If you ask Sharp (or me), one of the best reasons to buy a new HDTV, especially if you have one already, is to go big. After introducing massive 70- and 80-inch LCDs last year at prices that in context actually deserve the word "affordable," the company will double down on screen size in 2012. Its entry-level LC-LE640U series occupies the value sweet spot in the company's lineup: the 60-inch version reviewed here costs $1,500 at introduction, while the 70-incher is $2,500. That's a lot of screen for the money, and those prices will inevitably fall further later in the year.
Our tests didn't reveal world-beating picture quality, but the 640U does offer accurate color and a matte screen--the latter is especially important in rooms where ambient light control is an issue. Its weaknesses, namely lighter black levels and less-than-perfect uniformity, leave the door wide open for competing plasmas to score higher, but I have a feeling that Sharp's ultra-aggressive pricing, and the mass-market appeal of LED/LCD, will guarantee the 640U its own sweet spot among the most popular big-screen TVs of 2012.
Editors' Note June 12, 2012: The rating on this review has been modified from 7.1 to 7.4, and its Performance sub-rating changed from 6 to 7, to reflect recent reviews since the time of publication.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sharp LC-LE640U, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Sharp LC-52LE640U||52 inches|
|Sharp LC-60LE640U (reviewed)||60 inches|
|Sharp LC-70LE640U||70 inches|
The basic-looking 640U series doesn't try as hard as many of its competitors to make a splash in the living room. I appreciate the narrow frame around the image--which does thicken up a bit along the bottom. Its burnished texture is a nice departure from glossy black, although the bottom section is half-glossy, as is the top of the nonswiveling stand, which tends to collect dust. The illuminated ^ icon bottom-center can be turned off.
Thinner and longer than most clickers, Sharp's wand is plagued by lack of backlight and insufficient differentiation between the mostly too-small keys. One great feature, however, is the trio of programmable buttons that provide instant access to your favorite apps. Another, new for 2012, is the big red Netflix button.
Sharp didn't change much about the menu system from last year, and it's serviceable if unremarkable. Navigating among the choices along the main top strip could be snappier, and I prefer overlays to Sharp's method of reducing the picture size to make room for its menus.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|Screen finish||Matte||Remote||Universal (3 devices)|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||N/A||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Aquos Advantage Live Internet-connected live help and troubleshooting, onscreen manual, IP control/td>|
Sharp reserves its higher refresh rates, 3D compatibility, and step-up Smart TV functions, as well as the extra yellow pixel that is Quattron, for the 640's more expensive brethren. Its edge-lit display (and those of step-up Sharps) lacks the local dimming found on some competitors. Note that unlike last year, the 70-inch Sharps for 2012 are also edge-lit, not full-array. That said the 640U is well-equipped for the price, with highlights including full USB and DLNA Media access and built-in Wi-Fi.
A couple of other extras are unique to Sharp. 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. Aquos Advantage Live is Sharp's excellent live help feature, which I described in 2009. I appreciated the full onscreen manual--a carbon copy of the PDF version, complete with table of contents.
Smart TV: Sharp's streaming video selection includes Netflix, YouTube, Vudu and CinemaNow. There's no streaming audio offered, however. Miscellaneous apps come courtesy of Vudu Apps, where Twitter, Facebook, Picasa and Flickr are the standouts.
If you're comparing by content Sharp falls short of most major-name competitors, missing Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant and even Pandora and Napster (the latter two were available on 2011 Sharps). Its interface is simple enough, consisting of a launcher strip across the bottom of the screen. Higher-end models like the LC-LE745U series get a "full-screen" interface option with a couple more apps (Hulu Plus and Skype) and a web browser.
Picture settings: Five tweakable picture modes, a gamma slider, a full color management system and a two-point grayscale control place the 640U squarely in the middle of the pack for adjustability. New for 2012 is the ability to tweak the strength of dejudder from really smooth to even smoother.