Sharp follows the yellow-rich road

The brand’s latest offering combines much-improved 3D talents with ‘four-colour’ technology to startlingly good effect, says John Archer

Despite the best efforts of a lab-coated George Takei in Sharp’s ‘Quattron’ TV ad campaign, the brand’s unique four-colour technology hasn’t fired the imagination of Joe Public as much as was hoped.

I found Quattron’s addition of a yellow sub-pixel to the usual red, green and blue ones an excellent innovation, but unluckily, its launch clashed with that of the first 3DTVs and was buried in that maelstrom.

But Sharp is out to reinvigorate its Quattron message with a TV that combines second-generation technology with active 3D playback. The bezel is narrow and the rear impressively slim. The black finish looks glamorous and is offset nicely by a tasteful silver trim, while the aggressively angular bottom edge adds some panache, underlined by a tastefully illuminated Sharp logo.

The 46LE831E’s 3D transmitter is nicely built into the TV’s slender form. Not so good is the fact that no active shutter 3D glasses are supplied with the TV, although the telly isn’t overly expensive for one this well-specced.

It’s also making more effort to keep up with the Smart TV Joneses. For a start, Its connections include three USBs, able to play a wide variety of music, photo or video files, including DivX HD. What’s more, the screen ships with the USB dongle you need to make the TV wi-fi ready.

Big girl’s browse

The set also has AQUOS Net+, an online system that includes a web browser, Skype functionality (via an imminent firmware update), and some 10 ring-fenced services that include eBay, YouTube and the FunSpot game channel.

Two things hit you about AQUOS Net+ right away. First, its presentation and content is very reminiscent of Philips’ NetTV online system - no great surprise given that Philips and Sharp (along with German brand Loewe) have formed an online platform alliance. Second, AQUOS Net+ isn’t currently in the premier league of online TV services. It doesn’t have enough content in app or video server terms to rival what Samsung, LG, Sony and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic are offering via their TVs right now. The lack of the BBC iPlayer is particularly galling.

However, let’s not forget that as with all cloud-based online systems, the set’s AQUOS Net+ system can potentially be infinitely upgraded..

Focussing next on the 46LE831E’s core picture technologies, it’s lit by edge LED lighting, features a full HD resolution, and is driven by ‘200Hz’ refresh rate (actually 100Hz plus a scanning backlight). This latter feature could prove significant in tackling the crosstalk problems that afflicted Sharp’s debut 3D TV, the 60LE925E. In fact, the company claims its new lighting and refresh rate engine reduces crosstalk by up to 30 per cent.

Also worth a mention is the set’s energy efficiency. Adding a yellow sub-pixel to its screen makes each pixel more transmissive of light, a fact which joins with the edge LED lighting in allowing the set to bag an ‘A’ grade on the new European Energy rating system.

Setup is simultaneously liberating and frustrating. On the plus side, Sharp has been exceptionally diligent in providing enough tools to permit an almost pro-standard calibration job. There’s a full colour management system, for instance, as well as gamma controls, and multiple settings for both the backlight scanning and the set’s motion processing system. The bad news is that using the 46LE831E’s reams of adjustments is made a chore by the set’s operating system.

Cross to bear

In principle this OS is clever, comprising a double-axis system based around the bottom right of the screen that enables you to keep watching a mini version of the picture while you make your adjustments. The problem is that the scary-looking menus stick too slavishly to the cross-axis approach, so you don’t get enough space to comfortably handle the more complex features.

While getting the best from the 46LE831E’s pictures might be a fiddly process, the results of your efforts are spectacular. Where colours looked a touch wan on previous Quattron models, colours here look nothing short of radiant, with extremely rich saturations driven forth by a potent brightness performance. Furthermore, Sharp has combined this colour dynamism and brightness with a strikingly accomplished black level response that’s far more satisfying than the black level response of any previous Quattron TVs.

In fact, it portrays dark scenes as convincingly as any other edge LED TV I can think of. Especially as this black level talent doesn’t suffer badly at all with the sort of backlight inconsistencies still rife in the edge LED world. There are one or two very subtle, small patches of extra brightness if a very bright object or objects appear against a very dark background, but such moments are rare and controllable via manipulation of the TV’s backlight.

For 3D, the 46LE831E’s extreme brightness and colour saturations fight back admirably against the inevitable dimming effect of the brand’s chunky, but effective, active shutter glasses.

The best thing about the 46LE831E’s 3D pictures, though, is their lack of crosstalk. Bright scenes show practically no ghosting issues at all, and even dark scenes look clean and crisp for most of the time. Removing crosstalk from its 3D experience makes it easy to appreciate the 46LE831E’s impeccable sharpness with full HD 3D Blu-rays too. And this sharpness is even more obvious with 2D HD footage, where the clarity of good quality HD sources is exemplary.

This clarity is seldom reduced significantly by any motion handling concerns either, marking another area where this TV improves on Sharp’s former LCD models.

The 46LE831E also delivers Sharp’s best SD upscaling performance to date, adding sharpness, while keeping a lid on noise.

Sharp achievement

With the screen delivering a gaming-friendly input lag of just 39ms, is there anything bad about the 46LE831E’s performance? At a push I’d say that yellow tones can look marginally out of balance with the rest of the colour palette. There are also the rare and minor backlight consistency issues already noted.

But with even the 46LE831E’s audio performance proving well above average, the set remains comfortably the finest mainstream TV Sharp has ever made and one of the best 3D TVs from anyone.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Excellent 2D and 3D picture quality; luxurious design
Lows: Some marginal colour balance issues and slight backlight clouding; fiddly operating system
Performance: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 5/5

Specifications

3D: yes Active Shutter Full HD: yes 1080p/24
Tuner: yes Freeview HD
Component video: yes one input
HDMI: yes 4 x v1.4 PC input: yes one D-Sub
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Sound: 2 x 10W plus 15W subwoofer
Brightness (claimed): N/A Contrast ratio (claimed): ‘Mega’
Dimensions: 1072(w) x 663(h) x 34(d)mm
Weight: 23kg
Also featuring: 100Hz plus scanning backlight (resulting in claimed ‘200Hz’); AQUOS Net+ online service; USB media playback (MP3, JPEG, HD video support included); DLNA support; USB wi-fi dongle included; colour and gamma management; noise reduction processing; 2D-3D conversion; Quattron colour technology; built-in subwoofer