"Delicious." That's the keyword Sharp repeatedly used to describe its latest 4K display lineup during the company's recent New York City Launch Event. Now, I know what you all might be thinking, "Could it be? Has someone really found a way to make a TV that finally tastes good?" I mean, those LG OLEDs sure do look cool, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that their flavor leaves a lot to be desired.
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it turns out that by "delicious," Sharp is merely referring to their displays' rather sumptuous eye-candy. In other words, these TVs still taste very much like TVs... but they do look absolutely delectable!
All kidding aside, after seeing these new models in person, this somewhat peculiar marketing keyword does start to make a lot of sense. With Ultra HD resolution, wide colors, Android TV, and some potentially interesting settings like AquoDimming, the Sharp 2015 4K lineup really is a feast for the senses -- just not our literal taste buds. To celebrate the retail launch of the UH30 & UE30 Ultra HD TVs, High-Def Digest was invited to attend a special demo, showcasing the displays' smart TV options and impressive picture quality features. Here's a rundown of what we got to see!
Spectros Rich Color
To start things off, Sharp highlighted its most dramatic demo of the event. In a side-by-side comparison, the company pitted one of its standard color UE30 Ultra HD TVs against a 70-inch UH30 series Ultra HD TV with Spectros expanded colors. According to the press materials, the UH30 is capable of rendering a 21% wider color spectrum than conventional LED HDTVs. To achieve this step-up in color reproduction, the new Sharp panel uses special LED phosphors that are coated in colors. The result is a much richer sheen of hues.
For demo purposes, we were treated to a reel of footage showcasing gorgeous nature shots and appetizing meals. While the material looked pretty good on the standard LED display, the UH30 panel really did offer a sizeable improvement in color, resulting in a lot more pop, particularly in reds and greens. Likewise, despite the increased saturation and punchier quality, the colors still looked natural and did not bleed. In addition, fleshtones on people's faces looked much more full and lifelike on the Spectros display, with the standard model looking comparatively dull and flat. Thankfully, the set isn't just equipped with more saturated colors, as Sharp has ensured picture quality accuracy by also including THX certifciation (only available on the LC70UH30U).
With all that said, as impressive as the improved colors are, it should be noted that Spectros technology does not incorporate High Dynamic Range, and though standard HD and Ultra HD material will still benefit from the more realistic and bold colors, these sets will not support Dolby Vision or similar HDR graded content.
For the next demo, Sharp showed off its proprietary AquoDimming technology. Not to be confused with local dimming, this feature doesn't actually have anything to do with LEDs, black level luminance, or the TVs backlight at all. Instead, this is a software enhancement option that uses special processing to optimize contrast on a pixel level. In other words, the TV analyzes each of the individual 8 million pixels in the image and then adjusts them to display superior shadow detail and highlights. The feature offers a High, Middle, Low, and Off setting.
In practice, toggling the AquoDimming feature from Off to High did indeed present a greater level of perceived detail in dark and light portions of the image, bringing out previously lost textures in walls, streets, trees, and stars. With that said, during my limited time with the TV, the effect seemed pretty similar to other "detail enhancing" tools found on competing sets and the dynamic picture adjustments might make it difficult to achieve an accurate calibration. Likewise, based on the lighting conditions in the room, it remains to be seen if the AquoDimming has any real beneficial effect on the TV's dark room performance. Still, based on the demo alone, the feature appears to work as advertised and the jump in detail in the blacks and whites was readily apparent without any notable artifacts.
Ultra HD Streaming & Android TV
To demo the TV's Ultra HD streaming capabilities, Sharp showed off a few 4K videos from Netflix and YouTube using the display's Android TV platform connected to the internet in real time through an Ethernet cable. The YouTube app uses the VP9 codec for Ultra HD content and the video demonstrated featured footage of Dubai. The material looked pretty good, but of course, like any other streaming source, compression and artifacts were apparent and it appeared as if the television had some unnecessary noise reduction filters turned on.
On the Netflix front, I sampled some clips from 'Breaking Bad,' 'Daredevil' and 'House of Cards,' and all three shows benefited nicely from the jump to Ultra HD resolution using the HEVC codec, revealing lots of fine details in character faces and background textures. Likewise, the video looked less compressed and had fewer artifacts than the YouTube clip. Upon starting a 4K stream, the TVs would initially begin with a bitrate of about 11Mbps, and while this rate allows for an Ultra HD resolution, optimized 4K video does not kick in until the bitrate hits 15.3Mbps. In practice, it only took a few seconds (30 max) for the rate to increase and the video to optimize to full Ultra HD quality. Beyond YouTube and Netflix, Amazon Instant Video with 4K streaming will also be available on the Sharp 4K sets later this year.
Further navigation throughout the apps using the Android TV platform was silky smooth and responsive, and I encountered no lag during the demo. The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate, with simple access to Google Play, personal recommendations, and various media services and games. The UH30 series also features a touch remote and voice search feature to make navigation even simpler. Despite the relatively noisy environment during the event, the remote was able to pick up my voice query perfectly and the screen came back with relevant results from different apps. Overall, my brief time with the display's smart TV interface left a strong impression, offering a convenient and robust media library.
While the event was geared toward showing off the recently launched UE30 and UH30 series Ultra HD TVs, Sharp did also address one of its most anticipated display models. First announced at CES back in January, the company's 80-inch "Beyond 4K" display is still in the works and is expected to hit the market in early 2016. The TV will use proprietary pixel-splitting and Quattron technologies to create 66 million subpixels. That's 42 million more subpixels than a traditional 4K set and 167 percent greater resolution, simulating a 7,680 x 4,320 picture. In addition, Sharp plans to incorporate all of the latest display technologies, including HDR, expanded colors, and full-array local dimming, hoping to make the set as future-proof as possible.
The Sharp UE30 and UH30 series Ultra HD TVs are now available. In addition, the previously released UB30 series is also on sale (below prices reflect current Amazon discounts). The full Sharp 2015 4K lineup is as follows:
43-inch LC-43UB30U ($600)
50-inch LC-50UB30U ($800)
55-inch LC-55UB30U ($1,000)
65-inch LC-65UB30U ($1,900)
60-inch LC-60UE30U ($1,700)
70-inch LC-70UE30U ($2,300)
80-inch LC-80UE30U ($5,600)
70-inch LC-70UH30U ($3,300)
80-inch LC-80UH30U ($6,300)
With their impressive Android TV interface and handy picture quality features, these new models look very solid in person. And the UH30 series' added Spectros Rich Color technology and THX certification really does bring an extra level of pop and accuracy to the image. While some customers might be disappointed by the lack of HDR and 3D (the latter was essentially declared dead in the market during the company's press remarks), there is no denying the display's beautiful picture. I mean just look at how tasty all that colorful produce looks below... one might even say that they look "delicious!"
For now, though, what do you think about Sharp's latest 4K offerings? Do these sets have all the smart TV and picture quality features that you're looking for? Is the Spectros expanded color tech a selling point for you? How do you think these sets stack up to the competition? Let us know your thoughts in the forums!