Earlier this year I lauded the Sharp LC-LE640U as potentially one of the most popular big-screen TVs of 2012. That opinion arose from its mix of good-enough picture quality and killer pricing. Now that I've reviewed its more expensive brother, the LC-LE745U series, I'm even more confident in my positive evaluation of the 640. The 745 is a rare creature in TV land: a step-up model that actually has worse picture quality.
Sharp endowed the 745 with the same pair of prodigious screen sizes as the 640 -- 60 and 70 inches -- and added 3D compatibility and a handful of apps, namely Hulu Plus and Skype. The 745U also has a more aggressive contrast ratio specification, but that spec doesn't translate into deeper black levels; in fact, along with color, they're worse.
At press time that worse 2D picture will cost you at least $200 more at the 60-inch size, making my recommendation of the 640U even easier. Unless you really want 3D (and I doubt you do), go with the Sharp 640U series, which remains one of the best big-screen values around.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sharp LC-60LE745U, 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.
Although not quite Elite level in its seriousness, this Sharp TV is likewise all business. I appreciate the narrow frame around the image -- which does thicken up a bit along the bottom--and its matte black coloring. That frame is, unusually, made of actual metal, for a higher-end yet still understated feel. The corners have little plastic bumpers that unfortunately spoil its shape a bit, but are probably there to prevent freak accidents caused by the sharp corners.
Unlike the stand of the 640U, the 745U's has a swivel on the 60-inch version (not the 70-inch, however) and a textured matte finish, not glossy on the base. The 745U is definitely a nicer-looking TV on the outside, but the improvements are subtle.
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.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|Screen finish||Matte||Remote||Universal (three devices)|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: optional active 3D glasses (model AN3DG20B, $50); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (Freetalk for Sharp, $130); Aquos Advantage Live Internet-connected live help and troubleshooting, IP control|
Compared with the entry-level 640U, the main step-up on the 745U reviewed here is 3D and an improved Smart TV suite. Meanwhile the yet more expensive 847U gets the extra yellow pixel of Quattron, which in past reviews did nothing to improve picture quality, and a 240Hz refresh rate. Given these differences, spending more for the 847 doesn't seem worthwhile. Note that unlike last year, the 70-inch Sharps for 2012 are all edge-lit, not full-array.
Sharp doesn't include the active 3D glasses necessary to view 3D sources on this TV, and since it lacks compatibility with the full HD 3D standard, your most economical recourse is Sharp's AN3DG20Bs, which cost $50 each.
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. Many makers today skimp by not including a full paper manual as well, but not Sharp.
Smart TV: The 745U series offers a couple more apps than the step-down 640U models--namely a web browser, Hulu Plus, Skype and Film Fresh. Sharp told me the 640U would not get these apps, nor would it receive the browser or gallery mode.
If you're comparing by content, Sharp falls short of most major-name competitors, missing Amazon Instant, sports services like MLB.com, and even Pandora and Napster (the latter two were available on 2011 Sharps). There's no streaming audio at all in fact, and miscellaneous apps come courtesy of Vudu Apps, where Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, and Flickr are the standouts.
The interface is clean and simple, although navigation felt slow by today's standards. Hitting the Smart Central remote key summons a launcher bar along the bottom listing all of the "favorite" apps -- I liked that I could order them at will and delete unused ones. There's also a Gallery mode that lists all of the apps by category and allows you to add or delete them from the launcher.
The browser is, as usual, worse than any tablet, phone or PC browser, and Sharp's is worse than the TV browsers used by LG and Samsung. Load times were long and formatting was often incorrect, but the most annoying part was having to use the normal TV remote control to navigate. Not fun.
Picture settings: Five tweakable picture modes, a gamma slider, a full color management system and both two-point and 10-point grayscale controls make the 745U match the adjustability of LG and Samsung, and outdo that of Sony and most Panasonics. Unfortunately both the CMS (unusually for Sharp) and the 10-point system didn't work well. New for 2012 is the ability to tweak the strength of dejudder, but it just goes from really smooth to even smoother.