The LC52LE700E is Sharp's first affordable mass-market LED TV and very own prospective OLED-killer.
While the company has dabbled with LED-backlighting before, with its super high-end XS1E range of screens, they cost two arms, a leg and half a lower intestine, so it's welcome to see the brand finally bringing its own form of the technology to the wider marketplace.
The cost reduction can partly be explained by the fact that the screen features a backlight consisting of so-called UltraBrilliant white LEDs, rather than the RGB array used in the XS1E.
These new LEDs, proprietary to Sharp, feature a unique 'double dome' light amplifier lens for extreme high brightness and multifluorescents for improved colour fidelity. And by adopting a full array of LEDs distributed evenly behind a diffuser, the backlight has best-in class uniformity.
Rival manufacturers, such as Sony and Samsung, have latterly adopted side-firing LED systems, allowing for even thinner screens, but risking issues with brightness uniformity.
Interestingly, the Sharp doesn't employ any local dimming. Another cost-cutting measure?
Local dimming requires the LED bulbs to be individually driven depending on screen content. When areas of the screen are dark, the bulbs in that zone switch off (or dim). When brightness is called for, they shine brighter. It's a system that allows for both deep, bold blacks and bright, brash whites on the same image.
While this particular screen does have a full set of white LED bulbs behind the LCD panel, it doesn't switch off in zones. However, Sharp argues that its UltraBrilliant LED System has other plus points – it's capable of high brightness, and offers environmental benefits including longer life expectancy and lower power consumption.
The screen also debuts the brand's latest Full HD glass. Dubbed the X-Gen LCD Panel, it utilises a new pixel design that permits more light to pass through even while minimising light leakage.
Aesthetically, there are some ramifications of adopting a Full Array backlight, but these are minimal. Yes, the 52LE700E has a rather weighty posterior, chiefly in comparison to the Samsung 7000 and 8000 screens, but as that is entirely down to the rear-mounted LED array, it's a fair trade off for white level performance.
What can't be so easily forgiven is the 52LE700E's anonymous, bland face – it's so devoid of expression and character, it could be one of Sir Alan Sugar's assistants on The Apprentice. It's hard to imagine this set standing out in a crowd of other LED TVs. And that might be a problem for sharp.
Fully-loaded however, as all parents would say of their similarly characterless, fat-bottomed offspring, 'It's what's on the inside that counts.' and they're right. Good news, then, that sharp certainly hasn't skimped on the feature count.
Apart from the backlight, there are a number of things added to this high-end model that impress, certainly in a home cinema sense. To begin with, there's a healthy array of expert picture adjustment modes, including a full set of individual colour bars to slide up and down as you wish.
Traditionally, picture calibration on sharp panels has been an awkward and mainly subjective affair, often leading to frustration with the basic controls, such as contrast, brightness and sharpness.
And the preset modes on the 52LE700E are, quite honestly, dreadful (although our Tech Labs reckons the Low preset is reasonably accurate for white balance). Thankfully, these additional sliders help, and you'll want to put aside a good afternoon to play with them.
The 52LE700E also offers a decent selection of noise reduction and picture processing options, including a 100hz mode. The latter is a major selling point for Sharp, but not for me – I'm rapidly going off frame-doubling technologies (or quadrupling, in some cases).
Granted, they provide smooth motion, but when they're enabled, I always feel they create some strange shimmering effects around moving objects and add a general sheen of artificiality to pictures. such a stylistic amendment might be fine for standard-definition DVB-T broadcasts and normal DVD – indeed, there's often a vast improvement – but anybody who considers switching on their 100hz or 200hz processing for Blu-ray and hi-def content should be locked up in a loony bin.
Movies are meant to look like movies, not handycam video diaries. 'Nuff said.
Some manufacturers allow for different grades of frame-multiplying technology. Samsung, for example, gives several options ranging from 'Off' to 'High'. Often, using the lowest mode gives the best results. however, controlling the 100hz processing of this sharp set is simply a case of choosing between 'On' and 'Off' – not exactly state-of-the-art.
Blu-ray playback doesn't suffer here, though, as the 52LE700E will automatically detect that your deck is outputting 1080p24 and alter its processing accordingly. I still advise that you turn off other processing modes (like digital noise reduction) and whack up the sharpness a tad when watching HD video, but at least you can be safe in the knowledge that the panel won't be adding any peculiar artefacts.
So, back to the backlight – or, more specifically, the contrast level. For all of my enthusiasm, I have to be honest and say that the blacks produced on this flatscreen aren't the very best I've seen – I found them looking a bit grey in a completely darkened room – but they're impressive in higher ambient light conditions. And at least sharp seems to have stopped any bleed from its LED bulbs.
The occasional problem with local dimming of light spilling from the edges of zones is avoided here. and, as previously enforced, where better black levels may be found elsewhere, you'll struggle to find better brightness.
That's why the 52LE700E's contrast level (measured at over 80,000:1 by our Tech Labs) is so high – because of the vibrancy of its whites, which also benefit the set's colour response.
I am particularly impressed with its green fidelity – a necessity for a sports fan like me. Reds are slightly muted and orangey – it is, after all, still an LCD TV – but they look vaguely natural and make for convincing HD and SD viewing.
I do have a major gripe about the latter, though. The Freeview tuner in this set is the poor relation. Terrestrial digital broadcasts can be problematic at the best of times, but they don't usually look quite so Lego-esque. There's all manner of edge enhancement and digital noise errors going on.
Admittedly, low bitrate Freeview channels never look good when blown up to 52in, but I'm still somewhat disappointed. You can get around some of the issues by softening the picture, but I can see a phone call to Sky or Virgin Media on the horizon.
I don't think the 52LE700E's audio performance is worth getting excited about, either. The low-slung speakers seem underpowered, and the various virtual surround modes just make the sound murky.
Some form of bass response would've been welcome, too. Pah.
But, for those with a home cinema set-up, neither of the problems above matter too much. And the sharp 52LE700E ticks more in the positives box than the negatives.
It is undoubtedly a good TV, and I truly believe that owners will get many years of excellent viewing from it. Does it manage to match up to its rivals, though? I'm not sure.
The LED backlight provides brighter pictures than a CCFL TV is capable of, but it doesn't really hold a candle to a local dimming alternative.
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