Sharp LC40LE831E 3D LED LCD TV Review

Black Level

Like most LED LCD TVs, the Sharp LC40LE831 fades its LED sidelights out when a fully black video signal is input to the television. For this reason, the “Black Level” measurement in the benchmark table above reads 0 cd/m2, indicating perfect dark. However, this is really only useful for reducing power consumption and for watching black screens. We used the ANSI checkerboard contrast pattern to determine how deep the LC-40LE831E’s blacks would be without the use of the dimming trick, in other words, to see how black the blacks are while watching actual programme material. The returned measurement with our calibrated settings (which kept the Scanning Backlight system on, and the Backlight setting raised high enough to give a good amount of peak white light output) was 0.06 cd/m2, which is a decent result on par with a lot of other LCD-based HDTVs on the market.

As usual for a sidelit LED LCD display, we noticed that there was some light spillage around the corners of the panel, which was visible when showing a black screen (perhaps this is another reason why most manufacturers shut the light source off under these circumstances). This was visible while watching 2.35:1 ratio letterboxed films. Fortunately, we found that our LC40LE831E review sample didn’t show much in the way of non-uniformity with brighter content.

Motion Resolution

The motion rendering capabilities of the Sharp LC-40LE831E didn’t leave us wanting too much more, and were basically on par with other LCD panels that we see. We measured the LC40LE831 as resolving around 800 lines during the tried and tested FPD Benchmark Disc’s scrolling test chart with the Scanning Backlight system set to “Scan” (the top-most menu option). During fast-paced video content (televised sports, for example), we wouldn’t say that the LE831E was totally free of motion blur, but this is the same as we’ve experienced with all LCD televisions. We still recommend Plasma TVs if motion clarity is your top priority, since we routinely find that they produce a perceptibly sharper motion image (albeit sometimes with some motion artefacting of their own).

We were interested in the workings of the Scanning Backlight system, so we checked out some 2D animated content as well as our own motion interpolation test pattern with the “Scan” setting enabled. Sure enough, both of these tests showed that the Sharp LC40LE831E is doing more than just scanning the backlight, it’s also partaking in a pinch of motion interpolation, like almost every other LCD TV out there. This was purely beneficial for high-motion video camera material (such as the aforementioned example of televised sports) and did not produce a “soap opera effect” with live action films (provided the TV’s [Film Mode] setting was configured correctly). However, we find that with hand-drawn 2D animation, motion interpolation systems such as these will produce subtle motion artefacts, as the TV attempts to “in-between” the drawings. For this type of material, we chose to disable the scanning backlight system entirely. The user has full control with this HDTV.

3D Material

During subjective viewing, we were happy with the tri-dimensional image quality put out by the Sharp LC40LE831. Essentially, it fulfilled our expectations for a 2011 LCD-based 3D TV, by producing a suitably bright, but not totally crosstalk-free 3D viewing experience. We could sometimes see inverted “ghost edges” around objects, but this is typical for LCD TVs in 3D.

We had a look at the [3D Brightness Boost] feature, to see if it could counter the traditional darkening effect of the 3D active-shutter glasses (sold separately). At first, we weren’t sure if this control was affecting the shuttering effect of the glasses, the LCD panel, or both. As it happens, [3D Brightness Boost] seems to be a renamed Backlight control, and it simply ups the intensity of the LED side-lights beside the panel. We set it to its highest setting to counter the aforementioned darkening effect.

We ran all of our 3D motion tests on the Sharp LC40LE831E, and found that the results were a mixed bag. Both 50hz (European standard) and 24hz (Blu-ray 3D) content displayed with motion judder. Selecting the [Film Mode]: “Advanced(Low)” or “Advanced(High)” settings would conceal this, but only through the use of motion smoothing (what we often call the “soap opera effect”). For movie lovers, this is probably not an acceptable compromise. It’s unfortunate, because these are the two frame rates that European customers will be watching almost exclusively. Predictably, the American/Japanese-centric 60hz frame rate worked perfectly, with no judder.

Pre-calibrated 3D images had an obvious blue cast to them, even in the 3D Movie mode. This was mitigated after calibration, but of course, very few people possess the equipment necessary to calibrate in 3D. Even after calibration, a slight tint was still visible due to the bug we encountered with the 10-point White Balance control.

Lastly, we checked out Side-by-Side content on the Sharp LC-40LE831E with our 3D Scaling test pattern, and found that it does not follow in the footsteps of the first-generation Samsung 3DTV displays, which did a poor job of preserving detail with Side-by-Side material.

On the whole, the Sharp LC40LE831′s 3D performance leaves room for improvement, although we’re happy to see that crosstalk has been suppressed to a good extent, which is arguably the priority for 3D viewing.

Standard Definition

The Sharp LE831 performed well with standard definition upscaling. With the [Film Mode] setting on “Standard”, it correctly identified film content “hiding” inside a standard definition PAL TV signal, and correctly displayed this on screen without any unwanted flicker. For video-originated content, where perfect recovery of full vertical resolution is impossible, the LC40LE831E did a good job at concealing the inevitable jaggies in diagonal lines.

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Lastly, and critically, the scaling of SD to HD appeared crisp and clean, with the full range of possible details being captured and resized to fit the Full HD panel with very little in the way of unwanted ringing/glowing around edges.

High Definition

Last year’s Sharp Quattron HDTV presented us with some troublesome colour problems, almost all of which have been corrected for the LC-40LE831E. The previous Quattron display we reviewed featured an oversaturated yellow colour, behaviour which had ostensibly been programmed into the television to stress Sharp’s LCD R&D activities. This gave an interesting, but not intended “golden” look to otherwise standard-looking images. Anyone who reads our reviews will know that we strongly feel that it is not a TV manufacturers’ job to alter the look of film (or TV, or video game) images. The colour of yellow (and red, green, blue, cyan and magenta, for that matter) are strictly defined in the HDTV Rec.709 specification document, the purpose of which is to ensure that programme makers and viewers all see the same (or similar) images, without any abstraction being caused by the display. Last year’s Quattron altered the colours, meaning that there was no way for users to see films as intended.

Secondly, green, cyan and yellow appeared too dark, which we later found out was caused by the green and yellow subpixels in the panel being smaller than the red and blue ones. Third, the transitions between colours were not smooth, resulting in some unnatural ridges appearing in highly saturated live action content. For those of you speed-readers, these unfortunate errors were on last year’s reviewed Sharp Quattron display, not this one.

Although issues two and three are gone, and in spite of the fact that we achieved a perfect calibration measurement using test patterns, things still aren’t all clear on the colour front with the Sharp LC40LE831E. While we were testing for motion judder issues (using a tried and tested clip from Disney’s Wall-e), we noticed that the shots of a fiery explosions in space were appearing with a bizarrely green, sickly hue (timecode for those of you who have the Blu-ray Disc: 34:20). This is despite the fact that we measured the LC40LE831 as having no colour reproduction errors, and outlines the importance of real-world testing.

Wall-e
Accurate display (left), Sharp LC40LE831E (right)

The image above should give some idea of what to expect, with certain brightness levels in the image having their hue altered significantly by the TV. You’ll notice that on a competitor’s TV on the left, the entire image looks similarly coloured, whereas the Sharp has left the darker areas orange, but tilted the brighter parts of the explosion towards green.

We grabbed an HDMI splitter and ran the Sharp LC-40LE831E side-by-side with an accurate display, and looked through some more films, to better understand what was going on. A shot of a golden sun on the Blu-ray Disc of Domino (timecode: 8 minutes, 55 seconds) showed similar behaviour. This shot contains a bright sun with surrounding clouds and mountains, meaning that the image is fully exposed in the centre and falls off almost entirely towards black at the edges. With the two HDTVs side by side, we could see that the comparison display consistently coloured the shot with the same rusty orange hue. However, the Sharp LE831E kept some parts of the image in this rusty orange tone, but as the image got brighter towards the centre, we could see it tilting the colour towards green, indicating that selective and nonlinear colour “enhancement” is still a part of Sharp’s Quattron displays, and the company is still eager to push yellow at certain brightness levels. We’re not sure exactly how the colour alteration is triggered (it didn’t appear with test patterns, remember), but it really isn’t what a “Movie” mode should be doing. These areas actually looked less sickly when we selected the “Expanded” colour gamut range, although hue errors were still apparent to the eye.

We should point out that, for the most part, this was only a problem with certain images. The majority of images we looked at on the Sharp LC40LE831E appeared reasonably natural. We’re aware that the company has put a lot of R&D work into producing the unique Quattron panel, and the LE831 represents a step forward in terms of colour quality compared to last year’s model. We also appreciate that a good amount of users, for whom accuracy isn’t a priority, will perhaps enjoy the novelty of abstracted colours. However, we’re not sure in whose eye green-tinted fire and sickly-hued sunsets are better than those which actually look like fire and sunsets do in real life. This is an illustration of why accurate colour reproduction is necessary for the most realistic pictures. The HDTV content we watch today has been designed for playback on the Rec.709 colour gamut, not on a manufacturer-specific system like Sharp’s.

Moving on, we were happy with the other aspects of picture quality. The aforementioned motion judder test revealed that with [Film Mode] “Off” and the scanning backlight system turned on, the LC-40LE831E was reproducing film without any motion judder, and without any “soap opera effect” to spoil the filmic motion. Actually, there’s a pinch of motion interpolation processing going on when the scanning backlight system is enabled, and this is occasionally visible with animated content, but the option is always there to turn it off entirely if it proves troublesome. We were also glad to see that the television wasn’t forcing any noise reduction systems on, and was reproducing fine textures without any blurring or attempts at removing film grain or video noise (unless the user turns the [DNR] system on).

The black level put out by the LED TV was good, although not class-leading. Still, the 0.06 cd/m2 blacks still gave a decent impression of depth, and we were happy with the contrast performance on offer given the TV’s price range.

We did find that the subpixel structure that Sharp uses on its LCD panels (or the way in which the subpixels are addressed) looked unusual at first. Almost every LCD HDTV we review has its red, green and blue sub-pixels arranged in vertical stripes on the panel. Sharp’s LCD panels appear to use a triangular arrangement (or something similar to it), which results in straight lines (and fine details) appearing a little bit zig-zagged if a very observant user sits very close to the screen. This does affect how fine details are perceived, and for this reason, we don’t recommend that anyone tries to use a Sharp LCD TV as a large computer monitor.

Console Gaming

Games lagged noticeably in the default configuration, but changing to the “GAME” [AV Mode] made things much better, with input lag falling to 31ms. This is higher than the last Sharp HDTV we reviewed, but is still enough to be acceptable to all but the most hardcore gamers. Playing Halo: Reach was reasonably satisfying on the LC40LE831E, although it wasn’t quite as responsive as the very fastest HDTVs on the market (which right now means Samsung and Panasonic Plasmas).

Conclusion

The Sharp LC-40LE831E represents a step forward in terms of overall picture quality compared to last year’s LE821. Comparisons aside, it’s not a bad LCD-based HDTV, as it features reasonably deep blacks, good motion performance, and a decent amount of calibration controls which can result in fairly natural pictures. Its performance with video games is also good, with the “Game” picture mode providing a decent level of responsiveness.

Unfortunately, it seems that Sharp still hasn’t been able to resist partaking in a little bit of revisionism. On the surface, it appeared that the company was catering to video enthusiasts by allowing the wide colour gamut to be turned off, but unfortunately, Sharp’s fondness for yellow can’t be entirely side-stepped, as we discovered during the viewing of real-world footage. For this reason, and for the judder-affected 3D performance, we feel the need to qualify our recommendation of the Sharp LC40LE831E. It’s unfortunate, because there are plenty of other flat-panel televisions on the market which can now produce very realistic and accurate colour, and we think it’s strange that Sharp still continues to sacrifice overall picture quality apparently just to fulfill a marketing objective. The fact that every other TV maker now produces accurate colour is presumably what has prompted Sharp to go down the route of abstracted colour reproduction in the first place – to stand out from the crowd. They’re certainly doing that, but until the company provides an “off” switch for all of these revisionist features – like every other manufacturer now does – they’ll leave the minority of us who are hardcore video enthusiasts left wanting more.

Qualified Recommendation

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