Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E £2000
19th Apr 2010 | 16:30
Forget 3D, Quattron technology is here to blow you away
Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E: Overview
The whole world and its mother seems to be talking about 3D right now. That's where the hype machine is headed, to an extent unprecedented since the first arrival of HD.
As a result, it would be easy to imagine that 3D is the only interesting new thing happening in the world of TV this year.
But actually, nothing could be further from the truth. For tucked away in a small corner of your nearest quality AV store, probably hidden behind a heaving pile of 3D TVs, you might soon be able to pick out a 'Quattron' TV from Sharp, almost apologetically claiming to be the world's first TV to use Quad Pixel technology.
Yes, we know - it doesn't sound very exciting.
Hardly up there on the AV front with watching Manchester United lose at home to Chelsea in 3D. But we strongly suggest that you don't just wander by these Sharp Quattron sets in search of 3D kicks.
For if you actually pause and look closely at them, they might just end up persuading you that maybe 3D isn't so important after all...
The 821E model we're looking at today sits in the middle of a three-strong set of Quattron ranges.
It's joined by 40-inch and 46-inch versions (the 40LE821E and 46LE821E), while the lower spec LE811E series has just 40-inch and 46-inch models (the 40LE811E and 46LE811E), and lacks the DLNA functionality, the time shift functionality, and the flat-front design.
The top-end LE921 models, meanwhile - which are now delayed until September - add 200Hz to the mix, and will be available in 40-inch (the 40LE921E), 46-inch (the 46LE921E) and 60-inch (the 60LE921E) versions.
So, want one of the best LCD TVs ever made? Want to watch and crucially record Freeview HD? Read on...
Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E: Features
We need to start this section, of course, by finally revealing what exactly this Quad Pixel stuff is all about.
At heart, it's startlingly simple: Sharp has 'merely' added a fourth core colour component - yellow - to the usual RGB sub-pixels that make up a typical LCD TV picture.
While this sounds simple on paper, though, it's actually taken Sharp around four years of development to get right. Which probably explains why no other brands have done it before.
The biggest challenge Sharp has faced in trying to add a fourth sub-pixel has been the need to reduce the size of each sub-pixel in the LCD picture by a full quarter, so that full HD resolutions can be retained in all the screen sizes (starting at 40 inches) the new Quattron range covers.
The Sharp engineers have finally cracked it, though, and are now making some pretty grand claims for what the technology will do for the picture quality of the 46" LC46LE821E we're looking at today.
For a start, Sharp reckons pictures should look as much as 20 per cent brighter than those of a 'normal' LCD TV, due to the yellow pixel having a greater level of transparency and thus making it easier for the TV's lighting to pass through than the red, green and blue pixels.
A further benefit connected to the yellow sub-pixel's relative transparency concerns power consumption.
If light can be more easily transmitted through a four-colour pixel than it can through a normal RGB one, then you don't need to drive the panel as hard to achieve good levels of brightness.
Probably the most significant performance boost of adding the yellow sub-pixel, though, should come in the area of colour response. Essentially the screen should be able to produce a significantly wider portion of the video colour spectrum (Sharp claims '1000 times more colour'!) than you would get with a typical 3-colour LCD TV.
So while yellow colours should of course look more pure since they're no longer having to be 'mixed' by a combination of the usual red, green and blues, blues, deep and bright greens, aqua marines and gold colours should also look significantly more realistic and dynamic thanks to the addition of yellow to the TV's primary palette. What's more, colour gradations should look smoother and more natural too.
As if all this wasn't already tantalising enough, the extra transparency of the yellow-boosted Quattron pixel structure should allow Sharp's TV to show more shadow detailing during dark scenes than your average RGB LCD TVs.
Now that we've dealt with its yellow sub-pixel, the next thing to strike us about the 46LE821E is how slender it is. Thanks, it turns out, to it being the first TV we've seen from Sharp to use edge LED lighting.
This finds an array of LED lights ranged around the screen's edge firing light across the screen's back which is then refracted through the LCD array and out to the viewer.
There's usually a compromise in picture quality terms from taking this approach, in the form of reduced black level response or brightness. But everyone seems to want slim TVs these days, so it was inevitable that Sharp would go the edge LED route eventually.
As well as being slim, the 46LE821E is also very pretty, thanks to a single-layer finish and rather fancy illuminated triangle symbol below the screen.
The set's connectivity mostly impresses too, with highlights of four HDMIs, a USB port able to play JPEGs and DivX HD files, an RS-232 control jack, and an Ethernet port for accessing files on a DLNA-enabled PC. This is the first time we've seen such network support from Sharp. It's good to find, too, that all the connections are entered from the side, rather than directly from the TV's rear, making the TV easier to wall mount.
It's a pity, perhaps, that there's no built-in Wi-Fi, and that Sharp doesn't offer any sort of online functionality like many of its rivals do now. But the Ethernet port does have one other key job: support for future interactive applications that might launch via the in-built Freeview HD tuner.
Having Freeview HD on a TV, especially a premium TV like the 46LE821E, is looking increasingly essential this year.
Watch and RECORD Freeview HD
Not that the 46LE821E merely lets you watch Freeview HD, mind you. For rather excellently it also lets you record Freeview broadcasts - HD or standard def - in lossless quality to a built-in 8GB hard disk drive.
Obviously this limited amount of memory will only give you around 2.5 hours of standard def recording or 30-50 minutes of HD. But it can still come in very handy if the phone or doorbell rings in the middle of your favourite shows.
That's all the headline features of the 46LE821 covered. But it's worth mentioning, too, that Sharp has made the screen impressively flexible (just as well given the pretty weird state of some of its picture presets).
We got great calibration mileage, for instance, out of an Advanced Picture menu boasting a good colour management system, colour temperature adjustment, gamma adjustment, digital noise reduction and something called Fine Motion, which provides two levels of judder removal.
Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E: Ease of use
While the 46LE821's remote control is suitably stylish, it also rests a little too lightly in the hand, and is too crowded for truly easy use.
However, this minor aggravation is completely forgotten once you start investigating the TV's inspired onscreen menus.
Press the Menu button, and the picture cleverly shrinks down a bit, allowing room for a twin-axis menus system to take over the top and right hand side of the screen without sitting over any of the picture.
This works so well it's amazing nobody else has thought to do it before. And it becomes even better when you want to browse the channel listings, as a further box appears along the bottom of the screen - again without impinging on the picture - showing scrolling current programme information.
Being able to adjust picture settings while still being able to see the whole picture is a boon, too, with the icing on the cake coming from the set's use of cutely animated, easy to understand icons to help you find your way around things. Genius.
Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E: Picture quality
While the 46LE821E's Quad Pixel technology talks a good talk, the proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating. And you know what? Unlike some over-hyped bits of picture technology we've seen in recent years, this relatively quiet little trick really delivers the goods.
The set's colour response, for instance, is utterly spectacular. We'd been prepared for some degree of colour improvement, but the range, purity, dynamism and simple believability of its colour palette across all sources is startling.
Inevitably it's with yellow and gold colours that the impact of the yellow sub-pixel has its greatest impact, making us realise with a jolt just how relatively unimpressive many rival flat TVs are at showing these colours.
But running the 46LE821E alongside a couple of other LCD TVs we had lying around - including an older Sharp - shows real improvements in the appearance of almost every colour we focussed on.
Even the most drably shot of programmes, like EastEnders, thus looks rich and dynamic rather than their usual monotone on the 46LE821E.
Colour blends look immaculately smooth too, which has a profound effect on skin tones in particular, and helps enhance your insight into the picture as a whole.
Even Philips' flagship 9000 series of LCD TVs don't manage to portray colours with quite the same combination of vigour and subtlety - and that's saying something.
Looking for other signs of Quad Pixel benefits, the 46LE821E's pictures are also outstandingly bright. This in itself isn't necessarily a strength unless you've got a heck of a lot of ambient light in your room. But having so much light pouring through the LCD array seems to play a key part in just how precise and detailed colours look.
The extra transparency plays its part as billed, too, during dark scenes. For in combination with the edge-LED lighting, it proves extremely effective at subtle shadow detailing. There's little if any sense of that rather hollow look to dark scenes that plagues so many LCD TVs - even direct LED ones.
Moving on to strengths of the picture that probably aren't to do with the yellow sub-pixel, HD images look extremely detailed, textured and crisp. We'd been concerned that the difficulties inherent in fitting 1920x1080 extra sub-pixels into the picture might have led to some problems in this area, but apparently not.
It does no harm to the image's clarity, either, that the TV's anti-judder and 100Hz processing does a decent job of sharpening and smoothing the progress of moving objects.
One final string to the 46LE821E's bow is its standard definition pictures, which are upscaled to the TV's full HD resolution much more sharply and cleanly than has been the case with many past Sharp TVs. The set's colour tone holds up nicely during the standard to high definition trip, too.
For all their mesmerising strengths, though, the 46LE821E's pictures aren't completely perfect. The main reason for this is the way bits of dark scenes that should look black instead look rather grey. Some little portions of the screen also look a bit unnaturally brighter than others too. And both of these problems are exacerbated considerably if you have to watch the screen from much of an angle.
The motion processing, meanwhile, can throw up more side effects - like shimmering around moving objects - than some rival engines. And finally, the screen is a little more prone to reflections than we'd like.
Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E: Sound quality and value
Sharp's previous LCD TVs haven't been particularly distinguished in the audio department. But the 46LE821E overcomes its slimness to produce sound that at worst is functional, and at best is really quite decent.
The mid range is pleasingly open-sounding, giving a degree of breathing room to action sequences, and there's a lot of treble detailing to be heard.
It's a shame this isn't counterpointed by a bit more bass power and depth, and there's a touch of distortion if you push the volume too high. But similar issues can be found with any number of other really slim TVs too.
On the one hand, Sharp has put a huge amount of effort into coming up with a genuine innovation that really advances the cause of flat TV picture quality.
But at the same time, there's no denying that the best part of two grand is a hefty amount to splurge on a 46in TV these days - especially when that TV doesn't have 3D support.
In the end, going for an average 'three' score seemed the most appropriate response!
Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E: Verdict
We honestly had no idea what to expect of the 46LE821E when it rolled through our test room doors.
The quad pixel tech certainly sounded intriguing, but it all seemed a bit small fry compared with the whole 3D parade taking place elsewhere.
In reality, though, Quad Pixel technology really does deliver a clear and hugely welcome step forward for LCD technology, enhancing colour reproduction so much that it's now got us dreaming of a day when a
TV might actually add further sub-pixels for magenta and cyan!
There's still room for improvement in other areas, of course. The slightly washed out black level response, for instance, makes us wish that Sharp was intending to introduce the technology to an LCD TV with direct rather than edge LED lighting.
And the limited viewing angle may reduce the amount of living rooms the 46LE821E could comfortably satisfy.
But none of this stops the 46LE821E from being a potential game-changer - providing any of the other 3D-obsessed brands actually bother to notice it, that is.
You might have noticed already, but we're just a bit impressed (!) by what Quad Pixel technology does for picture quality. Who would have thought that just adding an extra yellow sub-pixel could make such a difference?
It's also great to find the 46LE821E sporting a Freeview HD tuner, as well as an impressive suite of multimedia functions and connections. The facility to timeshift Freeview tuner footage is particularly appreciated.
Finally, the 46LE821E is elegantly designed, and boasts quite possibly the best onscreen menu system we've ever seen.
Possibly because of its edge-LED lighting and the extra transparency of the quad pixel design, the 46LE821E struggles to reproduce a really profound black colour. Some parts of the screen look a bit inconsistently lit, as well, and the set's viewing angle could prove restrictive.
Finally, despite its near-revolutionary efforts, the 46LE821E is still going to put a hefty dint in any bank balance.
Sure, the 46LE821E isn't perfect. And yes, it's painfully expensive versus most of the 46in flat TVs that come our way these days.
But by thinking outside of the (three-dimensional) box, Sharp has come up with one of those rare bits of new TV technology that's actually good enough to make you rethink your expectations of flat TV picture quality.
This review was written in conjunction with:
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