Sharp LC-UQ17U review: Pseudo 4K not convincing enough

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Sharp LC-UQ17U offers decent picture quality with relatively deep blacks and excellent shadow detail; having a native 4K input might be useful in the future.

The Bad Too expensive given it's not a true 4K TV; the Revelation upscaling engine adds artifacts in dark scenes and can actually obscure fine 1080p detail; discernible pixel structure prevents sitting close enough to perceive 4K-like detail; THX mode could be more accurate; occasional solarizing color artifacts.

The Bottom Line While the Sharp LC-UQ17U offers decent picture quality its pseudo-4K features simply aren't worth paying extra for.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 6.0
  • Value 5.0

What would you say is the TV buzz-word of this year? Based on Samsung's marketing blitz, I would probably say it's "curved," but other companies are betting that "4K" is the future-proof feature that everybody will want in the coming years.

If you don't want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a 4K TV, then Sharp has come up with a stop-gap solution: a 1080p that supposedly acts like a 4K set.

The Sharp LC-UQ17U series takes the company's standard 1080p four-color Quattron panel, divides each subpixel in half, and throws in some picture-processing wizardry to achieve what the company calls "near 4K resolution." But the benefits of this technology are difficult to see, pardon the pun. Overall, it performs like a much cheaper TV, along the lines of the excellent-for-the-money LE650.

While the styling is nice and the smart TV interface is slick, the UQ17 appears to have classic middle-child syndrome: not the best picture, and not the best value for money. We'll see how long this "Q+" technology can hang on, particularly after the prices of 4K sets start their inevitable freefall.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch LC-60UQ17U, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

The two-tone bezel of the UQ17 is one of Sharp's nicest looking designs yet. It is constructed of brushed aluminum and features a diamond-beveled edge. The top and bottom are silver, while the edges are black.

When it comes to plonking your set on a table, some integrated television stands appear to have been afterthoughts: they don't really mesh with the rest of the design. While the bezel is quite sleek, the angular little supports on the Sharp protrude from under the bottom of the screen, making the television appear duck-footed. If you have the option of wall-mounting the UQ17, it will result in a much cleaner appearance.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sharp has kept the same remote design for about four years, and I appreciate its general usability. It's long, isn't overly clustered with buttons, and feels comfortable in the hand. While it is a universal remote, it's a pity that the only backlit keys are the source selections. The dedicated Netflix button should come in handy, though.

The menu system is fairly straightforward and another carry-over from past models -- it runs across the top of the set, while the menu pages appear on the right side. The only change this year is in how the smart TV system is implemented, but more on that later.

Key TV features
Display technology: LCD LED backlight: Edge-lit
Screen shape: Flat Resolution: 1080p (up to 4K)
Smart TV: Yes Remote: Standard
Cable box control: No IR blaster: Not included
3D technology: Active 3D glasses included: Two pairs
Screen finish: Semi-matte Refresh rate: 240Hz
DLNA-compliant: Photo/Music/Video USB media: Photo/Music/Video
Screen mirroring: No Control via app Yes
Other: Bluetooth, Miracast screen mirroring

Features

Sharp is careful about not using the term "4K" in its marketing and instead calls the Q+ (short for Quattron Plus) system the "highest-resolution Full HD TV." As the first and possibly only hybrid 1080p/4K display -- these stop-gap solutions historically don't last very long -- this Quattron splits its pixel groups in half to give an effective resolution "up to 3,840x2,160."

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Sharp USA

The company says "up to" because the horizontal resolution changes based on the content, or more specifically, by the types of colors in a scene. The 4-pixel Quattron system splits the RGB and Y sub-pixels in half to double the effective pixels. However, under this arrangement a red scene would have a lower resolution than a gray one, for example. This is because the TV can generate gray from a combination of different colored pixels -- up to 3,840 across -- while there are only 1,920 red pixels; hence a red scene would only be in HD.

While you can use the Sharp as an ordinary 1080p display, it is the Revelation Upscaler that enables you to see all content "upscaled" to "near-4K." Of course, the UQ17 will also accept a native 4K signal and display it using the method described above.

According to Sharp, this is a native 240Hz panel with edge-lighting but no local dimming, just universal frame dimming.

The 3D system that the UQ17 uses is active and limited to 1080p; the Q+ system provides no benefit to 3D resolution. The package comes with two sets of 3D goggles.

Smart TV: Sharp has overhauled its smart TV offering for 2014 with a slick-looking black interface that offers discrete panels for TV, Streaming, and Apps.

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The selection of apps is fairly familiar, with all of the major ones covered save for Amazon and perhaps Spotify. Sharp now includes a universal search across cable, HuluPlus, Vudu, CinemaNow, and YouTube. Unfortunately, the only way to search Netflix is within the app itself.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Sharp includes a dual-core processor, the graphics-intensive interface can be sluggish, with a distinct lag between button-press and response. Loading the Smart Central app could also be frustrating as there is no "loading" graphic -- the TV just seems to be nonresponsive.

I found setting up the set-top box control wasn't all that straightforward. Initially the wizard tells you to connect a video cable (HDMI) but unless you connect an IR blaster, there is no way to control the set-top box. Without a blaster, the television still displays listings, but clicking on a show won't play it. Though it isn't mentioned anywhere in the documentation or the setup, you can request a free IR blaster from Sharp directly as there isn't one included in the box.

Picture settings: The UQ17 is THX-certified and comes with a preset THX mode, but unfortunately you can't adjust the backlight with this preset; hence, I didn't use it in my calibration. The TV also includes a light-sensing Eco mode as well as a Gaming Mode.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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