Overview

Earlier this year I lauded the Sharp LC-LE640U as potentially one of the most popular big-screen TVs of 2012. That opinion arose from its mix of good-enough picture quality and killer pricing. Now that I've reviewed its more expensive brother, the LC-LE745U series, I'm even more confident in my positive evaluation of the 640. The 745 is a rare creature in TV land: a step-up model that actually has worse picture quality.

Sharp endowed the 745 with the same pair of prodigious screen sizes as the 640 -- 60 and 70 inches -- and added 3D compatibility and a handful of apps, namely Hulu Plus and Skype. The 745U also has a more aggressive contrast ratio specification than the 640U, but that spec doesn't translate into deeper black levels; in fact, along with color, they're worse. At press time that worse 2D picture will cost you at least $200 more at the 60-inch size, making my recommendation of the 640U even easier. Unless you really want 3D (and I doubt you do), go with the Sharp 640U series, which remains one of the best big-screen values around..

Read the full review of the Sharp LC-LE745U series.

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Side view

At a pinch over 2 inches deep, the massive Sharp looks razor-thin in profile.
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Corner detail

Although not quite Elite level in its seriousness, this Sharp TV is likewise all business. I appreciate the narrow frame around the image -- which does thicken up a bit along the bottom -- and its matte-black coloring. That frame is, unusually, made of actual metal, for a higher-end yet still understated feel.
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Sharp corners

The corners have little plastic bumpers that unfortunately spoil its shape a bit, but are probably there to prevent freak accidents caused by the sharp corners.
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Stand detail

Unlike the stand of the 640U, the 745U's has a swivel on the 60-inch version (not the 70-inch, however) and a textured matte finish, not glossy on the base.
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Remote

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 control 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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Inputs

Four HDMI ports is plenty, and 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, rounds out the package.
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Menus

Sharp didn't change much about the menu system from last year, and it's 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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Smart TV (dock view)

The 745U series offers a couple more apps than the step-down 640U models -- namely a Web browser, Hulu Plus, Skype, and Film Fresh. Sharp told me the 640U would not get these apps.

If you're comparing by content, Sharp falls short of most major-name competitors, missing Amazon Instant, sports services like MLB.com, and even Pandora and Napster (the latter two were available on 2011 Sharps). There's no streaming audio at all in fact, and miscellaneous apps come courtesy of Vudu Apps, where Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, and Flickr are the standouts.

The interface is clean and simple, although navigation felt slow by today's standards. Hitting the Smart Central remote key summons a launcher bar along the bottom listing all of the "favorite" apps -- I liked that I could order them at will and delete unused ones.

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Smart TV (gallery view)

There's also a Gallery mode that lists all of the apps by category and allows you to add or delete them from the launcher. It's not available on the step-down 640U.
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Browser+remote=no fun

The browser is, as usual, worse than any tablet, phone or PC browser, and Sharp's is worse than the TV browsers used by LG and Samsung -- in no small part because it relies on a standard remote control.
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Onscreen manual

I appreciated the full onscreen manual -- a carbon copy of the PDF version, complete with table of contents (screenshot from the 640U pictured here). Many makers today skimp by not including a full paper manual as well, but not Sharp.
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Aquos Advantage Live

Aquos Advantage Live is Sharp's excellent live help feature, which I described in 2009.
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Advanced picture settings

Five tweakable picture modes, a gamma slider, a full color management system, and both two-point and 10-point grayscale controls make the 745U match the adjustability of LG and Samsung, and outdo that of Sony and most Panasonics. Unfortunately both the CMS (unusually for Sharp) and the 10-point system didn't work well. New for 2012 is the ability to tweak the strength of dejudder, but it just goes from really smooth to even smoother.
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Picture quality

I was frankly surprised that the 745U didn't deliver as good of a picture as the less expensive 640U I tested earlier. The higher-end Sharp showed a lighter shade of black and less accurate color overall, with marginally better shadow detail being its only advantage over the cheaper set. Its matte screen is a plus for bright rooms, but on the flipside 3D was just so-so.

Read the full review of the Sharp LC-LE745U series.

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:
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