This TV offers a couple of dedicated power saving modes, conveniently accessible from a dedicated button on the remote. Choosing Standard power saving mode causes the display to "optimize power consumption based on video content," while choosing Advanced also incorporates a room lighting sensor Sharp calls "OPC." Additionally, you can adjust the sensitivity of OPC and set it to engage or not with each adjustable picture mode individually. You can also choose to save the TV turn off automatically after a set period of time if it doesn't sense a signal (15 minutes) or if you don't press any buttons on the TV or remote for three hours.
Sharp's range of picture controls has improved significantly over the last couple of years, and the LC-LE700UN's selection can match that of most other brands on the market. It begins with seven total picture modes, six of which can be adjusted, one of which cannot, and one, titled User, that's independent per input. New for 2009 is a mode titled Auto that, according to the manual, "optimizes the picture according to room brightness and video signal."
Among advanced controls we appreciated the option to set white balance for red, green, and blue, which can help hone the TV's color temperature beyond the five presets. A full color management system is available, along with a "Fine Motion enhanced" setting that improves motion resolution somewhat; a setting that changes the picture dynamically to optimize contrast (we left it off); a five-position gamma slider; four flavors of noise reduction; and Sharp's peculiar "monochrome" setting that turns everything black-and-white. Finally there's film mode to control 2:3 pull-down and, on the 46- and 52-inch models in the series, dejudder processing.
It includes four aspect ratio options for HD sources, including one called "Dot by Dot," which we recommend using because it scales 1080i and 1080p sources correctly without introducing any overscan. The LC-LE700UN lacks picture-in-picture, but it does include an option to freeze the onscreen image so you can write down a phone number, for example.
Connectivity is very good on the LC-LE700UN. Three HDMI inputs can be found on the back panel while a fourth is located on the right side. Other jacks include two component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,600x1,200-pixel maximum resolution), one RF for antenna or cable, and two standard-definition inputs (one composite- and one S-Video) that, if connected, replace a component-video input. There's also an optical digital audio output, an analog stereo audio output, an RS-232 connection for custom control systems, and the Ethernet jack for Aquos Net. The side panel adds another composite-video connection, and a USB port for photos (JPEG) or music (MP3) files stored on thumbdrives.
It turns out that the LED backlight of the Sharp LC-LE700U has virtually no impact on picture quality that we could discern. Otherwise, the TV performs like a solid, if unspectacular, standard LCD TV. Its black level performance and color accuracy are generally middle-of-the-LCD-road, and while its video processing is solid, its uniformity was surprisingly mixed. We're also not fans of Sharp's decision to include a glossy, as opposed to matte, screen.
As we mentioned, Sharp includes plenty of picture controls, and while those extra tweaks really helped us improve the LC-LE700UN's color accuracy, there were still issues. The default Movie setting came close to our target light output of 40 footlamberts in our completely dark room with the OPC room lighting sensor engaged, but we prefer to leave such sensors off to prevent obvious brightness fluctuations. When we did, Movie's default became much brighter (107ftl, if you're counting). It's worth noting that OPC didn't improve the set's black level performance when we turned it on.
For our calibration we set light output to 40ftl and dialed the Warm color temperature slot closer to the standard, although the midtones were still a bit bluish and minus-green afterward. We could have added in more green to compensate, but that would have adversely affected brighter and darker areas. Gamma measured a middling 2.44 versus the 2.2 target, with dark areas faring the worst. On the plus side, the color management system worked well, letting us improve the magenta and yellow secondary colors as well as color decoding.
(Update: October 21, 2009) At the request of Sharp, we checked the image with Active Contrast enabled, and found we still liked the image quality better with it turned off. The feature brightens or dims the entire backlight according to the onscreen content did improve black levels in some cases, but the trade-offs weren't worth it. Its Shadow detail was compromised in dark scenes, highlights in bright scenes appeared too bright by comparison, and in prolonged fades to black the abrupt fluctuation of the entire backlight was distracting. As with all of the displays in our comparison that feature similar defeatable active backlight functions, we disabled it for our evaluation.
Our comparison lined up a range of models at varying price points, although none was less expensive than the Sharp. Standard, non-LED-based LCDs included the Samsung LN46B650 and LG 47LH50, while LED-based sets included the edge-lit Samsung UN46B7000 and the local dimming Toshiba 46SV670U and LG 47LH90. We also threw in a pair of plasmas for good measure, the Panasonic TC-P50V10 and the reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. For most of our image quality tests we used "Quantum of Solace" on Blu-ray Disc.
Black level: The Sharp LC-LE700U was capable of producing a black level on par with most standard LCDs, but could not conjure the depth of black seen on plasmas or local dimming LED-based LCD screens. Its blacks were visibly lighter than the standard Samsung B650, for example, but not as light as those of the LG LH50, and the other displays in our comparison were all capable of deeper blacks than the Sharp.
The difference was most obvious when the screen went darkest, such as during the first car chase. Glimpses of Bond's black Austin Martin, the shadows of the tunnel and his shaded face as he speeds along were more realistic on the other displays (aside from the LH50). Naturally, when the shots brightened, such as when the cars emerge into daylight near Sienna, the difference in black level became much less apparent, with the notable exception of the letterbox bars.
In the Sharp's favor, it lacked the fluctuating backlight we saw on some of the other LED-based displays (the Toshiba and the Samsung 7000, most notably), instead remaining stable even when the screen faded to black. Of course, it also lacked the blooming artifact we saw on the local dimming models.
Shadow detail on the LC-LE700UN looked a bit below average, as presaged by the darker gamma measurement. When Bond goes to open his trunk after exiting the car, for example, the shadow over his face appeared too dark and less natural than the other sets, and some of the details were obscured. The Samsung B650, with even darker shadows, was the only exception.
Color accuracy: Overall, the Sharp LC-LE700UN performed relatively well in this category, but couldn't quite match the accuracy of most of the other sets in our lineup. The main issue was the set's grayscale in mid-to-bright areas, which appeared less accurate even after calibration. When Bind visits the hotel with Strawberry Fields in Chapter 16, for example, areas like the white walls and gray floors, as well as Fields' exceedingly pale skin, were tinged a bit too bluish/reddish next to the other sets. The Sharp did a fine job with primary colors on the other hand, rendering the green of the plants in the hotel room and the blue of the sky above quite well.
We also noticed that the LC-LE700UN introduced the bluish/reddish tinge to very dark and black areas, such as the moonrise over the party in Chapter 17, which was more extreme than we saw in brighter areas. Nonetheless the discoloration wasn't as obvious as the blue we saw in the black and near-black areas on the standard LCDs (the Samsung B650 and the LG LH50), albeit worse than on the other LED (and plasma) sets.
Video processing: Sharp's smoothing dejudder processing--which isn't available on the 40-inch model--comes in two strengths, labeled Advanced (Low) and Advanced (High) in the Film Mode menu. As usual it had little effect we could discern with video-based material, such as sports, and it made film-based material look overly smooth and too much like video for our tastes. In the initial chase scene, for example, engaging dejudder robbed some of the visceral feel, especially when dejudder would "kick in" abruptly. But some viewers might like the look, so we compared it against similar smoothing modes on the other sets in our lineup.
With the four participating brands' dejudder settings placed in their least-smoothing (and least objectionable, to our eye) preset modes--Standard on the Samsungs, Low on the LGs, Smooth on the Toshiba and Advanced (Low) on the Sharp--the Sharp held its own, not introducing too many artifacts or smoothing the picture too much or too abruptly. When the Aston Martin emerges from the tunnel at the 2:22 mark, for example, the Samsung and LG sets kick dejudder in quickly and relatively unnaturally (to be fair, of course, we should mention that the Samsung's dejudder can be dialed even lower than the Standard setting, which reduces this issue). As usual, artifacts in these modes were rare enough to not be a major issue. We noticed more artifacts in the Advanced (High) mode, such as unnatural separation on the leading edge of a clothing rack at the 39:38 mark, or on the edge of an opening door a few seconds later. That mode was less-smooth than the corresponding modes on the Samsung and the LG, for what it's worth.
We appreciated that the LC-LE700UN handled 1080p/24 sources well. The pan over the Eco fundraiser sign in Chapter 17, for instance, had the correct cadence, without the smoothing of dejudder or the mild lurching characteristic of 2:3 pull-down. The same went for our favorite such test, the helicopter flyover of the deck of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend."
In our tests for motion resolution, the Sharp maxed out between 500-600 lines when we engaged Fine Motion Enhanced, and between 300 and 400 when we turned that feature off. That's the same ballpark as other 120Hz sets, but the Sharp did look a bit softer and less distinct on our test pattern than the others did. As with the implementations used by Samsung and Toshiba, you don't need to engage dejudder to get the antiblur effect on the Sharp--a real plus. As always, however, it was nearly impossible to spot motion blur in program material as opposed to specialized test patterns.