Sharp LC-40LE820UN 40-Inch LCD TV
At a Glance
(Editor's note: This review of the Sharp 820UN series is based on our hands-on testing and evaluation of the 52-inch 52LE820UN. According to the manufacturer, the image quality and features should be equivalent for each TV in this model line.)
Sharp has been touting its Quattron quad-pixel technology (which adds yellow pixels to the usual red/blue/green array), so we were eager to see how its image quality would fare in our juried tests of the Sharp Aquos 820UN Series, a 52-inch, LED-backlit LCD TV. The results had some judges scratching their heads: Things looked different--neither better nor worse than the competition, but somehow "off." Image quality and audio system (which is above-average) aside, however, the Sharp Aquos 820UN Series falls short of the competition on some design and feature elements, making its $3000 suggested retail price (as of October 4, 2010) a bit difficult to justify.
The Sharp landed in the upper half of all HDTV sets tested over the last few months. Judges generally rated it good to very good for most content, but they accompanied the ratings with written comments expressing reservations such as "slightly dim" or "seems a little dark." One problem was that the set's glossy glass surface was annoyingly reflective in the lit room where we conducted our tests.
Sharp's TV ads feature George Takei (Sulu from the original Star Trek series) talking about how Sharp sets show yellows that others can't. There might be something to his claim: A yellow dress in a party scene from the Blu-Ray Disc of The Dark Knight seemed to pop, though not in a pleasing way. Perhaps Sharp's technology simply doesn't play well with the way content makers balance colors to accommodate more-traditional pixel arrays. Whatever the reason, our judges weren't impressed.
The set's performance in our motion panning tests betrayed its use of edge-lit LED backlighting. Judges noticed slight shadowing in a pan of a blueprint. And though the set handled a diagonal pan of a city perfectly, we spotted some jaggies in our benchmark test (the set has a relatively modest 120Hz refresh rate); some judges also noticed slight loss of video resolution in a separate benchmark test. Overall, the Sharp offers good but not great image quality. In our power consumption tests, it averaged very low power usage, making it among the most energy-efficient model lines we've seen.
Sharp's design features rounded silver edges surrounding a standard-issue black bezel. In the back of the set, Sharp tries to deal with cable clutter by placing several ports (four HDMI, one PC-in, one composite video-in, ethernet, analog audio-in and -out ports, digital optical audio out, and a USB port) in a depressed area behind a flip-out plastic panel, with a channel for running the cables to the outside. But in my tests this arrangement made setup difficult: You had to bend the cables to get the connectors into the depression, then hold them steady while completing the connections (I needed a second person to help with this), and then bend them at 90 degrees--twice in most cases--to get them through the channel while keeping them flat enough to permit replacement of the flip-out cover.
Sharp left the set's coaxial and component inputs and an RS-232C terminal (typically used for specialized diagnostics and service) in a separate depressed area without a cover. But the ports face down, needlessly complicating the task of screwing in a coaxial cable--again, I needed help to keep it steady.
Powering up the set produces a typical setup wizard for specifying home vs. store use (which determines video presets), language, and video source before beginning the channel scan. You can follow up with various image and audio tweaks via the serviceable on-screen menus, but the set offers few extras--no picture-in-picture support or headphone jack, for example.
Sharp puts a ton of features and functions at your fingertips with a long, skinny remote bristling with small buttons. It's clearly designed with universal remote functionality in mind (you get a lot of detailed explanations and help on setting up external devices in a 68-page printed manual that is bound with French and Spanish versions, and is also available online as a PDF).
The remote is a bit confusing in its control of Internet serves. The Aquos Net button launches the Aquos Net home page, where you can launch Yahoo Widgets; but to access Netflix on Demand, you have to press the Dock button. Doing so produces a bar at the bottom of the screen showing a number of available functions, including Netflix and the USB media player. Assigning different categories of Internet content to different buttons on the remote is unintuitive at best.
On the other hand, Netflix and Yahoo Widgets work well once they're set up. Sharp also offers an interactive support service, Aquos Advantage Live, for registered users (registration is free and is accessible via the Dock).
Sharp's media player features are fairly basic: The 820UN series can play MP3s and display JPEG stills from a USB drive, and you can set up a slideshow with background music, but there's no video support.
I enjoyed listening to music and movie soundtracks on the set's audio system (two 10-watt speakers and a 15-watt subwoofer). The system's simulated surround sound was quite good, and it produced more-robust tones than most sets.
Sharp's aforementioned printed manual, though somewhat cluttered looking, is fairly detailed, and you also get a sheet of connection diagrams in lieu of a quick-start guide.