Overview

If you ask Sharp (or me), one of the best reasons to buy a new HDTV, especially if you have one already, is to go big. After introducing massive 70- and 80-inch LCDs last year at prices that in context actually deserve the word "affordable," the company will double down on screen size in 2012. Its entry-level LC-LE640U series occupies the value sweet spot in the company's lineup: the 60-inch version reviewed here costs $1,500 at introduction, while the 70-incher is $2,500. That's a lot of screen for the money, and those prices will inevitably fall further later in the year.

Our tests didn't reveal world-beating picture quality, but the 640U does offer accurate color and a matte screen--the latter especially important in rooms where ambient light control is an issue. Its weaknesses, namely lighter black levels and less-than-perfect uniformity, leave the door wide open for competing plasmas to score higher, but I have a feeling that Sharp's ultra-aggressive pricing, and the mass-market appeal of LED/LCD, will guarantee the 640U its own sweet spot among the most popular big-screen TVs of 2012.

Read the full review of the Sharp LC-LE640U series.

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Corner detail

The basic-looking 640U series doesn't try as hard as many of its competitors to make a splash in the living room. I appreciate the narrow frame around the image--which does thicken up a bit along the bottom.
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Stand detail

The frame's burnished texture is a nice departure from glossy black, although the bottom section is half-glossy, as is the top of the nonswiveling stand, which tends to collect dust. The illuminated ^ icon bottom-center can be turned off.
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Side view

Edge-lit LED allows the Sharp to stay thin at just under 3 inches.
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Inputs (back and bottom)

The analog connections (one component, two composite, one VGA for computers) are as complete as I'd expect. A pair of USB ports, one facing the side and one the bottom, round out the package.
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Inputs (side)

I have no complaints on the connectivity front. Four HDMI is plenty.
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Side panel controls

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Remote (overview)

Thinner and longer than most clickers, Sharp's wand is plagued by lack of backlight and insufficient differentiation between the mostly too-small keys.
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Remote (detail)

One great feature, however, is the trio of programmable buttons that provide instant access to your favorite apps. Another, new for 2012, is the big red Netflix button.
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Main menus

Sharp didn't change much about the menu system from last year, and its serviceable if unremarkable. Navigating among the choices along the main top strip could be snappier, and I prefer overlays to Sharp's method of reducing the picture size to make room for its menus.
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Apps

Sharp's streaming video selection includes Netflix, YouTube and Vudu, as well as second-tier services Blockbuster and CinemaNow. There's no streaming audio offered, however. Miscellaneous apps come courtesy of Vudu Apps, where Twitter, Facebook, Picasa and Flickr are the standouts.

If you're comparing by content, Sharp falls short of most major-name competitors, missing Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, and even Pandora and Napster (the latter two were available on 2011 Sharps). Its interface is simple enough, consisting of a launcher strip across the bottom of the screen. Higher-end models get a "full-screen" interface option and a Web browser.

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Aquos Advantage Live help

Aquos Advantage Live is Sharp's excellent live help feature, which I described in 2009.
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On-screen manual

I appreciated the full onscreen manual--a carbon copy of the PDF version, complete with table of contents.
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Color temperature controls

The two-point color temperature controls are onboard.
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Color management system

Sharp's CMS works well.
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Picture quality

The LC-LE640U performs better than what I remember of last year's 830U, thanks primarily to somewhat better uniformity and perhaps deeper black levels. It won't blow videophiles away, however: blacks are still grayish compared to better LEDs and plasmas, while uniformity and off-angle were still issues. I appreciated its color accuracy and matte screen, but unfortunately video processing took a step backward.

Read the full review of the Sharp LC-LE640U series.

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