When I first learned of Sharp’s Quattron LCD screen technology I was a little skeptical. Do we really need the addition of a fourth (yellow) sub-pixel in order to produce an accurate picture? Then I saw the Sharp TV commercial, the one with the “TV scientist”, and I didn’t appreciate him telling me that my current TV can’t display a proper yellow. I run a Pioneer KURO plasma TV Mr. “TV scientist” – my TV can display colours you can’t even pronounce.
Nevertheless, our curiosity was sparked at CANADA HiFi and we enjoy a good challenge so we asked Sharp to send us one of the new TVs that utilize the Quattron technology. What we got was the 46-inch AQUOS LC46LE810UN model, which retails for $2,199.
So what’s this new Quattron technology all about you ask? Sharp is so excited about this new technology that it gave it two names: Quattron and QuadPixel. What this technology does, is it adds a (fourth) yellow sub-pixel to the traditional RGB (three) pixel structure which every other flat panel manufacturer uses. This promises to expand the range of colours that the TV is capable of displaying, particularly in the reproduction of yellow. This Quattron technology can now be found across a number of Sharp’s LCD TV series including the LE920UN, LE820UN and LE810UN.
The LE810UN series, which this TV is a part of, offers four models with screen sizes from 40 to 60 inches, ranging in price from $1,799 to $3,499. All models use an edge-lit LED screen backlight, a much preferred technology over the standard CCFL backlight, because it allows the TV to achieve much deeper blacks. Thanks to this backlight technology Sharp claims a 4,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. All models in this series use Sharp’s X Gen (1920 x 1080 pixel) LCD panel, have a brightness rating of 450 cd/m2 and a response time of 4 ms. Finally all models in the LE810UN series can display 24 fps content and include a 120 Hz refresh rate which “enhances” the motion in fast moving scenes.
The suite of video inputs on the back of the LC46LE810UN includes 4 HDMI, 1 component, 1 composite video and 1 VGA. When connected to the internet (via the TV’s Ethernet port), the AQUOS Net feature allows access to streaming video from Netflix, customized internet content and live customer support, viewable in widget, full-screen or split-screen mode.
The LC46LE810UN has very attractive styling and distinguishes itself from other flat panel TVs thanks to the rounded corners of its bezel. The swivel stand will be very useful to those who wish to angle the TV toward the viewing position. When the TV’s power is turned on, a Star Trek Starfleet emblem-like logo lights up at the bottom of the bezel – a likely big hit with Trekkies and sci-fi fans. The only thing that’s missing is a Star Date display.
So far so good. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Good looks and a nice feature list won’t win a TV any prizes. It’s picture performance and accuracy that we’re after here.
Like a well behaved TV, when you first power on the LC46LE810UN, it asks whether you’re using it in a “home” or “store” environment. By selecting “home”, the TV automatically defaults to the Standard picture preset, instead of the retina-burning Dynamic preset which many TVs still default to. However the Standard mode is still far from ideal. In fact, there are nine picture modes to choose from and not surprisingly none of them produce a very accurate picture. So before any viewing tests, I performed a basic calibration using my trusty Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc, starting with the Movie mode as the base. The TV’s menu system looks beautiful, albeit a little sluggish to navigate.
Those who plan to have the TV calibrated by a professional will be glad to find that the LC46LE810UN offers a comprehensive colour management system which offers a six colour adjustment settings and RGB gain settings.
While calibrating the TV, I also had a chance to fiddle with the remote. The remote control is slim and long, actually unnecessarily long. The buttons are well organized but its length will have you sliding the remote up and down in your hand to access various buttons. The remote is programmable and can be used to control other components such as an AV receiver, a disc player or a cable/satellite box. Sadly the remote is not backlit.
I began my viewing session by watching some re-runs of Top Gear (a car enthusiast show) recorded on my Rogers PVR. The video quality of this show on BBC Canada is absolutely terrible – it is overly compressed and the picture has many digital artifacts. When blown up to a 42 inch or larger TV, this signal usually looks very poor. The LC46LE810UN however did reasonably well with this low quality signal and turned it into something watchable. Although the picture looked a little more artificial and had more noise than our reference Samsung PN50C8000 3D plasma, it did look better than on most of the LCD TVs that I’ve watched recently.
With higher quality programming from Discovery World HD and National Geographic HD, I observed the LC46LE810UN’s ability to display blacks and shadow details. While watching a documentary about star creation, deep space was impressively black and other dark scenes displayed a respectable level of shadow detail. This is certainly something that we’ve learned to expect from LED backlit TVs but like all LCD TVs, having a backlight behind the screen does present some challenges and this Sharp isn’t immune to them. The LC46LE810UN uses an edge-lit backlight, which results in a number of hotspots (blotchy variations in darkness of black areas) on the screen, particularly around the edges and in the corners. While the hotspots were not noticeable with most programming, I did see them when watching the star creation documentary, which had many dark scenes.
Next, I stepped up the signal quality by playing a few Blu-ray discs including Star Trek, Date Night and The Taking of Pelham 123. And not surprisingly the 1080p picture looked brilliant on the Sharp. The quality and details of the 1080p picture, from Star Trek, produced a picture that had excellent three-dimensionality and depth, especially given that this is an LCD TV. The hulls of the starships looked almost as three dimensional as they do on our Samsung plasma. The star-speckled vacuum of space was appropriately black and the details in the shadows during dark scenes very clearly visible.
So what about this Quattron technology? How did the addition of the yellow sub-pixel affect the picture? Scenes from Date Night and The Taking of Pelham 123 showed that the LC46LE810UN offers a more vivid colour palette, especially in the yellows and greens than our reference Pioneer and Samsung plasma TVs. Yellow cars looked slightly over vibrant and grass had a slightly elevated level of yellow. I also noticed that skin tones at times had a little of a yellow/orange glow reminiscent of a tanning cream complexion. This extra vibrancy may be attractive to some consumers but certainly not to those looking for the most accurate picture – which is something that most TV manufacturers now strive to achieve. On the flip side, other colours appeared slightly under saturated.
During my tests I also noticed that the LC46LE810UN’s picture flickered sometimes, very quickly but nevertheless noticeably. The effect was similar to what I’ve seen from various implementations of dynamic contrast but the dynamic contrast was turned off on this TV (as was the film mode). I contacted Sharp’s technical support and was told that this is in fact an issue with my Rogers Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD PVR – a cable box which thousands of Canadians own. Sharp said that the issue is something to do with the synchronization between the cable box and the TV when using the HDMI connection. Rogers was nice enough to exchange my (rental) box for the Cisco 8642HD PVR released earlier this year but unfortunately this did not resolve the issue.
At first glance the Sharp does produce an attractive looking picture compared to most LCD TVs. It offers a picture with vibrant colours, an excellent sense of depth, deep blacks and a very respectable contrast ratio. However, the addition of the yellow sub-pixel results in a picture that has slightly exaggerated yellows. While this more vibrant picture may be attractive to casual viewers, those looking for a TV that can faithfully reproduce colours accurately won’t be thrilled. Then there is also the flickering issue which I was not able to resolve. Also it should be noted that at $2,199, the price of this TV comes rather close to similar sized 3D TVs from other manufacturers. Sharp has not released its 3D TVs in North America at the time of this review, but is expected to do so before the end of this year.
Sharp AQUOS LC46LE810UN 46-inch LCD TV
Price: $2199 CAD