Sharp Aquos Net--inset mode

Sharp gets into the interactive TV act with a feature it calls Aquos Net, found on 2009 models like the company's LC-LE700UN series. The service is similar to Yahoo widgets found on Samsung and other brands' TVs, and in fact, offers similar types of content. Once you connect an Ethernet cable to the back of the TV, you'll have access to the following widgets:

  • MSNBC: News headlines
  • Nasdaq: Financial news and quote search (has non-NASDAQ quotes too)
  • Access Hollywood: Entertainment news headlines
  • MSNBC Sports: Sports headlines
  • Rallypoint: Fantasy baseball tracking, NFL scores
  • Weatherbug: Local weather personalized to city/zip code
  • Navteq Traffic: Area traffic with overhead map, personalized to city/zip code
  • Picasa: Online photo gallery, sign-in enables viewing of personal photo albums
  • Screen Dreams: Full-screen high-resolution art (Space, Monet, Fractals, Asian Art, Beaches, etc)
  • Astrology.com: Personalized horoscopes
  • GoComics: Comic strips (Cathy, Doonesbury, Garfield, Ziggy, etc)
  • Funspot games: Suduko, Blackjack, Rock Swap, Memory
  • Separate widgets to display a clock, a calendar and the date

Pressing the Net button on the remote first calls up an inset view, where the widgets are confined to a small bar on the lower right of the screen (pictured).

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Sharp Aquos Net--main console, half-screen mode

The Aquos console acts as a sort of home screen to the service. It displays a few widgets, offers access to new ones, and allows for configuration.

Compared with Yahoo widgets, Aquos Net was much less frustrating to use because it loaded and responded much faster. Conversely, its unpolished, text-heavy appearance couldn't compete with Yahoo, but when it comes to widgets, we'll take fast over pretty any day. Aquos Net also suffered its share of hiccups, including occasional freezes and the annoying inability to use the remote's numeric keypad for data entry, instead relying on a virtual keypad. We'd also like better integration, so we could enter one zip code for all of the location-dependent widgets, for example.

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Sharp Aquos Net--Navteq traffic

We really liked the traffic widget, which showed real-time traffic updates for our location. No other interactive TV has a similar service (Verizon's Fios service has a traffic widget, but it only consists of alerts and not a full area map).
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Sharp Aquos Net--Screen dreams galleries

The Screen Dreams widget offers access to galleries of high-resolution art.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Sharp Aquos Net--Rallypoint fantasy baseball

The Rallypoint widget lets you track fantasy baseball teams, but not football (yet). It also offers NFL scores.
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Sharp Aquos Net--Picasa photo albums

The Picasa widget worked well, loading our images and slideshows quickly and with excellent resolution.
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Sharp Aquos Net--Aquos Advantage support information

In addition to the widgets, there's a suite of advanced support features that together comprise the best onscreen help we've seen on any HDTV. The highlight is a feature called Aquos Advantage Live. When you select it you're given a toll-free customer service phone number and a unique "connection number" that you give to the customer service rep. The rep can then connect to your TV and control it remotely, to change AV modes, make picture adjustments, enable/disable OPC, read error codes for troubleshooting, and even see what devices you have connected to the TV via HDMI, and even troubleshoot them to some degree--helping a user set optimal output resolutions on a cable box, for example (HDMI connections can identify connected gear digitally, but it won't work with other input types).

We tested the system and it worked well, with the rep guiding us through changes he made in real-time while we never had to press a button. Advanced users might not like the idea of a rep tooling around inside their TVs (the rep can make changes that nuke your picture settings, for example; we had to re-calibrate our sample from scratch after our demo), but beginners will love having live help there to hold their virtual hands.

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Sharp Aquos Net--HDTV glossary

Sharp also packs a user manual, customer service contact information, FAQs, and even a glossary of HDTV terms into the support section.
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