Sharp Aquos LC-46LE831E review

4 out of 5
£1200

For

Brightness, contrast, 3D, 2D, detail, colour accuracy

Against

Freeview EPG, GUI design, remote control

After virtually creating the big screen LCD TV, Sharp’s latest Aquos is a huge step in the direction of picture perfection, but is it at the cost of usability?

One of the few LED-backlit TVs around that stuffs lights all the way across the back of the panel (unlike “edge” lit TVs), it’s relatively slim at 45mm depth and includes all the latest features: 3D, net TV, networking, USB and Wi-Fi. It’s also got Quattron, Sharp’s very own picture engine that’s quite the revolutionary; it adds “Y” - yellow - to the usual RGB (red, green and blue) colour mix.

The frame sequential “active” 3D shutter glasses included here are much better than the first-gen Quattron 3DTVs. Much lighter (around 40g) and easier to wear, though still with a lithium-ion polymer battery that’s rechargeable via USB (including from the TV’s USB ports), one pair of AN-3DG20-B 3D glasses is included in the box. Be careful - they cost £69.99 to replace.

2D broadcasts are handled by a Freeview HD tuner, while one of the set’s three USB slots is reserved for making recordings to a external HDD or memory stick. Shove in something of at least 2GB and, after formatting, programmes can be scheduled to be recorded from the Freeview HD electronic programme guide - though when recording the channel can’t be changed. Probably more useful day-to-day is this same feature’s flipside - pause & rewind live TV broadcasts, though the USB slot’s proficiency with all major video codec’s (DivX and DivX HD included) shouldn't be underestimated.

Aquos Net+, though, isn't actually the work of Sharp. Could it not be bothered to create its own online hub? Who could blame it - exactly why TV manufacturers should be drawn into content and licensing deals is beyond us - though Net TV (also used by Philips and others) is too basic. A simple grid of icons, its mildly diverting (at best) services include YouTube, Box Office 365 (movies can be downloaded to an SD Card in the 46LE831D’s side), iConcerts, Twitter, Cartoon Network, Funspot, MetroConsult and Screen Dreams. An App Gallery of second-rung services is thrown in for good measure (containing eBay, Cinetrailer, TomTom HD Traffic, Hit Entertainment, MyAlbum and, err, a collection of Volkswagon marketing material) alongside an open web browser.

The remote sports a blue-ringed 3D button that brings a choice between 2D to 3D conversion, side-by-side 3D, and top-and-bottom 3D formats. We plumped for 3D tennis from Eurosport 3D.

There was a strong 3D effect from the back of the court but some “double ball” echoes that are the epitome of crosstalk. The picture is noticeably softer than our 3D Blu-ray test disc Open Season, and far less precise. Graphics and logs, channel idents and so forth standout nicely - you don't get that on 3D films - but there was some obvious shimmer in crowd shots, and some judder as the camera panned around the Roland Garos stands. Yet more crosstalk is evident, usually around the brightest areas of the image, such as white shirts, though never around the players or other objects in the foreground.

2D to 3D conversion is not bad. Again, graphics were excellent, though the football match we watched didn't produce much in the way of standout 3D effects. 3D Blu-ray is stunning, with pin-sharp, almost painfully detailed Full HD images that are immaculately coloured and heaped with contrast. It’s so good it restores our faith in “active” 3D TVs, though 2D Blu-ray is almost as good, befitting from this set’s skill with extreme brightness and local dimming within the same image.

Whichever flavour of 3D it is that's playing this TV lets you makes adjustments in a special “3D mode” part of the interface. The coloured Fastext buttons R, G and B, control the 3D brightness, surround sound and 3D setup, respectively. 3D brightness can be set to three strengths, though we’d avoid the lowest; contrast is great and there’s no flicker, but it’s just too dark. The highest brightness setting introduces flicker and divorces the front effects from backgrounds, so stick to the middle setting where a decent amount on contrast pairs-up with a more natural look, albeit with a touch of flicker. The 3D setup menu comprises just a “3D autochange” mode, an option that warns you how many hours you’ve been watching TV, on the hour, and a 3D test pattern that consists of 2D and 3D coloured balls, just to check your 3D specs are working.

For the lazy there is an OPC mode that measures the ambient light and adjusts the screen‘s brightness to compensate, but it likes to display a logo every time the clouds twitch outside, and appears to make rather drastic changes that can be off-putting. We deactivated OPC immediately.

Verdict

About as serious as LED backlighting gets, there’s a lot to like about this 3D Quattron TV. Proficient with colour, contrast and clean 3D, it's not quite as enjoyable as a Panasonic plasma, but not to far behind. A good size for both 3D and 2D, the highs make the lows - a clunky operating system and a confusing remote - worth putting up with, but this Quattron will be most comfortable in a dedicated viewing room.