Sharp LC-60LE925E £3500
11th Oct 2010 | 15:30
It's Sharp's first 3D TV, it's Quattron-powered, and it's a stunner
Sharp LC-60LE925E: Overview
While everyone else was getting busy with their debut 3D TVs, Sharp was ploughing a lonely – though far from futile – furrow with its first Quattron TVs.
These, uniquely, added a fourth yellow sub-pixel to the standard trio of red, green and blue. The LC-60LE925E, however, is the full monty, combining Quattron technology with active shutter, full HD 3D.
It's also the Japanese firm's first TV to offer online services, in the form of the AquosNet platform. It doesn't have a Freeview HD tuner, but Sharp is set to put this right with some smaller 3D sets that are due to launch in February.
If three dimensions don't interest you but Quattron does, meanwhile, Sharp has a selection of models to tickle your fancy.
These include the 46-inch 46LE821E and 40-inch 40LE821E, with built-in Freeview HD tuners and HDD recording; the 46-inch 46LE811E and 40-inch 40LE811, which ditch the built-in HDD recording and finally the 40-inch 40LE820E, which has built-in recording, but lacks a Freeview HD tuner.
Sharp also offers some high-value LCD CCFL models for people who don't want or can't afford Quattron technology, including the 42-inch LC-42CT2E and 32-inch 32CT2E, the 32-inch LC-32FH510E, the 32-inch 32DV200E with built-in DVD player and finally three relatively small edge LED models, the 32-inch LC-32LE320E, 26-inch LC-26LE320E and 22-inch LC-22LE320E.
Sharp LC-60LE925E: Features
As noted in the introduction, the 3D credentials are of the full HD, alternate frame type rather than the passive, side by side type currently only supported by LG's 47LD950.
The 3D transmitters are built into the TV itself and you get one pair of Sharp's Active Shutter glasses free with the TV.
This seems a touch stingy when 3D viewing is being billed as a largely social thing and when each additional pair will set you back around £100.
But of course, there are other brands out there (Philips, Samsung, Sony) that don't include any glasses with some of their 3D sets.
Quattron tech explained
To give you a little more detail on the Quattron technology if you haven't come across it before, adding a fourth, yellow sub-pixel has the potential to improve the tonal naturalism of the set's colours. This is especially true when it comes to yellow and gold colours, of course, but having an extra primary to work with should also prove helpful in mixing every other colour.
Adding a yellow sub-pixel also apparently makes Quattron TVs exceptionally economical to use, since the screen becomes easier for light to pass through than ordinary red, green and blue panels.
This extra light transmission efficiency also gives the technology the potential to enhance the reproduction of shadow detail in dark scenes, and make light scenes look as much as 20 per cent brighter compared to a standard RGB panel.
A potential downside to all this is that the 60LE925E's panel might struggle to control its backlight effectively enough to produce really convincing black levels.
Turning next to the 60LE925E's new online features, pressing the Net button on the remote control brings up a nicely presented online 'home' screen very reminiscent of the one employed on Philips' online TVs. In fact, the bottom right of the screen says 'Powered by NetTV', NetTV being the name of Philips' online engine.
What's happening here is that Sharp has officially joined up with Philips (and Loewe) in a supposed bid to bring some sort of standardisation to the online service situation, even though most big TV names are going the opposite way and seeing online features as a major point of competitive difference.
The reality here, we suspect, is that Sharp, Philips and Loewe believe they will be in a stronger bargaining position when trying to negotiate online content deals if they join forces.
Sharp's current content level is rather down on Philips' offering, with ring-fenced, streamlined content being limited at the time of our tests to DailyMotion, ScreenDreams, myalbum.com, Meteoconsult, and the Funspot gaming platform. Oddly, there's no YouTube portal yet.
However, Sharp's association with Philips means the 60LE925E carries an Opera Web browser, enabling you to access the internet at large, as well as the specially formatted content noted earlier.
Obviously, there are issues with this; inputting web page addresses via your remote is a chore and the Opera browser doesn't like online streaming video. But most websites will work at least to some extent and permit you to access links via the TV remote's cursor controls.
Heading into the 60LE925E's superbly designed onscreen menus you'll discover a respectable set of picture adjustments. Particularly welcome are a decent set of colour management controls, gamma adjustments and the facility to control seemingly all aspects of the TV's processing.
This processing includes '200Hz' (actually 100Hz plus a scanning backlight), noise reduction routines, and Sharp's Film Mode for improving the set's progressive scan handling with film, as opposed to video sources. As we'll see, the flexibility offered here is very important to the TV's final performance.
The set uses its great size to striking effect, delivering quite a statement with its single-layer fascia, smart tinted glass stand and illuminated brand name. Plus, its edge LED lighting enables it to be quite slim considering that vast expanse of screen.
Connections include four HDMIs, all built to the 3D-friendly v1.4 standard and a USB port for playing a good variety of multimedia file formats, including JPEGs, MP3s and DivX HD video. Inevitably, given the presence of the online features, there's also an Ethernet port on the TV: this can be used for streaming in the same range of multimedia files from a networked PC.
You don't have to hard wire the 60LE925E to the internet or your PC network, though, for the TV ships with a USB Wi-Fi dongle.
Elsewhere there's a PC D-Sub port that also, unusually, doubles as a component video input via a supplied adaptor and an RS-232 port for system control.
The 60LE925E's most unusual feature is built-in hard disk drive (HDD) recording. This enables you to record from the built-in digital tuner to 8GB of built-in memory.
As mentioned in the overview, the lack of Freeview HD is a blow, the thinking being that anyone thinking of stumping up £3,500 on a 60in TV will almost certainly have or be happy to buy an external HD receiver.
Sharp LC-60LE925E: Picture quality
You'll be struck right away by how intensely bright and colourful 3D images look. In fact, the 3D pictures are arguably the most dynamic on any 3D TV yet built, equal or superior even to Samsung's best efforts. It's hard to resist the thought that the Quattron technology might have a hand in this, especially as the extra luminance is accompanied by some terrifically vivid, but also natural, colours.
The instant attraction of the 60LE925E's 3D pictures is reinforced by startling amounts of HD detail and crispness when watching 3D Blu-rays. Anyone who doesn't really see why full HD 3D is worth bothering with should check out a few minutes of any of the 3D titles currently available on the 60LE925E.
Sharp has also overcome past issues with motion blur with this 3D set, as the clarity of 3D images isn't significantly reduced by the familiar LCD problems of resolution loss over moving objects.
Also impressive is the apparent contrast of the 60LE925E's 3D images, with some surprisingly decent black level response sitting opposite all the startling bright stuff. There's more detail in these dark areas than you might usually expect with an LCD TV or Panasonic's 3D plasma TVs. Another possible little boost from the Quattron system, perhaps?
There really is no overstating just what a great first impression all the positives just mentioned gives you of the new full 3D format. But then you notice the crosstalk noise.
This is the appearance around certain objects in an alternate frame 3D picture of double ghosting. You do get crosstalk on plasma 3D TVs, too, but not to so pronounced a degree as with LCD models.
On the upside, crosstalk doesn't occur nearly as commonly on the 60LE925E as we've seen it on some rival sets, even during the infamous Monsters Vs Aliens Golden Gate Bridge sequence.
There are many shots in the course of a good 3D film, in fact, where you won't see any evidence of crosstalk at all and these shots are exemplary of just how good HD 3D can be. However, when crosstalk does appear, it is immediately distracting.
As with many other edge LED TVs, the 60LE925E really needs to have been running for half an hour at least before it starts to deliver anything like its best 3D performance.
One further slight issue with the 60LE925E's 3D performance is that it does slightly highlights the resolution difference between full HD Blu-rays and Sky's lower-resolution side by side 3D broadcasts. You can't see much difference with close shots, perhaps, but longer shots are noticeably softer with Sky material.
Blame for this for the most part lies with Sky's (currently unavoidable) side by side approach, but we couldn't help but wonder if Sharp could have done something a little cleverer to improve things in the process of 'reconstructing' the side by side data to fill the 16:9 screen with a single 3D image.
The 60LE925E's 2D standard-definition pictures are rather disappointing, at least with Freeview broadcasts, thanks predominantly to pretty strong amounts of video noise. Being aggressive with your pictures like the 60LE925E is all well and good, but you need to back it up with some seriously sophisticated scaling processing for sources that are anything less than pristine.
Happily, the 60LE925E's high-definition 2D pictures are a completely different story. Colours, for instance, exhibit the same remarkable sense of vibrancy and tonal expressiveness noted with 3D. In fact, the Quattron's impact on colours – especially, but not exclusively yellow-based stuff – is arguably even more pronounced without 3D goggles on.
2D in HD
Hi-def 2D pictures are extremely crisp and well-defined, especially as motion is handled so well, at least once the set has warmed up. Images also continue to be spectacularly bright, and shadow detail remains unusually abundant.
We were particularly surprised by just how good the 60LE925E is with HD dark scenes. It delivers pretty convincing blacks when it needs to and does so without sacrificing shadow detail.
Unfortunately, this surprising positive is tempered by a handful of minor failings.
First, the glass-like panel used to give the 60LE925E its totally smooth fascia is rather reflective of any ambient light you might have in your room. So here's hoping anyone considering splurging this much cash on a TV will be looking to place it into a sensibly dark room.
Our other concerns are thankfully avoidable by careful use of the TV's adjustments, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
The noise reduction system has a nasty habit of softening pictures up too much and should be avoided with all but the ropiest of sources. Opting for the wrong 200Hz or Film Mode setting can also have some pretty catastrophic effects on judder and processing side effects.
Finally, the Dynamic picture mode that's engaged when you first turn the TV on should be avoided at all costs, for it's an over-saturated, noisy mess that robs the TV of most of its best qualities.
Sharp LC-60LE925E: Sound, value and ease of use
While the mid-range is decently open and trebles are brought out well from the mix, the soundstage is rendered lopsided during action sequences by a pretty profound lack of bass.
At £3,500, the 60LE925E is, obviously, only going to be within the reach of a relatively small audience. But its price is a whole £1000 cheaper than both Sony's inferior (in many ways, anyway) 60in 60LX903, and half a grand less than Panasonic's – admittedly excellent – P65VT20.
Ultimately, £3,500 doesn't seem like silly money for a TV that joins 3D and Quattron technologies within such a vast screen.
Ease of use
The 60LE925E's remote control gives you a slightly disappointing first point of contact with the TV, being a touch plasticky and overcrowded. Though the longer you use it, the more you start to appreciate some things about it, such as the raised cursor control and the single-button access to such key features as 3D and AquosNet.
Where the 60LE925E really makes a positive impact, though, is with its inspired onscreen menu system. Press the menu button, and the picture you're watching shrinks by around a quarter so that a double-axis menu system can appear along the top of the screen and down its right hand side without impinging on the picture in any way.
The structure of the menus is logical and easy to follow, for the most part and the 60LE925E's electronic programme guide scores further points with the sheer amount of information it's capable of displaying at any one time.
Sharp has sensibly realised that with a screen as large as 60in you can afford to reduce the onscreen text size without it becoming illegible. As a result, it presents the channel info for no less than five hours' worth of programming across 15 channels onscreen at once. This makes searching the listings much less tedious than usual, but it might have been better to limit the visible forward scheduling to four hours, to enable longer programme names to appear more fully.
Sharp LC-60LE925E: Verdict
Sharp's first alternate-frame 3D TV is 60in across, attractively slender and has the genuinely intriguing Quattron technology inside. It's also the firm's first web-capable TV, all of which makes its £3,500 price look potentially very reasonable indeed.
We also became quickly enamoured of the 60LE925E's excellent onscreen menu system, and got plenty of mileage out of a lengthy set of calibration tools, including a colour management system.
The pictures are sensational. Colours really do benefit in terms of tone and punch from the addition of a yellow sub-pixel. Sharp delivers a better control of black colours than we'd expected and HD and 3D images are extremely sharp and detailed.
Motion is mostly clean – once the TV has warmed up and provided you're careful with some of the processing settings – and 3D pictures are arguably the most vibrant we've seen.
The catch is that old 3D nemesis, crosstalk noise. For while this might not crop up as often as on many rival LCD TVs, when you see it, it can be very distracting. A lesser issue is that the TV isn't the best standard-def performer in the world.
The TV looks very pretty in a monolithic kind of way and is impressively well connected. Its operating system is inspired meanwhile, and there are plenty of genuinely useful tools to keep picture tinkerers busy.
Its picture quality with HD and 3D sources is frequently outstanding too, thanks in particular to the set's remarkable colour tones and vibrancy, and a much better black level response than expected.
Some of the 60LE925E's picture processing options need to be used with care, or they can make the picture look soft.
Also, the glass-like panel across the TV's front can be rather reflective of ambient light, standard-definition pictures can look rather noisy, at least where digital broadcasts are concerned and there's crosstalk noise with 3D images.
Some people might rue the set's lack of a Freeview HD tuner, too.
The 60LE925E's colour tones, brightness and general dynamism are frequently breathtaking and there are times when its 3D images are quite simply the best we've seen, combining a sense of depth and detail with brightness and accurate colours to a degree not seen before.
It definitely needs to be fed as consistent a 3D and HD diet as possible, though, due to its shortcomings with standard-def broadcasts. And while crosstalk might not crop up as regularly as with some other 3D TVs, it's mightily distracting when it does.
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