Sharp LC-46LE831E £1349
14th Jun 2011 | 16:00
Second generation Quattron TV sticks to the high-end with excellent 3D and 2D
Sharp LC-46LE831E: Overview
Last year saw the debut of 3D TVs from major manufacturers, but one or two of the big brands lagged behind. Sharp, the biggest TV brand in Japan and maker of the LCD panels behind Sony Bravia TVs such as the KDL-40NX703 (to name but one of its customers), had an excuse for lateness; Quattron.
Updated to work on its first 3D TV, the Sharp LC-60LE925E, late in 2010, the technology sees its second generation on this 46-inch LE831 series TV.
For anyone who missed it, Quattron was a genuinely innovative attempt to take picture quality to the next stage. As the name just about suggests, Quattron is a four-colour system that adds yellow to the normal red, green and blue (RGB) mix in every pixel on a flat screen TV.
Four-play over, the Sharp LC-46LE831E has more to tempt in a relatively high-end package. Its chief attraction is 3D, for which Sharp favours active technology. That it's not prepared to sacrifice any detail by employing the potentially lower-res passive 3D tech is hardly surprising, considering its clear obsession with picture quality.
And while we're half expecting cheaper passive 3D sets to dominate the mass-market before long (more and more brands seem to be adopting it), the LC-46LE831E seems destined for home cinemas, and therefore can afford to use the more precise and pricier active 3D system.
Although the quality of the image suggests that a direct or full LED array is being used, that's not the case – it fooled us at first, but this is in fact an edge LED system.
Just 34mm in depth, the Sharp LC-46LE831E boasts a svelte design indeed. To our mind, that's slim enough. This telly sports an inverted vee in the centre below the screen and touch-sensitive controls in the bottom right-hand corner that light up when touched. It's a classy look indeed.
Sharp LC-46LE831E: Features
As well as Quattron, the Sharp LC-46LE831E boasts a full array of high-end features.
It's based around an edge LED backlit panel that adds E-Motion to take out the judder from Blu-ray and DVD discs, while 200Hz ought to remove any motion blur (although it's actually a 100Hz system combined with backlight scanning). Lastly, but most significantly, is Brilliant Colour, Sharp's name for its picture processing engine.
It will form part of Sharp's Aquos Net+ online content platform, which isn't exactly unique or impressive (there's YouTube, but no BBC iPlayer). Instead it's a re-logo'd version of the same Net TV platform used on the Philips 40PFL9705.
There's also an open web browser, but it's slow and clunky, although that's also down to a torrid remote control that's nicely weighted but overly complex. The main menu button is the catalyst for all manoeuvres, but it's far too small, while scan buttons for video file playback are in the top section; the only way to successfully use them without dropping the remote is to use both hands.
Pleasingly this, along with DLNA streaming, is all powered by a small black Wi-Fi dongle that's included in the box for the Sharp LC-46LE831E. We'd rather it was integrated into the TV, but at least the USB slot it marries-up to is downward-firing, so wall mounters won't have any issues.
Unlike Wi-Fi and some of last year's Wii-style separate transmitter kits, the 3D gubbins on the Sharp LC-46LE831E are fully integrated into the TV, as is a Freeview HD tuner.
The Sharp LC-46LE831E has plenty of ins and outs befitting its status as a high-end TV. The panel sees three USB, Scart, component, PC input, composite and some analogue audio ins joined by a RS-232 port for integrating the TV into a home cinema automation system – a rare thing indeed.
Just below are two USB slots and an optical digital audio output for attaching to an AV amplifier, a wired Ethernet LAN port and an RF aerial input. Meanwhile, a recessed side panel is where you'll find all four HDMI inputs (again, easier for wall mounters to reach), a headphones slot, an SD Card slot, a third USB port and a Common Interface (CI) space.
Sharp LC-46LE831E: Picture and sound
Throw on a 3D Blu-ray disc and there's very little blur evident on the Sharp LC-46LE831E – the panel here boasts a seriously fast response time. Precise but perhaps not 100 per cent natural looking (thanks to the slight flicker), the contrast between bright and completely black is stunning – especially the peak whites – while there's no sign of crosstalk or echoed images.
Sharp claims that this TV runs with around 30 per cent less crosstalk than its 2010 3D TVs, and we're in broad agreement on that figure.
Aside from clean and crisp 3D, the Sharp LC-46LE831E's strength is in colour. By adding yellow, Quattron's unique RGB-Y pixel structure appears more able to reproduce light shades, though 2D is much brighter than 3D material.
A lot of edge LED-lit LCD TVs have blotches of brightness strewn around the sides of the panel, but that's not that case here. Brightness is uniform with little visible leakage; that extra light coming through the additional yellow sub-pixel can only be helping matters.
The proof that RGB-Y is the way forward comes immediately, with some great contrast and localised dimming. In a 2D playing of Avatar, this TV picks out details of the Pandora night that most miss, such as the pin-pricks of light against the black forest, although the blackest areas of the image are somewhat empty of detail.
The Film Mode frame insertion and scanning backlight 200Hz features on the Sharp LC-46LE831E can be waxed and waned, but used on a mid-to-high setting can produce a processed look from all sources. Some will find it a price worth paying for the smoothness and stunning detail, while others won't like the slightly forced appearance.
We'd suggest fiddling with the settings to get this bang on; we settled on 'advanced (low)' for Film Mode and 'high' for the scanning backlight.
Standard definition channels are smooth and clear, as long as the sharpness setting is on half-power at most. Any stronger and jagged edges and fuzzy graphics result, but overall standard definition content is all presented very well.
The viewing angle is much better on the Sharp LC-46LE831E than on most LCD TVs, although there's noticeably more light visible in the opposite corner if you watch from the wings.
While two 10W speakers are par for the course at this size and price, it's unusual to see a 15W subwoofer also included. Although we're not sure where the latter innovation resides within the slim frame, it adds a little something to the audio mix.
The 3D mode's surround feature offers four modes – 3D Movie, 3D Standard, Normal and 3D Hall. The first makes dialogue sound 'tunnelled' and the last produces a pointless echo, but 3D Standard produces a perfect mix of strong vocals and a decent amount of bass.
It's a whole lot better than most TVs, and just about enough for watching a movie.
Despite its above average audio performance, screens as advanced as this are destined for use in a home cinema setting where there's usually a separate sound system, so in some ways it's a wasted skill.
Sharp LC-46LE831E: Value and ease of use
Ease of use
As usual on Sharp TVs, a logical PC-like approach to the user interface on the LC-46LE831E produces a clinical and business-like, yet rather unfriendly, system. Picture settings can be accessed from more than one place, while available options change depending on the source you're currently attached to.
At least it's comprehensive. Sharp's Quattron panel and unusually precise Brilliant Colour picture processing engine are all about colour management, so it's no surprise to find a full suite of picture adjustments in the onscreen menus.
Hue and saturation are all tweakable, as is the colour gamut range and colour temperature. Other features include sub pixel control (for smoother diagonals) and gamma adjustment.
There's a grid of picture tweaks on the right-hand side, with the main TV picture then occupying around two-thirds of the screen real estate. This is how most of the interface works, although when each tweak – brightness, contrast, colour etc – is toggled to, a dedicated meter pops up in the corner.
The Sharp LC-46LE831E then flits between full-screen menus and these tiny meters, seemingly at random, which isn't welcome if you're actually watching TV. Worse still, both picture and sound go dead for two seconds when the main menu button is pressed, both to enter and exit the interface, ruling out for good any hope of making picture adjustments when you're actually trying to watch something.
Tuning in Freeview HD channels takes an age, and it's not the most sensitive receiver – it took 15 minutes in a position where most TVs tune up inside five minutes, and it didn't find some channels. The EPG kills the live channel and takes up the whole screen.
Its ability to show blocks of programmes for 10 channels over six hours is laudable, but with the current time, tabs for the next seven days and sidebars for filtering between genre, date and timer settings, it mostly resembles a spreadsheet.
The side's USB slot proves a masterstroke. In our tests it played every video file we chucked its way, including MKV and AVI files.
Picture quality was pretty good, too; we noticed some fizzing around the edges during fast-moving scenes, but this is as immaculate as it gets – and on such a big screen that's no mean feat for compressed files.
Other media is less well supported. JPEG is the only photo format dealt with (they're displayed as thumbnails), while MP3 is the sole music codec played. All media is presented in a pretty icon-led interface, but it's just gloss; it often trips up and reverts to showing a rudimentary, PC-like root folder layout and trashed files.
Operating the 3D modes is easy enough. Switch to a 3D channel (we watched the French Open live from Roland Garos on Eurosport 3D through a Virgin Media V+ box) and the TV flashes up a choice of formats. It's pretty obvious what to choose; if there are two images next to each other – and there will be with all UK 3D channels, whether Sky, Freeview, Freesat or Virgin – that channel is broadcasting in the side-by-side format.
Sharp's active shutter 3D glasses have been slimmed down from 2010, and the LC-46LE831E arrives with one pair of AN-3DG20-B specs that are slated to last 30 hours between USB charges (which can be done via the TV), and switch off after 10 minutes if you leave them on the coffee table.
As well as being comfier than last year's they also don't feature the annoying buzz they used to, and are relatively light.
It may well present a better, more subtle picture and even represent the pinnacle of LED backlighting technology, but it's delivered in a package that many won't warm to.
What it gives in star quality – contrast, evenly spread brightness and powerful colour – it takes away by wrapping some pretty advanced picture parameters in an overly fussy, drably designed interface that many will struggle to get on with day-to-day.
The LC-46LE831E is a serious screen for serious viewers, and as such we'd say it belongs in a dedicated home cinema where its strengths with detailed, clean 3D in a blackout can best be enjoyed.
Sharp LC-46LE831E: Verdict
After a few years struggling to compete at the lower end of the market, it's good to see Sharp returning to its roots by concentrating on thoroughly high-end screens such as this LC-46LE831E.
Superbly detailed and precise, brightness is unbeatable (but needs toning down) and contrast is excellent on the Sharp LC-46LE831E. Crosstalk-free 3D is a pleasure to watch, while the 2D performance with Blu-ray is nothing short of stunning if 200Hz and Film Mode are tinkered with carefully.
Add some above average audio modes and some comprehensive USB media software, and here's a cracking option for home cinemas.
The cost of all that fine detail in 3D is some flicker and a slightly processed look to movies. Other niggles include a spreadsheet-style Freeview HD electronic programme guide, a cluttered remote and a disappointing online content hub.
The user interface as a whole suggests that the Sharp LC-46LE831E isn't a TV for a family room.
Sharp has championed LCD and the technology's evolution continues with this precise and rather special home cinema screen that's surely the finest edge LED-lit screen around, but it won't appeal to those after a user-friendly living room TV.
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