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..
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.
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.