Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
LCD TV makers have always charged a premium for LED backlighting. In fact, the first LED-based LCD TV Sharp released, the inch-thick XS series, debuted last year at a cool $11,000 MSRP for the 52-inch model. LED has become a lot more mainstream since then, and so have Sharp's ambitions for the well-marketed backlight technology. The Sharp LC-LE700UN series encapsulates that progress toward the mass market: it's the least-expensive LED-backlit LCD available today, it measures the standard 3-odd inches thick, and as a result its owners will have a tough time convincing visitors that it's anything more than a normal, CCFL-based LCD.
This Sharp uses different LED backlight technology from any of the other "LED TVs" available today, and perhaps as a result, its picture quality has no major advantage over non-LED-based LCDs. On the other hand, it sips power more sparingly than any other TV we've reviewed, and its solid feature set is highlighted by a unique selection of widgets and superb built-in support. The Sharp LC-LE700UN series will appeal to people on a moderate budget who still want the energy efficiency of an LED-backlit LCD.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Sharp LC-46LE700UN, but this review also applies to the 52-inch LC-52LE700UN and the 40-inch LC-40LE700UN. The three sets share identical specs (aside from the 40-inch model's omission of dejudder processing) and should exhibit very similar picture quality. However, this review does not apply to the 32-inch member of the series, model LC-32LE700UN, because that model has a different screen coating on its LCD panel among other differences. (Correction: This note originally indicated that the 32-inch model had a different LCD panel itself, but that's not correct; all of the LE700UN models have the same kind of LCD panel.)
The glossy black finish of the LC-LE70UN series doesn't break any new ground designwise, and this Sharp keeps the angled edges of its predecessors like the LC-46D85U. A silver fade along the bottom of the frame provides a very subtle accent while a blue-lit triangle, which reminded us of the emblems worn by the crew of the Enterprise, points toward the company logo in the middle of the bottom edge (the blue illumination can be disabled). Sharp's matching glossy black stand doesn't allow the panel to swivel.
Lest you see a Samsung ad and believe all LED-based LCDs are also ultrathin, Sharp's LC-LE700UN series is among the many sets that prove otherwise. It measures 3.7 inches deep sans stand, which is quite normal for a flat-panel TV of any technology.
Sharp has gone the longest of any TV maker we know since changing its remote. The LC-46LE700UN's clicker is basically the same as the one that shipped with the 2006 LC-46D62U, which was a few years old itself at the time. Our opinion of it hasn't changed, so we'll just quote that review: "Sharp's long remote will be familiar to anyone who's played with an Aquos set in the last couple of years. It has the ability to command four other pieces of gear, keys that are nicely spread out and well differentiated, and a generally logical button layout. We say 'generally' because the key controlling aspect ratio is stashed clear at the top of the long wand, the one for freezing the image is given an unduly important spot near the main directional keypad, and the one for changing picture modes is hidden beneath a flip-up hatch." Unfortunately, Sharp cut back on the backlighting of its remotes, so now only the volume and channel rockers, as well as four nearby keys, receive illumination.
Sharp's menu system design is also basically the same as in previous years, and its blocky look seems dated compared with the slick menus available from Sony and Samsung. The pertinent information is all there, however, and we liked the text explanations that accompany various selections.
LED backlighting tops the features list of the Sharp LC-LE700UN, but it's unlike any other LED-backlit TV released so far. All of the other LED-based LCDs fall into one of two camps: edge-lit or local dimming. However, the Sharp falls into neither category. Its LED elements are arranged behind the screen, as opposed to the edge, but they are incapable of dimming or brightening individually. Like a standard fluorescent-backlit LCD, the Sharp's LED backlight must dim or brighten all at once. The main benefit of its LED backlight is simply reduced energy consumption.
The Sharp LC-LE700UN also sports a 120Hz refresh rate that provides improved motion resolution compared with standard LCDs--although we suspect you'll be hard-pressed to see any difference. That refresh rate also allows the TV to display the proper cadence when fed 1080p/24 material. The two larger sizes in the Sharp LC-LE700UN series, the 46- and 52-inch models, feature dejudder processing as well, while the two smaller 40- and 32-inch models do not. Dejudder is available in two strengths on the 46- and 52-inch models and doesn't need to be active to realize the antiblurring benefits of 120Hz. See performance for more details.
Interactive features: Sharp gets into the interactive TV act with a feature it calls Aquos Net. The service is similar to Yahoo widgets found on Samsung and other brands' TVs, and, in fact, offer similar types of content. Once you connect an Ethernet cable to the back of the TV, you'll have access to the following widgets:
- MSNBC: News headlines
- Nasdaq: Financial news and quote search (has non-NASDAQ quotes too)
- Access Hollywood: Entertainment news headlines
- MSNBC Sports: Sports headlines
- Rallypoint: Fantasy baseball tracking, NFL scores
- Weatherbug: Local weather personalized to city/zip code
- Navteq Traffic: Area traffic with overhead map, personalized to city/zip code
- Picasa: Online photo gallery, sign-in enables viewing of personal photo albums
- Screen Dreams: Full-screen high-resolution art (Space, Monet, Fractals, Beaches, etc)
- Astrology.com: Personalized horoscopes
- GoComics: Comic strips (Cathy, Doonesbury, Garfield, Ziggy, and so on)
- Funspot games: Suduko, Blackjack, Rock Swap, Memory
- Separate widgets to display a clock, a calendar and the date
Pressing the Net button on the remote cycles through an inset view (the widgets are confined to a small bar on the lower right), a side-by-side view (roughly half the screen is occupied by the widget interface and the other half by the program) a full-screen view, and turning off the widgets entirely. You can customize the inset bar to include just the widgets you want. A small toolbar in the full- and half-screen modes, which mimics a sort of mini-browser, allows you to navigate the service relatively easily and change basic configuration, such as text size.
Our initial Aquos Net impressions were mostly positive. We really liked the traffic widget, for example, that showed real-time traffic updates for our location. No other interactive TV has a similar service (Verizon's Fios service has a traffic widget, but it only consists of alerts and not a full area map). Weather was also more detailed than other widgets we've seen, and included a Doppler radar map of the area. The headlines services were basic, but it got the job done. The Picasa widget also worked well, loading our images and slideshows quickly and with excellent resolution.
On the other hand, the Access Hollywood widget never loaded, and while the Rallycast fantasy baseball widget was active--we didn't test it, however--its fantasy football service was not active (although football was active on the Rallycast Yahoo widget, for example). The inset widget icons were also rather disappointing; mainly they just served as buttons to launch the half-screen widgets, as opposed to offering custom information of their own--and while the traffic widget showed some custom information, it was for Philadelphia, not for the local NYC area we programmed. We expect these services to improve over time, but at the moment some seem half-baked.
Compared with Yahoo widgets, Aquos Net was much less frustrating to use because it loaded and responded much faster. Conversely, its unpolished, text-heavy appearance couldn't compete with Yahoo widgets. But when it comes to widgets, we'll take fast over pretty any day. Aquos Net also suffered its share of hiccups, including occasional freezes and the annoying inability to use the remote's numeric keypad for data entry, instead relying on a virtual keypad. We'd also like better integration, so we could enter one zip code for all of the location-dependent widgets, for example.
In addition to the widgets, there's a suite of advanced support features that comprise the best onscreen help we've seen on any HDTV. The highlight is a feature called Aquos Advantage Live. When you select it, you're given a toll-free customer service phone number and a unique "connection number" that you give to the customer service representative. The representative can then connect to your TV and control it remotely, to change AV modes, make picture adjustments, enable/disable OPC, read error codes for troubleshooting, and even see what devices you have connected to the TV via HDMI, and even troubleshoot them to some degree--helping a user set optimal output resolutions on a cable box, for example (HDMI connections can identify connected gear digitally, but it won't work with other input types).
We tested the system and it worked well, with the representative guiding us through changes he made in real-time while we never had to press a button. Advanced users might not like the idea of someone tooling around inside their TVs (the rep can make changes that nuke your picture settings, for example; we had to recalibrate our sample TV from scratch after our demo), but beginners will love having live help there to hold their virtual hands. Sharp also packs a user manual, customer service contact information, FAQs, and even a glossary of HDTV terms into the support section.
Unlike some TVs with interactive options, the LC-LE700UN can't stream videos, music, or photos from networked computers in your home, and there's no streaming video service like Netflix or Amazon Video On Demand. As with most TVs, no Web browser is included, and there's no Wi-Fi. If you want wireless, you'll have to get a third-party bridge or other solution.
Other features: In addition to the LED backlight Sharp devotes a few other features to saving energy, and the result works. According to our testing (see below), the LC-LE700U is one of the most-efficient TVs of its size on the market.