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Sharp brings back the Elite brand with jumbo LCDs

Sharp has announced the rebirth of the Elite brand with two high-end LED-based LCD panels, costing $6,000 for the 60-inch model and $8,500 for the 70-inch model.

Pioneer licensed the Elite brand to Sharp earlier this year, gaining at least the title of one the most highly respected line of HDTVs ever to be produced. In fact, even though Pioneer stopped making TVs in 2009, its Kuro panels are still regarded as the best-performing TVs and all new sets are compared against them.

Today Sharp announced the rebirth of the Elite brand with two high-end LED-based LCD panels, a 60-inch and a 70-inch model. The two TVs carry enormous price tags: $6,000 for the 60-inch PRO-60X5FD and $8,500 for the 70-inch PRO-70X5FD. To put those prices in perspective, our current best-performing HDTV of 2011 is the Panasonic TC-PVT30 series and the 65-inch model can be had for $3,800.

Both sets utilize full-array local-dimming, which means the LEDs behind the screen can be dimmed or brightened in different areas to correspond to darker or brighter areas of the picture. Full array local-dimming is relatively uncommon these days, but the result is excellent contrast that no other LCD-based TV can muster. Sony's full-array local dimmer, the XBR-HX929 series, is the best LCD we've tested in 2011.

Sharp is also trumpeting a technology called Intelligent Variable Contrast, which is designed to automatically control the brightness and backlight depending on the image being displaying on the TV. That may sound like a good idea on paper, but we generally turn off dynamically adjusting picture modes, as they often do more harm than good.

Like other high-end TVs, the Sharp Elites have built-in Wi-Fi and a full suite of streaming media services, including Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, and Pandora. They're also 3D-compatible and include two sets of active shutter glasses. For what it's worth, the TVs are also certified by both THX and ISF.

The big question is whether these panels will live up to Sharp's performance claims to warrant the ultrahigh prices. The new Elite TVs were shown off in a controlled demonstration at a press event in New York this morning and we had a chance to briefly check them out. Like other LCDs with local-dimming, the sets were certainly able to produce very deep blacks, although we could also see some blooming in high contrast images. Without having other TVs on hand for comparison and a variety of program material to view, it's hard to get a good idea of how they really perform, so we'll withhold our judgment until we're able to test the Elite sets in the lab.

The 60-inch PRO-60X5FD will be available next week, with the 70-inch PRO-70X5FD coming out in late August.