The Sharp Aquos Quattron LC-46LE821E comes stuffed full of technology. It is highlighted for that extra sub-pixel, which adds yellow to the normal red, green and blue palette, promising a wider colour range than ever before. It is most likely, however, to be labelled as "non-3D", the technology that has grabbed the most headlines of late.
The model on the review here is the 46-inch version, the top of the range is reserved for the step-up model, the LE921E adding a 200Hz display. The review model that we had came from Europe, so didn't have a Freeview HD tuner (only standard Freeview), although the models that hit the shelves in the UK will have Freeview HD tuners in so you can enjoy a smattering of free high definition broadcast programming.
Starting with the design, the LE821 perhaps lacks some of the sharp details you'll see from the latest Sony or Samsung TVs, but it is neat enough. The glossy screen runs edge-to-edge, outlined by the silvery band that run around the outline. The band might be seen by some as distracting and when you get up close, it sounds hollow when you tap it, as though it wasn't attached properly. But then, who spends time tapping parts of their TV?
The LE821 is only about 40mm deep, so whilst not the slimmest TV, it is slim enough to hug any wall you might want to mount it on. With this in mind all the connections point either down or out to the left-hand side, so the plugs won't get in the way should you wall mount it. There is also a neat illuminated touch-sensitive panel across the bottom giving you main controls and you can change the illumination to your preference.
There is a substantial stand too, which allows a degree of swivel, so you could stand it on a table and angle it to suit your viewing position with ease. All in, with screen and stand it weighs 30kg, so a fairly hefty lump.
The LE821E's slim dimensions are in part down to the use of edge LED technology, the downside being that you don't quite get the deep blacks that you might with a direct LED model. We also detected some bleed from the edges, and some imperfections especially across the top of the screen, something that could be clearly seen in solid colours and noticeable during pans across solid colours, past a wall for example in your favourite DIY programme.
The Quattron is all about colour though - and does it really stand out? The colours are impressive certainly. Out of the box, though, you'll find it needs taming. Often TVs come preset to impress on the shop floor rather than in the home and it took us a while to reduce the over-saturated colours. Does that yellow sub-pixel make a difference? There does seem to be a greater array of yellow tones on offer and comparing it to a standard RGB display did make us thing that the yellows were more realistic whilst standard screens might be a little more towards green.
But the real question is whether you've had that nagging sense that yellows weren't quite as good as they should be on your TV. Ironically the colour we had the most trouble with was red and no amount of tinkering gave us the red we wanted – some looked a little orange. But that's not the only thing that the Quattron is about. There is much more packed into this smart TV.
In terms of connectivity you are well catered for across the two connection panels. You get 4x HDMI (one of which is v1.4 compliant) and VGA connections, with an adapter for those wishing to use Scart or Component, as well as optical and 3.5mm audio connections, again with adapters. An Ethernet connection also allows you to hook-up to your home network to access some types of files, with a USB connection also offering playback, which we'll look at now.
The USB connection is at the top of the connection panel which is fine for connecting a USB stick, but you'll need a longer cable if you want to hook-up a larger capacity drive. We found it was fine with a regular flash drive, but couldn't read a USB-powered 2.5-inch drive, presumably because there wasn't enough power coming through the socket – a powered USB drive might fair better, but we didn't test this.
From a USB drive the Quattron will offer you photos, music and video playback. The photos and music offerings are fairly standard, but we were impressed with the wide codec support for video playback. It happily played a number of MOV (including HD), AVI, MPEG4 and DivX files, including DivX HD. It didn't like all MKV files however, although it recognised the file type, it appeared to play through the file, but no sound or picture appeared.
Interestingly, after attempting to run some MKV file tests, returning to regular DTV viewing would leave us with no picture, and we had to disconnect the TV from the power to get it working again.
Home networking, sadly, will only offer photo browsing and listening to music. The Quattron happily saw our Cisco Media Hub and navigation by folder is pretty fast. The lack of streaming video over your network is a real disappointment at this price, especially when the USB connection will allow it.
Whilst we are on connectivity, the Quattron doesn't offer any sort of widget or internet video service either. Rivals are giving you access to BBC iPlayer and YouTube, as well as other services, but Sharp don't seem to have gone down this route, making this TVs connected offering look a little limited overall.
One interesting feature, however, is the inclusion of a hard drive in the TV itself, so you can pause live TV and rewind. This is a great little addition, and whilst it won't replace a dedicated PVR for recording lots of TV whilst you are away, it does mean you can pause the TV whilst you are on the phone. All you have to do is press the "ready" button to prime the system and start the buffer, then it will record what you are watching in the background. You can get 150 mins of SD content, or (around) 60 mins of HD content (something we couldn't test). It only works from the in-built tuner, however.
We found the built-in tuner worked well, giving us a good solid signal when hooked up to our usual roof aerial (remember that the UK version will ship with a T2 tuner giving you access to Freeview HD channels). It copes with Freeview in SD adequately given its size - at 46-inches, it is soft if you get too close, but that's true of any large screen TV. We also hooked up an external Freeview HD settop box and were impressed with the quality of the HD channels through the HDMI too.
At this size, HD content is really what this screen wants to be tackling, so hook-up your Blu-ray player or PS3 and you'll love the quality you get. The colours are wonderful and you can really appreciate the wide offering when you throw in quality digital photos from your DSLR. We found that gaming too was excellent. This is a 100Hz display (200Hz being reserved for the next model up), which does help keep judder to a minimum for those sweeping pans in your movies, but we did still see some judder creeping in here and there.
We aren't sold on the EPG: given the screen space, it packs loads onto the screen with 15 channels across 6 hour blocks on the screen, although you do get three different layout options. There is also no screen preview from the EPG, so you dive into silence and the grey EPG and it feels a little disconnected. You can set reminders and view your timer list. Press OK and you get a channel list whilst keeping what you are currently watching, which will be good enough for most.
Fortunately, the rest of the menus are much better and nice and sharp too, giving you a screen preview so you can dive in and change settings and see the effects your tinkering is having. You'll need to remember that settings can be different across all the different inputs, so remember to change the settings when you hook-up a new device.
The main menus let you scroll left and right to alter the section you want before diving into the main content of that menu in a right-hand column. There is a range of technical wizardry included that will promise all sorts of magic. The "Auto" options can mean that the TV goes off adapting or changing things you don't necessarily want, so we found performance was best once everything was disabled. There are a range of eco options which will reduce the power consumption if you are feeling environmentally conscious, but its worth investigating once in your regular viewing location to see the impact on image quality.
We also like the fade in and out when changing channels and the animation across the menus is certainly impressive. We've criticised plenty of sets for not having menu systems that look the part, and here Sharp don't let us down.
The sound quality from the Quattron isn't anything to get excited about and it would certainly benefit from hooking up to an AV receiver/amp if this is going to be the centrepiece of your home cinema rig. We did occasionally detect some lip sync problems when watching Freeview, although this wasn't a consistent problem.
The Sharp Quattron will give you a stunning picture, but is it a picture that justifies the £400 to £500 bump over rival Sony or Samsung models of similar specs? We can't confidently say yes.
The ability to pause TV is a great feature and really handy for occasional use and we like the media functions. It's a shame you don't get more however and at this price we'd expect video streaming from your network media server too, perhaps even Wi-Fi. And then there is the lack of any IPTV services, another hot feature emerging across rival sets this year. The final lack – 3D – might mean that you can't enjoy the latest and greatest content in the near future.
Overall the Sharp Aquos Quattron LC-46LE821E is a good all round performer once you wrestle control of the settings from the defaults. The array of connections should suit most users, but for a high-end set, with a price of £2000 you expect a lot, and perhaps a little more than you get.