Sharp by name and sharp by nature, thanks to a native 4K/UHD resolution. But is that enough for this 60in flatscreen to impress John Archer?
To say Sharp’s TV division has been having a torrid time would be an understatement. In fact, having recently licensed its brand to Polish company UMC, the LC-60UD20E under scrutiny here may well be the last ‘full’ Sharp TV – as in, a TV designed and developed from the ground up by Sharp, and delivered predominantly from Sharp’s own production facilities – we get to review.
It gets off to a strong start, thanks to a striking and original design featuring an on-trend skinny black bezel that rests fetchingly on a pair of curved metallic feet at either end of the bottom edge. Seldom has a 60in TV looked so attractive while simultaneously taking up so little room.
The 60UD20E is also on a good footing with its size, picture specifications and price. Its star attraction is its 3,840 x 2,160 4K/UHD pixel count – good to know given Sharp’s previous dalliance with a disappointing pseudo 4K technology, Quattron+, that used extra sub-pixels to deliver a sort of halfway-4K house from a native 1080p panel.
Supporting the 4K pixel count are four HDMI inputs built to the v2.0 standard, meaning they support 4K video streams at 60 frames a second. Unfortunately, though, 4K support here doesn’t extend to a built-in HEVC decoder, meaning you can’t enjoy Netflix’s 4K streams – or very likely those from any other commercial provider.
The 60UD20E also delivers an 800Hzemulating motion processing engine; active 3D playback with two pairs of glasses included; multimedia playback via USB stick, SD card and DLNA-enabled sources on your home network; a wealth of calibration and picture customisation options; and an integrated Smart TV platform.
This platform, though, turns out to be painfully underdeveloped. The only two video streaming services of note are Netflix and YouTube. You don’t even get BBC iPlayer – a sure sign of Sharp’s lack of interest in the UK market. Basically, calling the 60UD20E a Smart TV is like calling a garden shed a detached country residence.
Calibration tools include colour management, gamma management, white balance fine-tuning, and full control over the various noise reduction, dynamic contrast and motion control video processing options.
Galactic tweaks required
Settling down with The Boxtrolls and Guardians of the Galaxy on Blu-ray plus my usual UHD demo reel, my first impression of the 60UD20E’s pictures was that they weren’t very good. Dark scenes, like those where the Boxtrolls are hunted down at night, were beset by obvious backlight clouding issues, images looked noisy and stressy around object edges, and colours looked overblown and lacked finesse.
Fortunately, it proves possible to fix almost all of these issues by judicious tweaking of the 60UD20E’s settings. Noise reduction is best turned off with most HD and definitely all UHD content; the Local Contrast setting should be set to its Mid or High option; the Active Contrast feature should be left off so you aren’t distracted by brightness ‘jumps’; the motion processing should be left off to stop the picture looking noisy and unnatural; and the image’s backlight setting should be greatly reduced to combat the backlight clouding.
Having made these changes, the 60UD20E actually looks great with native UHD content. All the gorgeous views and locations of my test material offered glorious detail and sharpness, nuanced and accurate colour tones, and dark scenes that contained impressive colour resolution and fine detail.
Feeding in some 4K World Cup footy coverage also revealed the 60UD20E to be a capable performer with motion even without the iffy processing in play, as the 4K clarity only reduced very marginally as the players charged about the pitch.
With native 4K content still hard to come by as we approach the end of the first quarter of 2015, it’s a relief to find the 60UD20E performs well with Full HD Blu-rays. Detailed Guardians of the Galaxy sequences like the prison break are upscaled to the screen’s 4K resolution with some skill, making them more textured and ‘pixel dense’ without appearing overtly processed.
The 60UD20E does a good job, postcalibration, of handling colour during the upscaling process. Guardians’ diverse set of alien skin tones manage to appear natural. Similarly, the almost luminous quality to the climactic scrap at the end of The Boxtrolls is well balanced and full of the sort of subtlety that separates ‘claymation’ from traditional animation. The upscaling also handles the grainy look of some of Guardians’ darker sequences with aplomb, still giving you a sense of the grain without exaggerating it.
The upscaling is less effective with standard-definition sources. However, the 60UD20E is hardly alone in that regard. Also, why buy a 4K TV if you’re going to feed it lots of standard-definition?
A significant problem with the 60UD20E’s HD and UHD pictures is that to get the deepest, most even black levels you do need to remove a substantial amount of brightness from proceedings, leaving pictures rather muted and not well-suited to bright rooms. Another distraction is that during fade-toblacks the screen turns its backlight completely off, and then back on again when a little brightness creeps back in.
While this Sharp is a mostly winning TV in 2D mode, the wheels come off with 3D. The night-time shots on the streets of Cheesebridge in The Boxtrolls suffer excessively with crosstalk ghosting, making them look out of focus and tiring. During the final fight in the town square, meanwhile, I also found my head aching from the bizarre 3D motion handling, which looks unnatural and makes moving objects almost seethrough at times. Colours don’t look quite right in 3D either, and as the screen has to be driven harder to keep brightness levels up while you’re wearing the shutter glasses, The Boxtrolls’ dark scenes suffer more with backlight clouding. You might as well treat the 60UD20E as a 2D TV only.
Accompanying the good 2D and shoddy 3D pictures is a broadly effective audio system designed in conjunction with Yamaha. There’s a rounded tone to the soundstage that serves Guardians’ action-packed – and groovy – soundtrack well, delivering decent bass extension, an open and clean mid-range, and lots of treble detail. The only audio issue is that I noticed a few lip-sync errors, especially when watching 3D and the Freeview HD tuner.
Overall, the 2D picture quality and reasonable price are enough to make this TV worth at least considering – and a sad reminder of just what might be missed from the UK TV scene if this really is the last true Sharp TV we see. Its lack of 4K streaming support, insignificant Smart features and poor 3D performance, though, make it a qualified rather than unmitigated recommendation.
3D: Yes. Active
4K: Yes. 3,840 x 2,160
TUNER: Yes. Freeview HD
CONNECTIONS: 4 x HDMI; 1 x component video; 1 x composite video; 1 x RGB Scart; 1 x optical digital audio output; headphone jack; Ethernet port; built-in Wi-Fi; SD card slot; 2 x USB
SOUND: 2 x 10W (+ 15W subwoofer)
BRIGHTNESS (CLAIMED): 400cd/m2
CONTRAST RATIO (CLAIMED): N/A
DIMENSIONS (OFF STAND): 1,361(w) x 781(h) x 69(d)mm
WEIGHT (OFF STAND): 31.5kg
FEATURES: Built-in Wi-Fi; USB, SD card and DLNA multimedia playback; 800Hz motion emulator; two pairs of 3D glasses included; Aquos Net+ Smart TV features including Netflix and YouTube; colour and gamma management; THX 4K certified; Yamaha ‘audio engine’; Super High Resolution Image Engine upscaler; Aquos Remote Lite app (Android and iOS); X-Gen panel (8-bit)