Sharp Aquos LC-40LE835U: 3D HDTV Is a Mixed Bag
At a Glance
(Editor's note: This review of the Sharp LC-40LE835U is based on our hands-on testing and impressions from the 60-inch LC-60LE835U. According to the manufacturer, the image quality and features should be equivalent for each TV in this model line.)
The Sharp Aquos LC-40LE835U has much to commend it: This LED-backlit connected HDTV delivers decent (if not stellar) image quality, 3D support, great audio, and a few unusual extras. However, although Sharp has become a lot more competitive in its pricing, the set falls short in several respects. Most notably, its Internet offerings are somewhat anemic, and Sharp's user interface for on-screen controls still needs work.
Despite all the ads declaring Sharp's four-color Quattron technology (which adds a yellow filter to the usual red, green, and blue filters) to be superior to traditional three-color LCD configurations, in our juried tests we did not find the LC-40LE835U's image quality to be hugely impressive. The set's overall score was about average, but slightly poorer than the marks of other models in its test group, including sets from LG, Samsung, and Vizio. Judges complained that some images looked overly dark (especially when viewed from the side), but they gave the set higher scores for its handling of motion.
Our juried tests don't include 3D content; for its part, Sharp doesn't even ship 3D glasses with this display. The company does include a built-in 3D test pattern to help while you are setting up the active-shutter glasses, which worked well. And two other PCWorld editors did put this set through its 3D paces--read our article "Active 3D vs. Passive 3D" for more information on how the LC-40LE835U fared.
Sharp's built-in audio system--consisting of two 10-watt speakers and a 15-watt subwoofer--was one of the better ones I've tested. Its simulated surround sound made for fuller, richer audio than what you get from the usual two-speaker configuration on most sets. Sharp also thoughtfully includes a setting that keeps the sound from being muffled should you choose to wall-mount the HDTV.
The LC-40LE835U's design is both handsome and serviceable, with a pretty good selection of ports. Four HDMI ports, one USB port, and an analog stereo-out port face sideways on the back left side, but since they aren't recessed I had no problem connecting a couple of cables. Two composite and one component hookup, plus RS232 and PC (RGB) connections, are grouped together and face straight out, making them also easy to reach. A third group of connections, including a second USB port plus ethernet, coax, optical audio out, and analog audio inputs (for use with a DVI or PC connection) face down and are a bit less conveniently located but still generally accessible.
Sharp's initial setup wizard walks you through the basics of choosing a language, selecting home/store display mode, and performing channel identification if you aren't using a set-top box. A separate wizard sets up Internet access via either the ethernet cable (preferable) or the HDTV's built-in dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. Sharp gets kudos for supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz operations--the former is ubiquitous, but also much more subject to interference that can mess with streaming media. We recommend using a 5GHz network if your router supports one, since it's a much wider frequency band and therefore less prone to interference--which can be a big issue in large cities with lots of nearby 2.4GHz networks.
The company provides a good selection of on-screen controls for fine-tuning the image quality and various other settings, as well as presets for several content types and viewing scenarios (standard, sports, games, movies, and the like). However, no explanations appear on screen when you choose an option, and while the intended use for some presets is obvious, it isn't for others. For example, what are the 'Dynamic' and 'Dynamic Fixed' presets optimized for?
You can access the LC-40LE835U's Internet features by pressing the Apps button on the remote. Navigating them can be a little confusing: Sharp scatters apps and a browser around a few screens labeled Aquos Net, Aquos Console, and Aquos Advantage Live. The last item is a feature that allows you to hand off control of your settings to a Sharp technician, which can be reassuring to nontechnical users who are displeased with their image quality but uncomfortable about experimenting with settings on their own; you can talk to the technician on the phone while he or she is fiddling with your set. Note, however, that this service does not provide professional calibration--it merely lets someone else tinker with the same controls that you could access.
Sharp offers Netflix and Vudu on-demand streaming services, as well as an assortment of widgets for news, stocks, weather, horoscopes, and the like. Even though the widget selection includes Twitter, in general it falls short of Yahoo's widget assortment. The set has a built-in browser, too, but I found the control and navigation options using the remote and an on-screen keyboard to be awkward at best. In this respect Sharp still has some catching up to do with top-tier competitors, whose Internet offerings are generally more abundant and easier to use. Of course, this shortcoming might not matter to people who have invested in a third-party streaming media product such as the Boxee Box or a Roku set-top box.
The LC-40LE835U supports multimedia playback from either a USB drive or a DLNA server on the same network as the set. File-format support is fairly basic, though: You can view JPEG images, play MP3s or LPCM-encoded audio, or watch MPEG2-PS, MPEG2-TS, WMV, ASF, MP4, MOV, or AVI video.
Sharp's remote could use a design overhaul. It has pretty much any control you might want, including playback keys for external devices, but the buttons are generally smallish and not always immediately easy to find. The long and slim remote lacks a backlight, which makes it a bit difficult to use at night.
Documentation is solid, consisting of a large printed manual (also available online) and a connection setup guide printed in black on pink paper. The set is also a good environmental citizen: The 60-inch model used a modest 73 watts per hour on average when in use, and draining no detectable amount of power when plugged in but not turned on.
How much you'll like the LC-40LE835U will ultimately depend on how its strengths and weaknesses match up with your HDTV requirements. I wouldn't recommend it for someone seeking the latest and greatest connected TV features. People who don't have a separate home theater audio system, however, will appreciate the superior quality of Sharp's built-in audio, and the TV is well priced for its screen size and feature set.