Sharp made a conscious decision a couple years back to focus its TV efforts on the large-screen category - namely, screen sizes 60 inches and above. The move paid off, at least in terms of market share. According to the company's own numbers, it has led the market for the past three years at screen sizes of 60 inches plus, by a fairly wide margin. This is likely due not only to the attractive price points that Sharp offers at these sizes, but also to the fact that the company generally has more selection at each screen size than its competitors. The 2013 lineup includes three series, with some sub-series within, totaling almost 20 TVs with screen sizes between 60 and 90 inches.
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The 6 Series is the entry-level series and includes screen sizes of 50, 60, 70, and 80 inches; the 60-inch LC-60LE650U that I reviewed carries an MSRP of $1,499.99 and a current street price around $1,100. Even though this is Sharp's entry-level offering, the 1080p LE650 still boasts a nice assortment of features, including edge LED lighting (no local dimming, though), a 120Hz refresh rate, and Sharp's SmartCentral Web platform with a dual-core processor, built-in WiFi, a Web browser, DLNA media streaming, and more. Missing from this series is 3D capability (you can get it on the step-up LE655), Quattron technology (which adds a yellow subpixel to the standard red/green/blue array), the SuperBright panel designed to improve brightness and contrast, a higher refresh rate of 240Hz, and the more stylish design you'll find on some of the pricier models.
Setup and Features
The first thing you might notice about the LC-60LE650U's design is that it has a matte screen, which is becoming increasingly rare in the LCD realm. That's because a reflective screen like the SuperBright panel used in Sharp's 7 and 8 Series can do a better job of rejecting ambient light to improve black level and image contrast in a bright room. Some people find all those reflections to be very distracting, though, and prefer a matte option, especially in a very bright room with lots of potential room reflections. Beyond that, the LC-60LE650U has a black finish with about 0.75 inches of black bezel around the top and sides of the screen. The top and bottom of the bezel have a brushed finish, while the sides are glossy; the supplied stand has a similar combination brushed-and-glossy finish. The stand does not swivel and holds the TV very low to the base, which could be a concern if you plan to set a soundbar on the cabinet right in front of the TV. The LC-60LE650U is about one inch deep in many spots; however, at the bottom where the down-firing speakers reside, the depth is closer to three inches. Without the stand, the LC-60LE650U weighs 55.1 pounds.
Sharp includes more legacy inputs than other TV manufacturers. The connection panel has four side-facing HDMI inputs (one supports ARC, and another supports MHL), but you also get one dedicated component video input, two composite ins, an RGB PC in, a 3.5mm stereo in, and one RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. Two USB ports are available for media playback and the addition of peripherals like a USB camera and/or keyboard. An Ethernet port is available for a wired network connection, or you can use the built-in WiFi. RS-232 is also available for integration with an advanced control system, a feature that's very rare at this price point.
The package includes a standard IR remote that lacks backlighting and puts a lot of black buttons on a black background. The remote is long and skinny, with an intuitive layout that contains dedicated buttons for Netflix, SmartCentral, and Favorite Apps. You can program it to control three additional devices, but you don't get the more advanced onscreen control and search recommendations that you'll find in higher-end smart TVs like the recently reviewed Samsung UN55F8000 and LG 55LA7400. For control, Sharp also offers a free remote control app for iOS/Android devices, which has a pretty basic layout. The control app adds a virtual keyboard for easier text input within some but not all applications, but it lacks the touchpad functionality that makes it easier to navigate pages within the Web browser.
Sharp now includes the full complement of advanced picture controls, even in lower-priced TVs like this one. You get eight picture modes, and advanced adjustments include two-point and 10-point white balance controls, a full color-management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of all six color points, an OPC function that automatically tailors the backlight level to the room's lighting, five gamma presets, and noise reduction. Sharp's Motion Enhancement 120Hz control lets you choose between three options to address motion blur: 120Hz High, 120Hz Low, and Off. Also, within the Film Mode menu that enables the TV to detect the proper cadence of film sources, you can choose between a Standard mode that performs basic 3:2 detection and an Advanced mode that adds de-judder via frame interpolation, resulting in smooth motion with film sources. You can adjust the amount of smoothing from zero to +10.
Audio settings include treble, bass, and balance controls, as well as Auto Volume, Surround, Bass Enhancer, and Clear Voice options. Despite Sharp's decision to go with the deeper cabinet to give the speakers more real estate, the audio quality is still somewhat lean in dynamic ability and lower-end presence. The step-up 7 and 8 Series include a built-in-subwoofer.
Sharp continues to flesh out its Web platform in both design and features. SmartCentral is clean and easy to navigate. A quick press of the remote's SmartCentral button brings up a banner along the bottom of the screen that contains the marquee options: Netflix, Hulu Plus, VUDU, YouTube, Web Browser, CinemaNow, AQUOS Advantage Live (for instant tech support), and a few others. Hit the SmartCentral button again to bring up a full-screen interface with more options, divided into menus like TV & Movies, News & Media, Music, and Social. The video source continues to play in a smallish window to the right. While Sharp has the big-ticket apps that most people want, the company does not have as many options as competitors like Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and LG, nor do they have an app store to add services. The included Web browser supports Flash, but video playback was quite choppy, and the absence of a touchpad slider to move fluidly around the screen made for a frustrating experience. A split-screen option is available to view a Web page and video source simultaneously.
You can play personal media files via either USB or DLNA; video file support is solid with MPG, MP4, MKV, AVI, MOV, ASF, and WMV support, but music is limited to MP3 and LPCM. I tested DLNA streaming using PLEX on my MacBook Pro and AllShare on a Samsung tablet. I had no connection or playback issues, and the interface is simple but colorful. However, during playback of streamed media, the remote's controls for play, stop, pause, and skip do not work. You have to use different buttons to control playback, which is not very intuitive if you plan to do a lot of personal media streaming.
In addition to the remote-control app, Sharp offers a free app called "Sharp Beam" that allows you to stream media content directly from your iOS or Android device for instant playback on the TV. You simply cue up the file you want to play and "beam" it to the TV, much like Panasonic's Swipe and Share or Samsung's SwipeIt options. Sharp Beam lets you store bookmarks to various services and Websites, which you can launch via the app and then beam to the TV. The app will also find other DLNA sources on your network and let you control their playback. Basically, Sharp Beam provides a more intuitive way to browse your personal media and cue up it easily via a handheld device so that you don't have to move through the TV's menu structure to launch the DLNA app.
One final feature of note is the Wallpaper mode. You can set up the LC-60LE650U to display artwork when it's in standby mode. So, instead of staring at a big, empty 60-inch screen, you can view the TV's preinstalled images of classic art or display your own images via USB. Sharp claims this is a very low-power function, and you can set a timer for between three and 24 hours.
Read about the performance of the Sharp LC-60LE650U on Page 2.