LCD TV makers have always charged a premium for LED backlighting. In fact, the first LED-based LCD TV Sharp released, the inch-thick XS series, debuted last year at a cool $11,000 MSRP for the 52-incher. LED has become a lot more mainstream since then, and so have Sharp's ambitions for the well-marketed backlight technology. The Sharp LC-LE700UN series encapsulates that progress toward the mass market: it's the least-expensive LED-backlit LCD available today, it measures the standard 3-odd inches thick, and as a result, its owners will have a tough time convincing visitors that it's anything more than a normal, CCFL-based LCD.
This Sharp uses different LED backlight technology from any of the other "LED TVs" available today, and perhaps as a result its picture quality has no major advantage over non-LED-based LCDs. On the other hand, it sips power more sparingly than any other TV we've reviewed, and its solid feature set is highlighted by a unique selection of widgets and superb built-in support features. The Sharp LC-LE700UN series will appeal to people on a moderate budget who still want the energy efficiency of an LED-backlit LCD.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Sharp LC-46LE700UN, but this information also applies to the 52-inch LC-52LE700UN and the 40-inch LC-40LE700UN. The three sets share identical specs (aside from the 40-inch model's omission of dejudder processing) and so should exhibit very similar picture quality. This information does not apply to the 32-inch member of the series, model LC-32LE700UN, because that model has a different LCD panel, among other differences.
Sharp has gone the longest of any TV maker we know since changing its remote. The LC-46LE700UN's clicker is basically the same as the one that shipped with the 2006 LC-46D62U, which was a few years old itself at the time. Our opinion of it hasn't changed so we'll just quote that review: "Sharp's long remote will be familiar to anyone who's played with an Aquos set in the last couple of years. We say 'generally' because the key controlling aspect ratio is stashed clear at the top of the long wand, the one for freezing the image is given an unduly important spot near the main directional keypad, and the one for changing picture modes is hidden beneath a flip-up hatch." Unfortunately, Sharp cut back on the backlighting of its remotes, so now only the volume and channel rockers, as well as four nearby keys, receive illumination.
Sharp's menu system design is also basically the same as in previous years, and its blocky look seems dated compared with the slick menus available from Sony and Samsung, for example. The pertinent information is all there, however, and we liked the text explanations that accompany various selections.
Lest you see a Samsung ad and believe all LED-based LCDs are also ultrathin, Sharp's LC-LE700UN series is among the many sets that prove otherwise. It measures 3.7 inches deep sans stand, which is quite normal for a flat-panel TV of any technology.
It turns out that the LED backlight of the Sharp LC-LE700U has virtually no impact on picture quality we could discern. Otherwise, the TV performs like a solid, if unspectacular standard LCD. Its black level performance and color accuracy are generally middle-of-the-LCD-road, and while video processing is solid, uniformity was surprisingly mixed. We're also not fans of Sharp's decision to include a glossy, as opposed to matte, screen.