In the United States these days the word "Elite" has a negative connotation evoking snooty haves vs. gritty have-nots, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and them vs. us. The Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD won't do much to dispel those associations. This ridiculously expensive television is basically "The wealthiest 1 percent" distilled into flat-panel TV form, and we're betting very few of the 99 percent will splurge on one, especially with perfectly excellent alternatives available for half the price or less.
But if you're reading this review, you couldn't care less. What you came to find out is whether we think the Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD has better picture quality than those alternative 2011 TVs or even than the legendary and now extinct Pioneer Elite Kuro from 2008. Yes and no, respectively. The X5FD deserves a 10 in picture quality, tying the score of the Kuro and beating every other TV we've ever reviewed. The Kuro still produces a better picture overall, especially from off-angle, but that hardly matters anymore since you probably can't get one. And if you could, you'd still lose certain bragging rights to deep-pocketed Sharp owners since the X5FD is the only Elite TV that can handle 3D sources and comes in a 70-inch size. If you don't mind paying any price to get the best current flat-panel TV, the Sharp Elite is for you.
Sharp's homage to Pioneer's TVs begins here. The PRO-X5FD has the same ultraserious air, with a sharply angled black frame adorned only by the gold Elite moniker. Intentionally, the word "Sharp" is nowhere to be found until you squint hard at tiny manufacturing label on the back.
Although it's not quite as impressive as Sony's Monoliths or the thin-bezel Samsungs, Sharp's design is better than Pioneer's in most ways. The frame is matte textured metallic, not glossy plastic, and measures just 1.25 inches thick--exactly half that of the frame Pioneer's 50-inch PRO-111FD. The X5FD's perfect rectangle shape is marred by an extra skirt along the bottom edge, however
The inclusion of two pairs of 3D glasses outdoes that of any active TV model. They're similar to Panasonic and Sony active glasses in that they use Infrared to sync to the TV, as opposed to Samsung models that use Bluetooth. They're rechargeable via an included USB cable, and Sharp told us there's no difference between the "Elite"-branded glasses (model AN-3DG20-EL, $99) and those without the moniker (model KOPTLA002WJQZ, also $99).
Once we drilled past the main page the design was reminiscent of other Sharp models, albeit with a face-lift of metallic-looking highlights. Happily the TV image doesn't shrink to one side on most menu operations; instead there's the standard overlay, and picture controls obediently recede to the lower-left corner during adjustment to offer minimal interference with measurements.
A couple of the picture modes, like Elite Pure and Optimum, may sound familiar to Pioneer Kuro veterans; the latter uses the room-lighting sensor to automatically adjust the picture. Sharp's rep told us that THX Movie provides the most videophile-friendly image out of the box, and we love that it allows access to all of the advanced settings, including 10-point grayscale and the color management system. The other candidates--Elite Pure and Movie--are less desirable from a purist perspective since they employ Sharp's Intelligent Variable Contrast by default.
Sharp says its Precision Color Plus (called Quad Pixel Plus on its Aquos TVs) can use the extra yellow subpixel to smooth diagonal lines slightly, but to our eye it was impossible to discern any difference between the On and Off positions from a normal seating distance. Therefore we left it turned Off.
The Elite deserves the first 10 we've ever given to an LCD-based TV for picture quality, and outperforms every TV, plasma or otherwise, we've tested in the last three years. The only TV that's better is the long-discontinued Pioneer Kuro, and in our direct comparisons between the two it was still a close call.
The Sharp Elite has the best black levels and contrast available anywhere, and good enough off-angle performance to still beat non-Kuro plasmas from most normal seating positions. Blooming is essentially nonexistent, uniformity is almost as good as plasmas', video processing is superb, and 3D is very good. Color accuracy in greenish/blue areas is perhaps the Elite's biggest weakness, but colors still looked excellent overall and the inaccuracies we noticed, along with screen reflections and some brightness variations across the screen, aren't serious enough to push the Elite down into 9 territory. Its picture is that much better to our eyes than any of the flagship plasmas from Panasonic or Samsung.