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

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

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Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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9 min read

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.

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6.0

Sharp LC-UQ17U

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.

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."

qplusillustration.png
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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Connectivity: The Sharp caters to most of your connecting-stuff needs with four HDMI inputs. Thye're all 4K-compatible (30fps only), and select ones include MHL support and ARC. There's a single component and two composite connections for legacy devices. If you want to hook up USB drives or mice there are two USB ports as well.

The Sharp includes Bluetooth connectivity for audio, mouse, and keyboard. While audio worked as expected, the mouse wouldn't function despite connecting properly -- even in the browser. A wired mouse plugged into the USB port worked fine.

Picture quality

picture_settings3.jpg

For all its "4K" wizardry, the LC-UQ17U performed very similarly to the LE650 in terms of color and black levels: that is, a TV costing half the price. Compared to other Sharp TVs, there were some backlight uniformity issues too, which were visible on a dark scene even in a lit room.

The 4K add-ons don't really do much. One reason is because the one benefit of 4K -- the lack of pixel structure even at very close distances -- doesn't apply. This is still a 1080p set with a 1080p pixel grid. The 4K upscaling appears to be mostly sharpening with some 3D-like pop-up, but in my testing I was never persuaded this model could compete with a true 4K set.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Black level: The black levels of the UQ17 were consistent with those of other Sharp TVs I have reviewed, and unable to match the depths of the Sony or Samsung, let alone the Panasonic plasma.

Due to a brighter gamma, it showed plenty of shadow detail, though perhaps was a little too illuminating or washed out at times. The Sharp performed very well with the dark tones of the hilltop scene from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," exposing detail that was somewhere between those of the Samsung and the ZT60 without showing any dithering artifacts in the darkness.

Due to the lighter gamma, the TV was able to dig out more detail from within the shadows, but sometimes it was just noise, which was seemingly exacerbated by the edge-enhancing effects of the Resolution Enhanced mode.

Color accuracy: The color performance was mostly fine, albeit a little undersaturated. Blues, such as those that formed the skies that open the Innocence chapter of "Tree of Life," looked a bit paler than they should. During the African scenes in "Samsara," the yellows and greens were also unsaturated, particularly as the villagers gathering around a clay hut with green vegetation in the background (32:06). Even the Toshiba's color saturation was better here as it more closely resembled those of the other high-end sets on display.

While the Sharp's skin tones were a little less rich than those of the leaders, Panasonic and Samsung, they were still very believable.

Large patches of black on the Sharp had a tendency to edge towards blue, something that it shared with the Sony, but its transgressions were more minor. The ZT60 with its plasma technology was best for the shade of black, with Sony second and Samsung third, but the Sharp was much better than the very poor Toshiba.

One quirk I found with the television became apparent when I was watching "Samsara:" some deep colors could on occasion become posterized. While the monks were constructing an intricate painting (11:21), I found that out-of-focus colors --orange crosses on a green background -- looked cartoonish with visible gradations, regardless of upscaling mode. None of the other TVs had the same problem.

Video processing: This is what you wanted to know, right? Is this TV as good as a 4K set? And how good is the Reality Enhanced upscaling mode?

I started with the "Samsara" Blu-ray, one of the best available, to test upscaling . At 23:49, as the camera pans past the windows of a gothic church, the individual panels of the lead-lighting seemed about as detailed as those on the 4K Toshiba, but less so than on the 1080p Samsung. Turning off Resolution Enhanced actually made the detail better due to the reinsertion of color that seemed to occur; the edge enhancement of this mode appeared to insert white along the edges, which might be great for defining edges but terrible for fine colors like lead windows.

One of the main advantages of a true 4K screen is that you never see pixels -- unless you sit close enough to touch it with your elbow. This is something that is true with the 4K Toshiba, but as the Sharp is based on a 1080p grid, you can see pixels from as close as four feet away. Of course, few people will want to sit that close to a 60-inch TV.

Watching a 4K demo of a roast dinner being served (I told you 4K content is scarce), the Sharp looked less detailed than the true 4K screen of the Toshiba. This was mostly because by the time you got close enough to see the extra detail of 4K, the vertical pixel lines on the Sharp obscured any sense of 4K quality. At a distance of about 6 feet, both looked about the same, but this is something we've found in other comparisons between 1080p and 4K sets -- differences are only visible within sneezing distance.

The TV failed our 1080i de-interlacing test; the moving test pattern portion of the Film Resolution Loss Test showed a strobing effect on the fine detail, both with and without Resolution Enhanced turned on.

Uniformity: The uniformity of the Sharp panel was poor for the price, with big blobs in the upper-left and lower-right corners. Off-angle is fine, but you do get some bluish-blacks and muted colors.

Bright lighting: The UQ17 features a semi-matte coating that was not all that reflective. With the lights on, you still get some blue/black issues though, and the TV doesn't pop as well as the Samsung and Sony.

Sound quality: While whispered dialogue was clearer on the Sharp, sound effects such as breaking glass and skidding tires were a lot more shrill sounding versus the Samsung F8000, which sounded more focused.

Music was pretty bad, with an unusual amount of "cardboard tube"-like effects on vocals, but at least the bass wasn't overhyped and farty. Get a separate sound system if you plan to drop money on this unit.

3D: The Sharp still performed pretty well for an active 3D system. There was some crosstalk visible on the most testing scenes, but this about the same as the Samsung F8000. Most troubling, though, was the Soap Opera Effect, which couldn't be defeated.

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.008Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 1.91Poor
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 3.106Average
Dark gray error (20%) 2.511Good
Bright gray error (70%) 3.32Average
Avg. color error 2.238Good
Red error 0.38Good
Green error 2.829Good
Blue error 3.15Average
Cyan error 1.235Good
Magenta error 3.727Average
Yellow error 2.106Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
1080i De-interlacing (film) FailPoor
Motion resolution (max) 1200Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 330Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 59.3Average

<p style=" margin: 12px auto 6px auto; font-family: Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 14px; line-height: normal; font-size-adjust: none; font-stretch: normal; -x-system-font: none; display: block;"> <a title="View Sharp Quattron Q+ calibration report on Scribd" href="https://www.scribd.com/doc/227267937/Sharp-Quattron-Q-calibration-report" style="text-decoration: underline;" >Sharp Quattron Q+ calibration report</a></p><iframe src="//www.scribd.com/embeds/227267937/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&show_recommendations=true" data-auto-height="false" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" scrolling="no" id="doc_73434" width="100%" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe>

sharp-lc-60uq17u-tv-010.jpg
6.0

Sharp LC-UQ17U

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6Value 5
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