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For a brand that used to be at the forefront of LCD TV technology, Sharp has been very quiet lately. Ominously so, in fact. For not only have we not seen the brand producing as many new LCD TVs as we'd expect, but even when they have had new models, review samples have been consistently impossible to get hold of, despite repeated requests.
Today, though, it's starting to look as if Sharp's extended silence hasn't been, as we'd feared, an early sign of serious financial difficulties. Instead, with the arrival of the LC-40LE600E, the brand's protracted 'hibernation' appears more symptomatic of a brand treading water while awaiting the arrival of a Great White Hope. Or to be more precise, a Great White Dimming LED hope...
The 40LE600E is, you see, a genuine original to the UK market, offering direct LED lighting with white dimming for an unprecedentedly cheap price. And while it might not be quite as rip-roaringly perfect and revolutionary as I might have hoped, it's easily good enough to get Sharp well and truly back in the serious LCD TV game.
The complicated state of the burgeoning LED-backlit world means that before I proceed any further, I really need to go into a little technical background on what exactly is meant by the 40LE600E's 'direct LED lighting' and 'white dimming' technologies.
Direct LED lighting simply means that the LED light arrays that illuminate the 40LE600E's pictures are positioned directly behind the screen, firing straight through it, rather than being positioned around the edge of the screen as is the case with, say, Samsung's current LED models.
This is significant because - despite Samsung's admittedly persuasive arguments to the contrary - the direct LED approach is still widely reckoned to be the premium approach in terms of picture quality. Why? Because of the way it allows you to individually turn on or off different LED clusters, potentially allowing peak whites and pitch blacks to sit side by side on screen to produce the sort of contrast performance that standard LCD TVs can currently only dream about.
The white dimming element of the 40LE600E, meanwhile, means that the LEDs operate with pure white light output, with separate colour filters producing the image's final colouration, rather than outputting RGB colours at the LED source as happens with LED backlit models like Sony's X4500s and Sharp's own XS1E range.
This is arguably a compromised approach, since RGB dimming can produce a purer and more dynamic colourscape. But the reality is that white dimming appears to produce a perfectly adequate colour range if used well. In fact, our experience is starting to suggest that by being slightly more limited in colour range than RGB dimming TVs, white-dimming models actually produce colours that mesh more comfortably with our main video standards.
At this point, it's worth stressing that Sharp isn't the first brand to sell a TV that combines white dimming with direct LED lighting. But critically, with its £807 price tag, the 40LE600E is miles cheaper than any of its similarly specced forerunners, finally opening the direct LED door to a mainstream audience.