- It’s breathtakingly cheap
- Attractive design
- Many good picture quality attributes
- Backlight clouding
- limited online service
- Standard def (predictably) struggles a touch
- Review Price: £999.00
- 60in LCD TV with edge LED lighting
- 100Hz processing
- AQUOSNet+ online service
- Freeview HD tuner
- Multimedia playback via DLNA or USB
To start at the beginning, the product we’re talking about here is the Sharp LC-60LE636E. And as its name suggests, this is a 60in TV – a pretty impressive figure to get the ball rolling. But it’s when you combine this 60in figure with another one, a price tag of just £999, that the 60LE636E becomes much, much more than just “impressive”.
We picked up from Sharp’s stand at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year that the brand had decided to pursue a business model involving shipping massive screens for relatively small prices. But we had no idea that Sharp’s plans were going to enter quite such extreme value territory as the 60LE636E.
It should be clarified here that the £999 price we’ve found the Sharp 60LE636E going for is, at the time of writing, apparently a one off. Most sites are selling the TV for between £1300 and £1500, with Sharp itself crazily asking £2,600 for the screen on its own sharpdirect.co.uk website. But while only one site – www.currys.co.uk – is selling the TV for so little, that site is large and reputable, and the price doesn’t seem to be some kind of short-term special.
Still reeling from the 60LE636E’s extraordinary price/screen size combination, our obvious focus in getting to grips with this monster TV has to be looking out for reasons for its extraordinary affordability. But in a theme that will persist through the vast majority of this review, there’s absolutely no sign of cheapness in the 60LE636E’s design.
In fact, it’s an exceptionally attractive TV for its size, thanks to its surprisingly narrow and robust-but-pretty black bezel, plus the little illuminated Sharp ‘tick’ logo sitting at the heart of its bottom edge.
Some people might feel it’s a bit deep ’round the back compared with some of its glamorous rivals. But personally we have no problem whatsoever with a few mm of extra depth in return for the 60LE636E’s extraordinary price.
Turning our attention to what’s going on inside the Sharp 60LE636E, it’s a Full HD screen, of course. It’s illuminated by edge LED lighting (a fact we’ll come back to later…), enjoys 100Hz processing for clearer motion handling, and the tuner inside is a Freeview HD one. This latter feature is something we’d been particularly worried might have been sacrificed to keep costs down.
We were startled to discover, too, that the Sharp 60LE636E supports multimedia playback – including video files – via either USB storage device or networked DLNA PCs. Neither of these features were at all expected on such a cheap screen, but they’re there, and they work with a decently varied selection of file formats to boot.
Even more incredibly, you can enjoy the set’s network potential wirelessly, via a USB wi-fi dongle that’s included free with the TV. Excellent. And still we’re not done with the set’s unexpected features, for it further transpires that the TV supports recording from the HD tuner to USB HDDs, as well as letting you access a selection of online features under the catch-all name of AquosNet.
This all goes well beyond the call of budget duty. We guess it should be said that the AquosNet service is very limited in content terms versus rival online services. It’s essentially a stripped down version of the Philips NetTV platform, with highlights of YouTube, Picasa, a Web browser, and a few subscription-only video services, including the Cartoon Network and Box Office 365. You currently don’t even get the BBC iPlayer – though Sharp claims this will be coming to the platform reasonably soon.
But come on people: surely getting ANY online system on a 60in TV that costs under £1000 has to count as a bonus, right?
The pleasant surprises continue as you start to explore the Sharp 60LE636E’s menus. For tucked away among the options is a surprisingly wide selection of picture adjustments, including a reasonably satisfying colour management system.
The menus themselves are interesting too, niftily using a dual-axis system based around the top and right edges of the screen so that you’re able to retain a full but slightly reduced version of the TV picture while you explore the menus.
There is a downside to this clever idea in that the menus feels a bit cramped, cluttered and littered with shorthand. As with Sony’s recent TVs, moreover, the double axis system can lead to more confused shuffling around with the nav keys than a more straightforward arrangement would. But overall the positives of the system just about outweigh the negatives.
Surely, surely it would just be too much to ask for the Sharp 60LE636E to dish up some high quality pictures to go with its surprisingly good feature count and jaw-dropping price? Actually, first impressions suggest that yet again the 60LE636E will defy expectations in spectacular style. For instance, it initially looks as if the screen somehow manages to avoid all of the usual weaknesses we’d expect to find on an ‘uber budget’ TV.
For starters, the clarity of the 60LE636E’s images is striking. And the main reason it makes such an impact is that the screen suffers impressively little with the sort of motion blurring we generally find on cheap screens. This is particularly pleasing given that motion blur was once a weakness of Sharp’s LCD TVs.
Presumably the screen’s 100Hz system helps out in this regard – and provided you avoid the ‘high’ settings of the TV’s Fine Motion and Film motion control modes, it does so without throwing up lots of unpleasant side effects or making the picture look unnatural.
The motion is so decent on the 60LE636E, in fact, that it’s clear the TV’s core panel is also a faster-responding, more high-quality design than the ones usually found in super-affordable TVs.
Underlining this impression of a superior panel at the 60LE636E’s heart is the punchiness of its pictures. With HD in particular the combination of an apparently wide contrast range with bold, vibrantly saturated colours immediately grabs your attention. Especially as the colour boldness isn’t in the least bit cartoonish and plasticky, thanks to the appearance of plenty of subtlety when it comes to tone and shade.
The actual range of colours the screen can produce goes well beyond that of most ‘budget’ TVs too. Yet the TV still manages to retain a mostly natural balance between them all, with no particular tones standing out unnaturally strongly from the rest.
Detail levels in HD images are reasonably high too. There’s not quite the same level of almost forensic accuracy you get with the best of the more expensive big-screen sets, but HD most definitely always looks HD.
Standard definition performance
The screen – probably inevitably for its money – struggles a bit with standard definition sources. After all, on a 60in screen there can be no hiding place for any problems in either the source material or the TV’s upscaling processing. So it’s impossible not to notice that images from standard definition Freeview broadcasts look a bit softer than we’d like.
Also, in an odd but common trait of LCD TVs, the colour palette with standard def images looks more compressed and less natural than it does with HD.
Standard def images on the 60LE636E certainly aren’t a dead loss though. For the set’s motion clarity remains intact, and best of all the screen does a pretty good job of processing out the worst of the fizzing and blocking noise commonly associated with Freeview broadcasts.
Input lag and sound
In yet more good news, the screen’s input lag is low enough at just over 30ms to have scarcely any impact on a console gamer’s skills, while the sound produced from the TV’s speakers is much more rounded, clear and satisfying than the sort of flimsy, thin audio horror shows found on the vast majority of affordable flat TVs.
So we guess it’s about time we got to the source of the frustration referred to at this review’s start…
Regular readers of our TV reviews will know that all-too-many edge LED TVs find it difficult to illuminate their screen’s evenly – a problem which tends to become even more common when you get to really large screens. And sadly the 60LE636E is certainly not the exception that proves the rule.
Watching dark scenes on its screen routinely reveals numerous patches of the picture that look brighter and cloudier than the rest. Right down each side, for instance, there’s a sense of clouding during dark scenes that spreads three to four inches in across the screen. But there are also other smaller patches of extra brightness over the image’s more central portions, meaning that when the problem shows up over dark scenes, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore it or to try and pretend isn’t really there.
In some cases, backlight consistency flaws of the sort we’re talking about can be fairly easily ‘tuned out’ by reducing a TV’s backlight and brightness levels. However, the inconsistencies on the Sharp 60LE636E proved pretty resilient, to the extent that there were still traces of them around even after we’d taken so much brightness out of the picture that shadow detailing had almost completely disappeared.
You rarely notice the backlight inconsistencies when watching normal, bright TV programming, and their impact is also reduced if your room is pretty light. But it seems unfeasible to us that anyone buying a TV as enormous as the 60LE636E won’t sometimes fancy dimming the lights and settling down to watch a film. A film which, almost inevitably, will feature at least a few very dark scenes ready to be tainted by the backlight flaws. Damn and, indeed, blast.
There’s so much to love about the 60LE636E that not being able to give it a Trusted Reviews Recommends badge feels genuinely tragic. It looks great, most things about its pictures are great, it has more useful features than is even remotely reasonable to wish for on such a preposterously big LCD TV, and it even manages to sound pretty good.
It’s just a hell of a shame that while any £999 60in TV that gets so many things right absolutely demands an audition by any big-screen fan, its single serious flaw is most likely to come to the fore at precisely the moments when movie fans will least want to see it.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7
Sound Quality 8
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Full HD 1080p||Yes|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||100Hz|
|Digital Audio Out||1 (optical)|
|Charging/Computer Connection||2 (2.0)|
|WiFi||Yes (via included dongle)|