They say when the chips are down, you go big or go home. OK, “they” don’t say that. But we’re going to go ahead and say it because the mixed metaphor aptly describes where Sharp is at right now.
Sharp is struggling to stay alive. Last August, reports surfaced indicating the company had run up 1.25 Trillion Yen in debt. Then, in November, the company posted a forecast of record losses totaling about $5.6 billion. We later learned that forecast had become a $5.35 Billion net loss reality.
Indeed, the company’s downturn has been years in the making (and Sharp isn’t alone, times are tough at Sony and Panasonic, too), but now Sharp is at Defcon 1, and it seems at least part of its Hail Mary salvo is to drop really big TVs at affordable prices, convince consumers going big is a great idea, and hope sales spike … big time.
Part of the plan involves an ad campaign aimed at changing consumers’ perceptions about large-screen TVs. It’s a tactic we’ve been watching play out since it was first staged at CES 2012; this familiar Best Buy ad is a great example. It’s almost as if to say, “60-inchers are the new 42-inchers. This TV isn’t too big for your room. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Buy now.”
No matter its ploy, Sharp‘s bragging rights as the leader in large-screen TVs are secure. It offers four series of LED Televisions (5, 6, 7 and 8) with screen sizes of 60, 70 and 80 inches. There’s even a 90-inch who-needs-a-stinkin’-projector-with-screens-this-massive model. Here, we take a look at the 60-inch model in the 6-series, a well-featured Smart TV available at a street price of about $1,100. Let’s find out if the LE650 is as good a deal as it appears to be.
Out of the box
With 60-inches of screen real estate, you might expect the LE650 to dominate the room, but it doesn’t. Between its trim .9-inch bezel and slim 3-inch profile, the TV commands some attention, but it doesn’t scream out loud doing so.
Because the LE650 weighs a manageable 55.1-pounds without its stand (61.7-pounds with it attached) you might be tempted to try to set it up yourself. Resist the urge. The TV is light enough, but its width makes it a little unwieldy. Better safe than sorry.
The LE650’s stand is a little on the large side, but its generous depth makes for a very stable stand-mounted TV. Our only complaint is that it doesn’t swivel.
Features and design
If you’re at all familiar with last year’s LE640 series, you might be thinking the LE650 looks mighty familiar. It is, but there are a few notable changes for this year’s model, and they just happen to be some of the set’s more interesting features.
Have you ever wished your TV looked more like a Picasso than a pane of black plastic when you turn it off? Sharp’s “Wallpaper Mode” makes that possible. With the option engaged, Wallpaper displays images of pre-loaded artwork (or you can opt to use any image you have stored on a USB thumb drive) whenever you turn off the TV. The wallpaper will cycle through all available images for a duration of 3, 6, 12 or 24 hours, depending on your preference. Since the LCD image doesn’t have to refresh rapidly and the backlight dims considerably, this option won’t consume as much juice as merely leaving the TV on, but it will boost consumption negligibly. On the other hand, boot time is reduced to less than 3 seconds in this “Quick Start Mode,” and we’ve got to say the dimmed-down images of artwork looked pretty realistic.
A dual-core processor is also new for this year, which will be a big deal to anyone planning on using any of the TV’s streaming media features. Without a speedy processor, navigating menus, browsing through Netflix or Hulu and even making simple picture adjustments can be a laggy and annoying process.
Sharp also added a split-screen web/TV interface so that users can browse the web without necessarily interrupting their programming. Web browsers on TV are usually a big drag, but Sharp hopes its newly added support for Flash and HTML 5 might change some minds.
Last year, Sharp took some heat for not having a few key apps on board its smart TVs. This year, Amazon Instant is still missing – and that’s an issue because Amazon Instant is now a major streaming player – but at least Hulu is available, as is Pandora. Other crucial apps such as Netflix, Vudu, YouTube and CinemaNow are still present and accounted for.
Calibration geeks will be pleased to know that Sharp added 10-point color temperature settings to its already comprehensive list of picture settings this year. That’s pretty impressive considering the 6 series sits second from the bottom of Sharp’s LED TV line.
Aside from all that, the LE650 offers all of the connectivity you should need. There are 4 HDMI inputs (one ARC and one MHL), 2 USB ports, 1 component, 2 composite, 4 audio inputs, a digital audio output (optical) and your standard RF cable input. For Internet access, this TV features both a LAN port and a built-in Wi-Fi adapter.
The LE650’s remote doesn’t appear to be remarkable, but it does offer a couple clever features worth mentioning. Although the remote’s input selection button is one of the smallest on the remote, it is positioned next to the channel button, which seems intuitive to us. Also, below a large Netflix hot-key are three “favorite app” buttons which can be assigned to any app you like. This saves the user from having to load Sharp’s Smart Central screen and scroll to the app before selecting it.
Finally, we have to give Sharp props for including a comprehensive suite of audio-related tools which we found handy during our setup time. One of the more notable among them is a wall-mount mode which adjusts the audio to take a huge boundary into consideration. More on this TV’s audio (spoiler: it’s actually really good) later in the review.
Sharp’s user interface is just a pleasure to use. Not only is it quick to respond to commands, but its layout makes navigation and settings adjustments extremely easy. Press the menu button, and you’ll get a banner across the top of the screen with six clearly labeled “departments.” The menu then continues vertically down the right side of the screen, showing all of the individual options. For picture settings, sliders are clearly laid out, and when you select one to make an adjustment, the rest of the menu fades into the background, leaving only the picture settings floating on the right side. The window never got in the way while we performed our calibration, and the settings menu never timed out too early. Overall, we couldn’t be more pleased with this TV’s ease of use.
You can check out our list of recommended settings below, but if you do, you’ll notice we didn’t have to do much. Aside from turning off some motion-smoothing processing, bumping the brightness up a notch and reducing the gamma, we didn’t have to do much to the set’s “movie” preset. Those who want a brighter picture can experiment with bumping up the backlight, but for our purposes, we found movie mode got us very close. As always, we recommend more advanced color temperature and white point settings be made by a certified calibrator.
There’s a lot that the LE650 does well, but as a lower-tier model, Sharp hasn’t designed this TV to offer the sort of performance that will appeal to picky videophiles. Let’s take a look at both the good and the bad.
Out of the box, the LE650’s color looks great. Reds aren’t overly intense, blues and greens have a pleasant hue and skin tones appear natural. If we had to single out a color as seeming a little out of balance, it would be bright shades of yellow. They just seemed really, really yellow. Fortunately, this reviewer finds yellow one of the least offensive colors.
This TV is also capable of retina-searing brightness. Pair that attribute with the LE650’s glare-reducing matte screen, and even the brightest rooms don’t stand a chance at washing its picture out.
Thanks to an effective digital noise-reduction circuit, the LE650 does a solid job of cleaning up messy TV signals; even standard-definition TV looked decent. Without digital noise reduction in effect, however, the TV loses its sharp appeal.
On the downside, the LE650 has some trouble with motion jitter when playing back 24fps Blu-ray content. The TV does have a “film mode,” – and we appreciate that its intensity is adjustable – but even at its lowest setting, we felt the smoothing was too artificial.
Also, neither black levels, nor shadow detail are great on this set. Granted, this TV had the unfortunate distinction of having to follow up the outstanding (and considerably more expensive) Samsung F8500 (hardly a fair comparison), but even with our expectations tempered, we were a little disappointed with what we felt were milky blacks.
Finally, we couldn’t help but notice large blooms of bleeding backlight during dark scenes. The splotches mark the whole screen when there is no image present, but the TV’s the lower left corner was home to a seemingly ever-present glow. We understand that edge-lighting a 60-inch screen is tough business, and normally we wouldn’t be too concerned that folks would find this bothersome, but on a screen of this size, it’s kind of hard not to notice. It certainly doesn’t take a videophile to spot it.
Smart TV performance
As smart TV’s go, Sharp’s feature some of the best versions of apps like Netflix, Hulu and Vudu that are available. With Netflix, for instance, episodes of a TV series are displayed nine at a time. And if you decide to go on a binge-watching session of your favorite show, you’ll be pleased to know that the app will automatically queue up the next episode and skip the show’s introduction, getting you back to Don Draper just as quickly as possible.
Load times were par for the course, and navigation within each app was snappy. We also liked that browsing other available apps doesn’t require pulling out of the app that is currently running.
We don’t have a whole lot of use for web browsers in Smart TVs, but we were hopeful that Sharp’s might be different, especially considering its newly-added support for Flash and HTML 5, which makes pretty much any web-based video accessible. However, we found the browser to be slow and prone to stutter. Also, without a keyboard on the remote or a mobile device app to substitute as a keyboard and help with navigation, browsing the web on this TV is more trouble than it’s worth.
We were a little shocked to discover (and more than a little pleased to report) that the LE650 offers some of the best audio we’ve ever heard from an LED TV. Though we didn’t get a chance to test out the set’s “wall mount” audio mode, we can say that as a stand-mounted TV, the LE650 offers surprisingly full sound with far more bass than we could have anticipated. At no point did this TV come off as harsh or tinny. And if you feel like tweaking things just a bit, Sharp provides plenty of audio adjustments, including a dialog enhancement feature that doesn’t just crush the rest of the sound. This presents a bit of a conundrum, because it may make Sharp’s recently released and excellent-sounding sound bar a slightly tougher sell.
There aren’t many 60-inch LED Smart TV’s that can be had for $1,100. Actually, at the time of this review, we were only able to find one near that price: The Vizio E601i. And since we’ve not had the opportunity to review that particular model, we can’t draw a comparison. However, we can say that the Sharp LE650 offers great value.
You won’t get inky blacks, deep shadow detail or spectacular contrast from this TV, but what you will get is excellent color, outstanding brightness and an interface that is a delight to use. Add that to a list of unique and useful user-facing features and pack it all in an unassuming package, and you’ve got a 60-inch TV that is sure to please the family for years to come.
We won’t wager a guess as to Sharp’s future, but if the company keeps putting out good quality televisions with huge screens at affordable prices, it just may stand a chance of pulling out of its slump.
- Incredibly bright picture
- Great color accuracy
- Surprisingly good sound
- Snappy, intuitive UI
- Underwhelming black levels and shadow detail
- Large blooms of backlight bleed
- Some motion jitter with 24fps content