I recently had the opportunity to spend a day at Cleveland Plasma with the Sharp LC-60LE820UN, one of Sharp’s new Quattron Quad Pixel LED LCD displays. Sharp claims their exclusive addition of a yellow filter to the LCD panel enables it to reproduce colors never before seen on an LCD TV, so I was very interested to see just what kind of changes the Quattron technology might bring to the table.
The LE820 is a sleek, very slim TV with an attractive bezel that uses edge lit LED technology. Before turning it on, I noticed that although the screen picked up quite a bit of glare, it was able to remain very dark in a moderately lit room. Compared to a nearby LG PK550 plasma, the Sharp’s reflections had much more contrast ratio… How’s that for a proper videophile analogy?
Before making any changes to the settings, I took a look at my familiar Blu Ray program material. Movie mode looked the most natural, with great shadow detail. However, skin tones and color were “off” in a hard to describe way, and people looked a little pink. I also noticed the picture had a very slightly pasty look. Overall, though, it showed excellent pop and contrast, and hinted at great things to come.
The Sharp’s advanced picture menu brought up adjustments for motion enhancement, which is intended to control the 120 Hz processing; and film mode, which seemed to control the amount of frame interpolation. I could see very little difference with the motion enhancement control, though it may be more visible with fast action sports. Film mode offered settings of off, standard (which was grayed out when fed a 1080P/24 signal), advanced low, and advanced high. I preferred settings of standard with 1080i and advanced low with 1080P/24. Though advanced low did smooth pans out too much most of the time for my taste, I felt it was preferable to the overly jerky effect with film mode switched off.
Also in the advanced picture adjustments were controls for CMS (hue, saturation, and value), color temp (with gain lo and gain hi RGB adjustments), gamma (-2 to +2), and noise reduction. Noise reduction set to auto did clean up a grainy look that was present when I experimented with turning noise reduction off.
Resolution was perfect with 1080i or 1080P test patterns in dot by dot size mode. 720P and 480i/P via HDMI all showed excellent, strong resolution with no edge enhancement.
Movie mode’s contrast, brightness, and sharpness adjustments were all very accurate at their default positions. However, color bar patterns looked strangely off even without the aid of the filters that come with the test DVDs. Taking a quick peek through the filters, it looked like some colors were dramatically low, and the overall color balance was uneven. Using a freshly recertified Eye One Pro meter, I measured movie mode before making any adjustments (attachment 1). The results looked fairly normal for a set before calibration with the exception of the color luminance graph, which showed huge green and cyan deficiencies. Standard mode was a little better in this regard (attachment 2), though instead it showed a large unevenness with the gamma, which will cause bright highlights to look artificial and gaudy.
Occasionally the LE820 went into brief, crazy flashing fits. Fortunately, this only happened with test patterns or when calling up the menu. Screen uniformity was fine with normal program material, though slightly yellowish on the left and purplish on the right with test patterns.
Color and contrast both deteriorated as I moved off axis, though maybe not quite as much as I remember happening with the latest Samsungs and Sonys I’ve worked with. As with most LCDs (including LED LCDs), it is important to be seated pretty close to directly in front of the LE820 to get the best picture; no couches off to the side unless you don’t mind seeing pasty, pale people.
The gamma and grayscale both calibrated well with no surprises. The LE820 showed excellent shadow detail for an LCD.
I found that I couldn’t get green luminance up above -22%, even with the master color and the green CMS controls temporarily maxed out.
Color decoding was uneven with brightness level unless the contrast was lowered to 25 (from 31, which was the white crush limit). That means there was a slight compromise between contrast ratio and color accuracy. Modified ANSI contrast ratio was measured with the Enhanced Chroma5 meter, and a black blanket was put over the screen to prevent any unwanted light from influencing the readings. At my preferred contrast setting of 25 the ANSI reading was 1541:1. With contrast set at 31, that number improved to an outstanding 2120:1.
Color transitions in the test patterns were not sharp- it wasn’t y/c delay, but it had a similar effect. Fortunately, it looked subtle enough not to be visible with real program material.
I found calibrating the CMS to be very tricky, because some things that seemed logical for the measurements caused severe problems with real images. For example, the yellow saturation was measurably too wide, so naturally I tried turning the yellow saturation down. And down, and down... In fact, turning it all the way to minimum hardly helped at all. Also, the yellow hue was pulled a little toward red, so I tried adjusting it toward green. Again, there was very little effect, even with the yellow hue fully green. As a result, one might think that the logical place to set the yellow CMS control would be saturation all the way down and hue all the way green. But therein lies the snare. After I did that and thought I had the measurements looking pretty good, I checked some demo material. Hmm, the female bank teller who is about to get pulled over the counter in The Dark Knight isn't supposed
to look like an alien...
The most important rule for good calibrators is even more important with Sharp's Quattron sets: use your eyes with familiar program material to double check the measurements! MUST experiment with the CMS with familiar material; going only by measurements will likely give poor color. Start with test patterns and get a feel for how the controls work, check with familiar program material, tweak and experiment with program material, then remeasure/recalibrate with patterns, and repeat until you have settings that both measure and
look good, but give real images the final say.
The final evaluation was done in a moderately lit room; I was unable to get it dark, though there was no harsh direct light. When I was finally done, the colors and flesh tones were very good most of the time; though in certain scenes, mainly scenes with subtle green shadings, colors still looked lean and clinical. However, bold colors popped in a great way, with an excellent sense of purity and vividness. Contrast looked rich, and the image overall had a great sense of sparkle, realism, and depth. There was no shimmering, interference, grain, or processing artifacts with 1080i or 1080P material in dot by dot mode. I did notice occasional motion jerkiness or other motion problems, but I didn't feel they were serious. The picture looked rock solid, with no floating blacks or pumping issues, and dark images didn't sink down into a black blob.
I thought the picture was outstanding overall, though I felt that subtle color shadings were greatly reduced or skewed, especially ones with green tones. That robbed certain scenes of richness, even though bright colors had excellent pop. But the LE820 will show you what HD is all about, with great contrast, clarity, and detail. In my opinion, it's a very good set in spite of
Sharp's addition of the yellow filter, not because
I had the opportunity to compare the LE820 to a Samsung 63C550 that I had also calibrated. A high grade HDMI distribution amp was used to feed the same picture to both sets at once, and their light outputs were matched to within 5%. Both sets were angled to the viewing position. The comparison was done in the same lighting conditions described above.
With the power off, the Samsung looked much milkier, but reflections drew less attention; the Sharp had more noticeable reflections, but it's black filter soaked up the light better without washing out and turning gray.
The Samsung's fleshtones were slightly more colored in the DVE restaurant scene. The Sharp was slightly sharper and clearer; it had more pop because the screen was darker. The Samsung had a slight greenish cast in comparison. The Sharp looked slightly more cool, clinical, and harsh; while the Samsung looked softer, but slightly more natural.
White clouds looked more natural on the Samsung, but more like an enhanced glossy picture on the Sharp.
There was much more green shading on the Samsung. For example, the bank vault in The Dark Knight looked steel gray (not green enough) on the Sharp, but greenish (a little more than normal) on the Samsung.
Much more pop and impact came through on the Sharp. Shadow detail was excellent on both.