In the United States these days the word "Elite" has a negative connotation evoking snooty haves vs. gritty have-nots, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and them vs. us. The Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD, the first result of Sharp's licensing agreement with Pioneer to use the Elite name, won't do much to dispel those associations. This ridiculously expensive television is basically "The wealthiest 1 percent" distilled into flat-panel TV form, and we're betting very few of the 99 percent will splurge on one, especially with perfectly excellent alternatives available for half the price or less.
But if you're reading this review, you couldn't care less. What you came to find out is whether we think the Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD has better picture quality than those alternative TVs or even than the legendary and now extinct Pioneer Elite Kuro from 2008. Almost and no, respectively. The X5FD deserves a 10 in picture quality, tying the score of the Kuro and the 2012 Panasonic TC-PVT50 and beating every other TV we've ever reviewed.
The Kuro still produces a better picture overall, especially from off-angle, but that hardly matters anymore since you probably can't get one. And if you could, you'd still lose certain bragging rights to deep-pocketed Sharp owners since the X5FD is the only Elite TV that can handle 3D sources and comes in a 70-inch size. Panasonic's 2012 VT50 plasma, on the other hand, delivers very slightly lighter blacks than either but bests the Elite in other areas, particularly off-angle and color. If you don't mind paying any price to get the deepest black levels of current flat-panel TV, the Sharp Elite is for you.
Editors' note, June 12, 2012: The rating on this review has been modified from 9.4 to 8 to reflect a change in our ratings process to incorporate value. A few of the comparative statements in the Introduction and Performances sections of this review, as well as the Bottom Line, have been changed to reflect publication of related reviews, including the Panasonic TC-PVT50 series.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD (reviewed)||60 inches|
|Sharp Elite PRO-70X5FD||70 inches|
|Panel depth||3 inches||Bezel width||1.25 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||No|
Sharp's homage to Pioneer's TVs begins here. The PRO-X5FD has the same ultraserious air, with a sharply angled black frame adorned only by the gold "Elite" moniker. Intentionally, the word "Sharp" is nowhere to be found until you squint hard at tiny manufacturing label on the back.
Although it's not quite as impressive as Sony's Monoliths or the thin-bezel Samsungs, Sharp's design is better than Pioneer's in most ways. The frame is matte textured metallic, not glossy plastic, and measures just 1.25 inches thick--exactly half that of the frame Pioneer's 50-inch PRO-111FD. The X5FD's perfect rectangle shape is marred by an extra skirt along the bottom edge, however. We'd feel remiss if we didn't mention the lack of a swivel stand, but on this TV we'd bet most buyers will ditch it anyway in favor of a mount.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9.25 x 2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||Y/N|
|Illuminated keys||66||IR device control||Yes|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||Yes|
|Other: Three programmable 'Fav App' keys on remote|
The remote also harkens back, and is better than, the 2008 Pioneer Elite's. The keys are well-differentiated by size and shape, the sense of clutter is minimized by a flip-up cover on the bottom end, and a fat Netflix key--which snobbier users may pooh-pooh but we love--gets prominent placement beneath the cursor control. We like the three programmable keys providing direct access to your other three "favorite" apps.
The clicker can control external devices via infrared but, incredibly, controllable brands are limited to only Sharp and Pioneer. One interesting piece of trivia: our old Kuro remote also controlled the Sharp Elite TV, and vice-versa.
By this point we were expecting the old Kuro menus to appear when we hit the Home, er, Menu key, but no dice. Once we drilled past the main page the design was reminiscent of other Sharp models, albeit with a face-lift of metallic-looking highlights. Happily the TV image doesn't shrink to one side on most menu operations; instead there's the standard semi-transparent overlay, and picture controls obediently recede to the lower-left corner during adjustment to offer minimal interference with measurements.
We appreciated the full manual--a carbon copy of the PDF version, complete with table of contents--available in the Aquos Advantage help section.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||2 pair|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Internet connection||Built-in wi-fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses (model AN-3DG20-EL, $99); IP Control; Aquos Advantage Live help and remote troubleshooting|
The Elite has the kitchen sink. The most important feature here is the full-array local dimming LED backlight, shared with only two other 2011 TVs: the Sony XBR-HX929 and LG LW9800. We asked Sharp to pinpoint the exact number of dimming zones but the company declined, saying only that the 60-inch Elite has more than 216 zones--the number LG quoted us for the LW9800--while the 70-inch Elite has "significantly more" than the 60-incher.
The Elite has a native 120Hz refresh rate augmented to "more than 240Hz" via a scanning backlight according to Sharp. It also offers the same extra yellow pixel found on Sharp's Quattron-based LCDs like the LC-LE830U series.
The inclusion of two pairs of 3D glasses outdoes that of any active TV model. Sharp's spectacles have a 2D option in case some viewers want to forgo the 3D effect while leaving the TV in 3D mode for others. Otherwise they're similar to Panasonic and Sony active glasses in that they use Infrared to sync to the TV, as opposed to Samsung models that use Bluetooth. They're rechargeable via an included USB cable, and Sharp told us there's no difference between the "Elite"-branded glasses and those without the moniker (model KOPTLA002WJQZ, also $99).
Even though built-in Wi-Fi is expected at this price, it's still worth mentioning. IP control is designed to interface with custom installation remote control systems, such as Control 4, AMX, and Crestron, that can operate over Ethernet as opposed to RS-232. Sharp's excellent live help feature, Aquos Advantage Live, is onboard, too, and rebranded "Elite."
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||No||Hulu Plus||No|
|Other: Blockbuster, CinemaNow, Alphaline, Napster streaming; Vudu apps include Facebook, Pandora, Wikipedia, The New York Times news clips; Skype requires optional speakerphone/camera (Freetalk for Elite, $130)|
Sharp's selection is a step behind the 2011 suites from other major makers (Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus are missing) and design. The main Apps menu appears as a strip overlaid along the left side of the screen, and in addition to the streaming options it provides a shortcut to Aquos Advantage Live, and USB and DLNA access.
Unlike other connected Sharp TVs, the Elite doesn't get "Aquos Net," but that's no big loss since Vudu Apps has a superior selection and interface. Its apps are generally well-implemented, although they occupy the whole screen so you can't watch TV while using them (the exception is a stock ticker). Standouts include access to numerous full episodes of PBS staples "Nova" and "Nature," albeit in painfully low quality; Wikipedia; and a solid selection of podcasts. We love the fact that apps show star ratings, although we couldn't figure out where they came from, and we wish categories were finer given the numerous choices. Check out the Vudu Apps site for a full listing of available apps, but know that most of the premium show-based apps (such as for "Dexter" and "True Blood") have clips and not full episodes.
|Adjustable picture modes||8||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Color temperature presets||5||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||5||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: THX certified for 2D and 3D, Intelligent Variable Contrast,|
The Elite has as much control over the picture as any TV on the market. A couple of the picture modes, like Elite Pure and Optimum, may sound familiar to Pioneer Kuro veterans; the latter uses the room lighting sensor to automatically adjust the picture. Sharp's rep told us that THX Movie provides the most videophile-friendly image out of the box, and we love that it allows access to all of the advanced settings, including 10-point grayscale and the color management system. The other candidates--Elite Pure and Movie--are less desirable from a purist perspective since they employ Sharp's Intelligent Variable Contrast by default.
IVC, according to a company engineer we talked with, takes standard local dimming a step further by boosting the light output of the brighter areas in addition to darkening dark ones. It's available in three strengths (Low, Medium and High), or you can leave it off and select standard local dimming or even turn local dimming off. For what it's worth, THX mode eschews IVC and uses standard local dimming by default. See below for more details.
We appreciated that full picture settings are available when watching streaming sources (we checked Vudu and Netflix). Four picture modes are available for 3D, including THX.