room with increasing hi-def sources. USB recording is a nice extra – and so is its surprisingly comprehensive ability with digital music, video and photo files.
There's no picture processing of note and no Freeview HD tuner (which means no Ethernet LAN port). These two omissions mean that you won't see the screen at its best; there's blur, softness and very average SD pics to be found, and getting HD in means buying a separate set-top box; you might as well ignore the USB recording and buy a proper PVR.
Despite its quite wonderful attempts at high-end TVs and 3DTVs, Sharp – which is absolutely huge in Japan – does most of its business at the budget end of the flat TV market, and this 32-inch LCD set does represent a couple of step-up options.
USB recording is intriguing, and though it does add some noted recording functions, the TV's sole Freeview tuner limits its usefulness. That itself is another bone of contention; we're convinced that every TV in 2011 will have Freeview HD.
A good value TV that ignores Freeview HD and picture processing, but just about gets away with it because of its high quality LED panel, novel recording functions, and low online price.
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