This is the third LED-based LCD television I've reviewed in as many months. Like the LG 55LH90 and Toshiba 46SV670U I previously reviewed, the Sharp LC-32LE700UN uses a full array of LED backlights behind its 32-inch screen, as opposed to the edge-only array you see in some LED-based designs. Unlike the LG and Toshiba models, however, this Sharp TV
does not employ the local-dimming technology that allows those LED backlights to respond dynamically to the content being displayed onscreen. In other words, the individual LEDs can't shut themselves off to produce deeper blacks when necessary. In essence, the LC-32LE700UN's backlight behaves like that of a traditional CCFL LCD - you can adjust the brightness of the backlight, but the full array is always on. So what's the point of using LED backlights, you may wonder. According to Sharp, the LED backlighting still offers the benefits of longer life expectancy, lower power consumption, and the absence of the toxic chemical mercury that exists in all CCFL LCDs.
• Read more LED HDTV reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore Blu-ray player options to get the most out of the LC-32LE700UN.
The complete LE700 Series consists of four models, with screen sizes of 32, 40, 46, and 52 inches; what I discovered when I dug into my review of the 32-inch model is that it does not share all of the technologies and features you can get in the larger-screen models. It omits Sharp's de-judder mode and does not provide access to the AQUOS Net Web portal. What you do get in the LC-32LE700UN is a 1080p resolution, Sharp's X-Gen LCD panel with 10-bit processing and a 4ms response time, four HDMI inputs and Fine Motion Enhanced 120Hz technology to reduce motion blur. The MSRP is $1,099.
The LC-32LE700UN has a pretty straightforward look, with a glossy black bezel and a speaker panel along the bottom. The unit comes with a matching square stand that does not swivel. The one design element that caught my eye was the Starfleet-esque power light that sits just beneath the Sharp logo (yes, I am a geek), which you can turn off if you wish. The supplied remote is long and narrow, with white buttons residing on a black background. While it looks as if many of the buttons should light up, only four buttons actually illuminate when you press the remote's Light button, and they're not the buttons you'd expect. Power Saving and Menu make sense, but Mute and Freeze, as opposed to Volume and Channel, are odd choices.
In terms of HD-capable inputs, the LC-32LE700UN is fully loaded. You get four HDMI, two component video and one PC input, as well as a single RF input to access the internal ATSC/Clear-QAM tuners. The HDMI inputs accept 1080p/60 and 1080p/24 signals, and one is located on the side panel for easy access. This TV doesn't offer any ports that allow for digital media playback, such as USB port or card reader (the side-panel USB port is for firmware updates only). Likewise, there's no Ethernet port to add the TV to your home network and access the AQUOS Net Web portal for Web widgets, video-on-demand, and Sharp's concierge/support service. (The larger models in the LE700 Series offer both AQUOS Net and a USB port that supports photo and music playback.) On the plus side, the LC-32LE700UN does include an RS-232 port to integrate the TV into an advanced control system.
The LC-32LE700UN has a nice complement of picture controls, beginning with eight picture modes, including a game mode that improves response time with gaming sources and an Auto Mode that automatically adjusts the image based on source content and the room's ambient light (using a front-panel sensor). As always, I went with the Movie picture mode and made basic adjustments using the Video Essentials (DVD International) discs. You can manually adjust the backlight's brightness or enable the OPC mode, which automatically adjusts the backlight based on room lighting. The Advanced picture menu has the important options I like to see, beginning with five preset color-temperature choices and full white-balance controls to adjust the color temperature. The color management system allows you to adjust the hue, saturation, and value of the six main color points. Five-step gamma adjustment and digital noise reduction are also available. Sharp's Fine Motion Enhanced 120Hz technology deals with motion blur, and the menu includes on and off options. The LC-32LE700UN has four aspect ratio options for SD and four options for HD content, including a Dot by Dot mode for viewing 1080i/1080p images with no overscan.
At first glance, the audio set-up options appear very limited, as the Audio menu offers only bass, treble and balance controls, plus generic surround and bass enhancer options. Move over to the Options menu, though, and you'll find a few more choices: Clear Voice to improve dialogue intelligibility, Auto Volume to even out volume disparities and an audio-only mode for use when enjoying an audio source like a digital music channel.
Finally, the LC-32LE700UN has EnergyStar 3.0 certification and includes several energy-saving options. The Power Control menu includes the Power Saving feature, with two options. Standard optimizes power reduction based on video content, while Advanced does so based on video content and the room's lighting conditions. The Power Control menu also has the option to engage automatic shut-off with no signal or no operation.
In general, I was impressed with the LC-32LE700UN's handling of all different source types, from video games to HDTV to DVD to Blu-ray. I compared the Sharp with the Toshiba 46SV670U LED-based LCD and with my reference Epson Pro Cinema 7500UB projector; beyond a few minor issues that I'll address below, it proved itself to be a worthy performer.
Read more about the performance of the LC-32LE700UN on Page 2.
As I mentioned in the opener, because this TV's full-array LED backlighting system doesn't include local dimming, the LC-32LE700UN still has an always-on backlight, just like a traditional CCFL LCD. The backlight is adjustable and, when set at its lowest level, the TV is capable of producing a respectably deep black for a traditional LCD backlight design. However, the minimum backlight setting also makes the TV a bit dim for anything but a completely dark room. When you're watching content in a dark room and want the best possible blacks and contrast, the minimum backlight setting is the way to go. In a room with some (or a lot of) ambient light, however, you'll probably want to take advantage of this TV's great light output. I found that setting the backlight at about 20 to 25 percent struck a nice balance between brightness and black level. At this setting, bright HDTV content had excellent contrast - particularly with sporting events, which were certainly eye catching - yet Blu-ray and DVD movies still retained a nice level of saturation.
For the most part, the LC-32LE700UN's colors look rich and inviting without being overblown or cartoonish. Greens are somewhat exaggerated out of the box, but you can easily adjust them to a desired level using the advanced color management system. In terms of color temperature, even the Low preset is slightly cool with brighter content and noticeably cool with dark content. Using the white-balance controls and my Epson projector as guides, I was able to dial in a more neutral color temperature with moderate to bright signals, but I wasn't able to correct the cool push at the darkest end. So, even after calibration, dark scenes, like the night sky and white snow in chapter five in The Corpse Bride (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), look a bit bluer than they should.
The LC-32LE700UN has a full 1920 x 1080 resolution; while this resolution has become the norm in larger sets, many TVs with a 32-inch or smaller screen still have a 720p resolution. The reason is that, on these smaller displays, it is difficult if not impossible to discern the extra detail in a 1080p picture at any reasonable seating distance. That said, the LC-32LE700UN performs as you would hope in the detail department: it produces a razor-sharp HD image and does a great job rendering fine details. While the benefit of 1080p on a 32-inch screen is debatable from a detail standpoint, it does provide an advantage in the processing arena. Most notably, if you feed this TV a 1080p signal from a Blu-ray player or other set-top box, the LC-32LE700UN doesn't have to scale down the image to a 720p resolution; you can show it pixel for pixel in the TV's Dot by Dot mode. Likewise, 1080i signals only require deinterlacing, with no extra down-scaling step wherein processing issues could present themselves. In terms of 1080i deinterlacing, the LC-32LE700UN passed all of the tests on my HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix), and it did not introduce moiré or other artifacts in my film-based demo scenes from Mission: Impossible III (Paramount Home Video) and Ghost Rider (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment).
As for the TV's handling of 480i sources, it does a solid job in both the deinterlacing and upconversion departments. Again, the LC-32LE700UN passed my deinterlacing tests, both with the film-based test pattern on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix) and with my real-world torture demos from Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) and The Bourne Identity (Universal Studios Home Video). It's not as difficult to make an SD image look detailed on a smaller 32-inch screen, so thankfully the LC-32LE700UN does a fine job in this area. The TV also renders a very clean image, with minimal digital noise. Even with the noise reduction turned off, backgrounds looked clean and facial contours and light-to-dark transitions were generally smooth.
Motion blur also isn't as evident on a smaller screen, so the need for 120Hz technology isn't as high. Nevertheless, Sharp has included its Fine Motion Enhanced 120Hz technology, which doubles each frame in a standard 60Hz source. With this technology enabled, I did see a reduction in blur in the map-pan and moving-character patterns from my FPD Software Group Blu-ray disc. The blur reduction wasn't quite as thorough as I've seen with other 120Hz and 240Hz displays, but it was more than adequate for a display of this size. This is normally the part of the review where I'd evaluate the de-judder technology that usually accompanies the 120Hz refresh rate, but Sharp opted not to include its Advanced Film Mode de-judder option, which uses motion interpolation to create smoother movement (it is available in the larger LE700 models). Since I'm not a fan of motion interpolation, I really didn't miss the de-judder mode, but some people might consider its absence to be a drawback. On the plus side, when you feed the LC-32LE700UN a 24p Blu-ray signal, it reduces the 120Hz refresh rate to 96Hz and does 4:4 pulldown (it shows each frame four times), which results in slightly more fluid motion.
The LE700 Series is, thus far, the only full-array LED system I've encountered that doesn't add local dimming to further improve the depth of blacks. Although the LC-32LE700UN has a deep enough black level to produce good overall contrast, it couldn't compete with the local-dimming-equipped Toshiba in its ability to render a true black. Because the local-dimming model could turn off individual LED backlights, it was better able to produce deep blacks in areas of the image that required it, while the Sharp's always-on backlight resulted in blacks that looked somewhat gray and washed-out. As you raise the backlight level, the shade of black grows even lighter. Likewise, while the Sharp does a solid job revealing black details, it couldn't quite match the local-dimming model in its ability to precisely render the finest shades and nuances in a complexly lit scene. To be fair, I should stress that currently there is no 32-inch LED-based LCD that employs local dimming, so it's not like I can point you to a better-performing alternative. (If you're considering one of the larger screen sizes in the LE700 Series, that's another story.) When you look at the LC-32LE700UN's performance based solely on its competition at the 32-inch screen size, its contrast and black-level performance are very good.
As I mentioned above, during my quick calibration, I was unable to correct the LC-32LE700UN's overly cool color temperature with darker signals. As scenes get darker, whites and blacks take on a bluer tone. The more noticeable issue is that skin tones don't always look as neutral as they should. Sometimes they looked as natural as those of my reference projector (usually in brighter scenes), but oftentimes they had too much red in them. Lastly, like all LCDs, the LC-32LE700UN's viewing angle is only average, so you should be mindful of where you place the TV in your room (since you can't get a plasma at this screen size, it's an issue that you'll face across the board). The Sharp TV uses a matte sc
reen, so light reflections are not an issue.
Finally, I'm not sure why Sharp opted to omit certain features from this TV that are offered in the larger LE700 models, such as the Advanced Film Mode de-judder technology, the AQUOS Net Web platform and photo/music playback via USB. If you strongly desire any of these features, you'll either have to move up to a larger screen size in the LE700 Series or pick another line.
Often, we reviewers tend to classify smaller-screen TVs as second-room options, something you might put in a family room or bedroom for occasional viewing. If that's what you're looking for, then there are plenty of less-expensive options at the 32-inch screen size that offer solid performance. For those who want a higher level of performance wrapped in a smaller package, the LC-32LE700UN delivers. It has the versatility to perform well with multiple sources in a variety of viewing environments, and would make an especially good choice for gaming and sports fans. Its $1,099 price tag is high for the 32-inch market in general, but it is competitive with other 32-inch models that offer similar feature and technology sets. Plus, thanks to the LED backlighting, you get the benefits of lower power consumption and a mercury-free TV.
• Read more LED HDTV reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore Blu-ray player options to get the most out of the LC-32LE700UN.