- Review Price: £774.00
So far as I’m concerned, the introduction of LED backlighting to the LCD TV world has been almost as important/revolutionary as the development of flat TV technology itself. After all, it single-handedly turns an inherently flawed flat TV technology into something that’s truly and consistently a pleasure to watch. It even allows LCD to take plasma on as the TV format of choice for cinephiles – and in doing so could become a major defining force in the way the TV marketplace takes shape in the coming months and years.
All of which makes Sharp’s 40LE700E one seriously enticing on-paper proposition. After all, it offers 40in of true direct LED backlighting, complete with local dimming, for the remarkably affordable sum of £774.
If the words ‘direct LED backlighting’ and ‘local dimming’ mean precisely nothing to you, allow me to – briefly – explain. The term direct LED lighting describes a situation where the LED lights are positioned directly behind the screen, firing straight out of it. The alternative approach, as currently favoured by Samsung and LG, is to position the LEDs around the screen’s edge, which makes it possible to have a screen that’s just three or four centimetres deep.
Local dimming, meanwhile, describes the key bonus direct LED lighting has over edge LED lighting. For it’s possible with direct LED lighting to control individually each separate cluster of LED lights that make up a direct LED TV’s picture. And so you can, say, totally deactivate one cluster to deliver almost complete blackness if part of a picture demands it, while leaving the adjacent LED able to fire on full brightness. Clearly this makes possible a level of contrast you simply won’t see on a standard CCFL LCD TV.
I’d like to be able to put an actual figure on the 40LE700’s black level talents for you, despite manufacturers’ contrast ratio figures being notoriously untrustworthy. But Sharp rather unhelpfully just describes the 40LE700E’s contrast as ‘mega’ on its marketing blurb. Er, thanks.
The 40LE700E’s design is a classic game of two halves. Its fascia is actually rather nice in its sheer, glass-like finish offset dramatically by a triangular neon blue power button. But the TV’s rear is as ugly and plasticky as they come. The idea of the ‘360-degree’ TV design now being championed by more and more brands clearly hasn’t filtered through to the 40LE700E’s design team. I’d also say that oddly the 40LE700E seems slightly less attractive than its 46in sibling we looked at a while back, perhaps because the attractive fascia doesn’t dominate your field of view quite as much, leaving the ugly rear more exposed in a typical living room environment.
Before we let matters of mere aesthetics weigh us down too much, though, the 40LE700E’s ugly rear does try to put some sort of smile back on my face by carrying a reasonable bounty of connections. These kick off with a handy tally of four HDMI inputs, with other highlights being an optical digital audio output and a USB port through which you can play JPEG and MP3 files.
In an ideal world the 40LE700E might have included some sort of Ethernet connection for streaming files from a PC or even accessing the Internet. But then this would likely have pushed the set’s price up, and surely what really appeals about the 40LE700E is the fact that it makes direct LED technology so ground-breakingly affordable.
The 40LE700E isn’t without its interesting features, though. Particularly important could be its 100Hz engine, which should hopefully reduce LCD’s traditional motion reproduction problems. It’s also keen to push its green credentials, which include a mercury-free design, and its ability to use 40 per cent less energy than traditional LCD TVs.
Impressive, too, is the set’s reasonably fulsome if slightly unwieldy colour management engine, a gamma sliding bar adjustment, noise reduction routines, and the option to deactivate the 100Hz engine if you don’t like what it’s doing with some specific sort of source material.
In assessing the 40LE700’s performance, the first thing to say is that the set really does deliver on direct LED’s contrast potential. After a spot of calibration in the company of our Digital Video Essentials HD Basics Blu-ray – during which we mostly tweaked the backlight and colour settings – I was struck by just how profoundly deep the set’s black levels are capable of getting. There’s practically none of the greyness around that’s so evident to some extent on almost all CCFL LCD TVs, leaving dark areas looking cinematic and natural.
Even more striking is the way these profound black levels are achieved right alongside – as in, within the same frame – really bright and punchy light picture elements. The overall brightness of the image just doesn’t have to be reduced as much as with normal – or edge LED – LCD TVs in order for the screen to produce a convincing black level.
The 40LE700 also manages to deliver a bold, richly saturated colour palette that’s markedly more natural in tone than anything we’ve become used to seeing from Sharp’s normal LCD TVs. HD pictures contain plenty of that lovely detailing that makes the format so loveable, and HD pictures can look crisp, too – provided there’s not too much motion around.
For sadly, despite carrying a 100Hz engine, the 40LE700 falls prey rather noticeably to motion blur. This is particularly apparent during standard definition viewing, but even HD action sequences aren’t immune to it. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be an action scene; any kind of fast motion within the frame, such as someone turning their face, can lead to obvious resolution loss in the moving area.
The 100Hz engine does reduce the extent of this blur compared with Sharp’s step-down LE600E LED models, but it certainly doesn’t completely remove it – not by a long chalk. What’s more, it doesn’t do its business quite as efficiently as some of the best rival 100Hz/200Hz systems when it comes to side-effects, at least if you run it in conjunction with Sharp’s ‘Film Mode’ feature set to either of its Advanced levels. In this configuration there’s clear flickering around edges, at times, as well as the occasional stutter. Thankfully these side-effects are far less apparent if you put the Film Mode into its Standard setting.
One other smaller issue I have with the 40LE700’s pictures is blooming, where the relative paucity of LED light sources compared with the number of pixels in the picture can mean that the local dimming sometimes can’t get local enough, resulting in slight haloes around very bright objects when they appear against dark backgrounds. This inadequate localisation issue may also contribute a little to the sense of softness noted during motion-packed bright scenes.
At this point I really do have to say that when the 40LE700’s pictures are good, they’re outstanding. Check out the key card game sequences in ”Casino Royale”, for instance; here the level of black response, dynamism, sharpness and colour accuracy is really something to behold on an LCD/LED TV at this price, and there’s relatively little motion around to catch the TV out. But this just makes it all the more upsetting when the dreaded motion blur sets in during any sort of action scene or shot.
The 40LE700’s audio is rather more straightforward than its pictures, in that it’s a typical flat TV ‘fair to middling’ affair with adequate volumes and some decent treble clarity, but a pretty impoverished bass end and rather cramped mid-range.
Despite confidently reaffirming direct LED backlighting’s talents with black level and contrast, and delivering occasionally excellent HD images, the Sharp LC-40LE700E ultimately proves that direct LED lighting isn’t itself enough to guarantee a TrustedReviews Recommended badge. You’ve also got to nail the other stuff – particularly LCD’s response time/motion blur problem.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
Sound Quality 7
|Size (Inch)||40in, in|
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||60Hz|