We first heard about Sharp's Quattron technology at CES 2010, when every other manufacturer was talking about 3D TV. On April 29 we met with Sharp's representatives to get an in-depth presentation on the technology, which adds a fourth subpixel, yellow, to the standard red, green, and blue arrangement used on pretty much every other flat-panel TV (and monitor, and projector, and smartphone, etc.) ever sold. Besides assuring us that they, too, were working on a 3D TV and would have one "available later this year," company reps did their best to overcome our skepticism that the addition of yellow would improve picture quality.
Though the company did have some demo models on-hand, we won't render a verdict until we get one to review in the lab, something Sharp assures us will happen "soon." In the meantime, however, we feel the innovation is unique enough to merit some preliminary explanation, so here's Sharp's story in Powerpoint form, with our initial thoughts sprinkled in.
You'll see something like the image on the left. That's because each pixel on most display devices is made up of three subpixels, one each for red, green, and blue. Sharp's Quattron sets have an extra yellow subpixel.
To drive the point home, Sharp's demonstration areas in stores will have an actual magnifying glass affixed to the screen, so you can "see it to see it," as the commercial urges.
Pricing starts at a relatively expensive $1,500 for the 40-inch 810. Check out current pricing at the links below.
But TVs, in our opinion, are plenty bright already, so from a picture quality standpoint we don't really care about that. From an efficiency standpoint, however, more light for less power is always a good thing.
As for color, it's certainly reasonable to assume that these TVs have an expanded color gamut, but that's not necessarily a good thing.
Is a bigger gamut better? Not from a color accuracy standpoint. Most critical viewers, including CNET, prefer to have the TV's color gamut match 709 as closely as possible (more info), and we take note of TVs that can't in the "color accuracy" section of the review. According to Sharp's reps, none of the TV's presets is designed to hit 709 without adjustment. It remains to be seen whether the sets' color management system allows correction of the gamut.
Sharp's reps expected our question on this topic, and claimed that the TVs' processing is specifically designed to translate incoming signals color space to best take advantage of the extra space in the displays' gamut. That might be the case, but our contention is that color should be reproduced according to an accepted standard to come as close as possible to the source material.
A rep also claimed that Quattron TVs will be able to produce more colors than current TVs, but we're skeptical that major differences will be visible. It's hard to say for sure, however, and since this technology is so new, there could well be other color-related consequences, beneficial or otherwise, to having an extra yellow pixel.
Instead of claiming higher resolution, Sharp is now saying that "color transitions are smoother on the 920 series because it uses newly developed compensation technology to allow color steps within each pixel as opposed to from pixel-to-pixel." And yes, this technology is only available on the step-up 920 series; the less-expensive 810 and 820 models were developed earlier, according to Sharp, and so couldn't incorporate said benefit.
We're still pretty skeptical that this benefit will be noticeable to any but the most careful viewers. In general we find transitions between colors quite smooth already.
(Update May 03, 2010) Sharp originally told us that the step-down models also include the free dongle, but in fact they do not. The company offers no wi-fi option, free, dongle-based, or otherwise, with the 810 and 820 models.