In the United States these days the word "Elite" has a negative connotation evoking snooty haves vs. gritty have-nots, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and them vs. us. The Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD, the first result of Sharp's licensing agreement with Pioneer to use the Elite name, won't do much to dispel those associations. This ridiculously expensive television is basically "The wealthiest 1 percent" distilled into flat-panel TV form, and we're betting very few of the 99 percent will splurge on one, especially with perfectly excellent alternatives available for half the price or less.
But if you're reading this review, you couldn't care less. What you came to find out is whether we think the Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD has better picture quality than those alternative TVs or even than the legendary and now extinct Pioneer Elite Kuro from 2008. Almost and no, respectively. The X5FD deserves a 10 in picture quality, tying the score of the Kuro and the 2012 Panasonic TC-PVT50 and beating every other TV we've ever reviewed.
The Kuro still produces a better picture overall, especially from off-angle, but that hardly matters anymore since you probably can't get one. And if you could, you'd still lose certain bragging rights to deep-pocketed Sharp owners since the X5FD is the only Elite TV that can handle 3D sources and comes in a 70-inch size. Panasonic's 2012 VT50 plasma, on the other hand, delivers very slightly lighter blacks than either but bests the Elite in other areas, particularly off-angle and color. If you don't mind paying any price to get the deepest black levels of current flat-panel TV, the Sharp Elite is for you.
Editors' note, June 12, 2012: The rating on this review has been modified from 9.4 to 8 to reflect a change in our ratings process to incorporate value. A few of the comparative statements in the Introduction and Performances sections of this review, as well as the Bottom Line, have been changed to reflect publication of related reviews, including the Panasonic TC-PVT50 series.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD (reviewed)||60 inches|
|Sharp Elite PRO-70X5FD||70 inches|
|Panel depth||3 inches||Bezel width||1.25 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||No|
Sharp's homage to Pioneer's TVs begins here. The PRO-X5FD has the same ultraserious air, with a sharply angled black frame adorned only by the gold "Elite" moniker. Intentionally, the word "Sharp" is nowhere to be found until you squint hard at tiny manufacturing label on the back.
Although it's not quite as impressive as Sony's Monoliths or the thin-bezel Samsungs, Sharp's design is better than Pioneer's in most ways. The frame is matte textured metallic, not glossy plastic, and measures just 1.25 inches thick--exactly half that of the frame Pioneer's 50-inch PRO-111FD. The X5FD's perfect rectangle shape is marred by an extra skirt along the bottom edge, however. We'd feel remiss if we didn't mention the lack of a swivel stand, but on this TV we'd bet most buyers will ditch it anyway in favor of a mount.
|Remote size (LxW)||9.25 x 2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||Y/N|
|Illuminated keys||66||IR device control||Yes|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||Yes|
The remote also harkens back, and is better than, the 2008 Pioneer Elite's. The keys are well-differentiated by size and shape, the sense of clutter is minimized by a flip-up cover on the bottom end, and a fat Netflix key--which snobbier users may pooh-pooh but we love--gets prominent placement beneath the cursor control. We like the three programmable keys providing direct access to your other three "favorite" apps.
The clicker can control external devices via infrared but, incredibly, controllable brands are limited to only Sharp and Pioneer. One interesting piece of trivia: our old Kuro remote also controlled the Sharp Elite TV, and vice-versa.
By this point we were expecting the old Kuro menus to appear when we hit the Home, er, Menu key, but no dice. Once we drilled past the main page the design was reminiscent of other Sharp models, albeit with a face-lift of metallic-looking highlights. Happily the TV image doesn't shrink to one side on most menu operations; instead there's the standard semi-transparent overlay, and picture controls obediently recede to the lower-left corner during adjustment to offer minimal interference with measurements.
We appreciated the full manual--a carbon copy of the PDF version, complete with table of contents--available in the Aquos Advantage help section.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||2 pair|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Internet connection||Built-in wi-fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
The Elite has the kitchen sink. The most important feature here is the full-array local dimming LED backlight, shared with only two other 2011 TVs: the Sony XBR-HX929 and LG LW9800. We asked Sharp to pinpoint the exact number of dimming zones but the company declined, saying only that the 60-inch Elite has more than 216 zones--the number LG quoted us for the LW9800--while the 70-inch Elite has "significantly more" than the 60-incher.
The Elite has a native 120Hz refresh rate augmented to "more than 240Hz" via a scanning backlight according to Sharp. It also offers the same extra yellow pixel found on Sharp's Quattron-based LCDs like the LC-LE830U series.
The inclusion of two pairs of 3D glasses outdoes that of any active TV model. Sharp's spectacles have a 2D option in case some viewers want to forgo the 3D effect while leaving the TV in 3D mode for others. Otherwise they're similar to Panasonic and Sony active glasses in that they use Infrared to sync to the TV, as opposed to Samsung models that use Bluetooth. They're rechargeable via an included USB cable, and Sharp told us there's no difference between the "Elite"-branded glasses and those without the moniker (model KOPTLA002WJQZ, also $99).
Even though built-in Wi-Fi is expected at this price, it's still worth mentioning. IP control is designed to interface with custom installation remote control systems, such as Control 4, AMX, and Crestron, that can operate over Ethernet as opposed to RS-232. Sharp's excellent live help feature, Aquos Advantage Live, is onboard, too, and rebranded "Elite."
|Amazon Instant||No||Hulu Plus||No|
Sharp's selection is a step behind the 2011 suites from other major makers (Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus are missing) and design. The main Apps menu appears as a strip overlaid along the left side of the screen, and in addition to the streaming options it provides a shortcut to Aquos Advantage Live, and USB and DLNA access.
Unlike other connected Sharp TVs, the Elite doesn't get "Aquos Net," but that's no big loss since Vudu Apps has a superior selection and interface. Its apps are generally well-implemented, although they occupy the whole screen so you can't watch TV while using them (the exception is a stock ticker). Standouts include access to numerous full episodes of PBS staples "Nova" and "Nature," albeit in painfully low quality; Wikipedia; and a solid selection of podcasts. We love the fact that apps show star ratings, although we couldn't figure out where they came from, and we wish categories were finer given the numerous choices. Check out the Vudu Apps site for a full listing of available apps, but know that most of the premium show-based apps (such as for "Dexter" and "True Blood") have clips and not full episodes.
|Adjustable picture modes||8||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Color temperature presets||5||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||5||Color management system||Yes|
The Elite has as much control over the picture as any TV on the market. A couple of the picture modes, like Elite Pure and Optimum, may sound familiar to Pioneer Kuro veterans; the latter uses the room lighting sensor to automatically adjust the picture. Sharp's rep told us that THX Movie provides the most videophile-friendly image out of the box, and we love that it allows access to all of the advanced settings, including 10-point grayscale and the color management system. The other candidates--Elite Pure and Movie--are less desirable from a purist perspective since they employ Sharp's Intelligent Variable Contrast by default.
IVC, according to a company engineer we talked with, takes standard local dimming a step further by boosting the light output of the brighter areas in addition to darkening dark ones. It's available in three strengths (Low, Medium and High), or you can leave it off and select standard local dimming or even turn local dimming off. For what it's worth, THX mode eschews IVC and uses standard local dimming by default. See below for more details.
We appreciated that full picture settings are available when watching streaming sources (we checked Vudu and Netflix). Four picture modes are available for 3D, including THX.
|HDMI inputs||5||Component video inputs||1|
|Composite video input(s)||2||VGA-style PC input(s)||1|
|USB port||2||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
We don't expect much more than this from any TV, although perhaps a second component video input would find use in some systems. Of course the custom installation market expects that RS-232 port for connection to remote control systems.
The Elite deserves the first 10 we've ever given to an LCD-based TV for picture quality, and outperforms every TV, plasma or otherwise, we've tested in the last three years. The only TVs that are better are the long-discontinued Pioneer Kuro and Panasonic's 2012 plasma flagship, the TC-PVT50 series. In our direct comparisons between the three, made in the VT50 review above, it was still a close call. Note that none of the specific comparisons below incorporates our testing of the VT50 since it was reviewed later; check out the VT50 review for those comparisons.
The Sharp Elite has the best black levels and contrast available anywhere, and good enough off-angle performance to still beat non-Kuro plasmas from most normal seating positions. Blooming is essentially nonexistent, uniformity is almost as good as plasmas', video processing is superb and 3D is very good. Color accuracy in greenish/blue areas is perhaps the Elite's biggest weakness, but colors still looked excellent overall and the inaccuracies we noticed, along with screen reflections and some brightness variations across the screen, aren't serious enough to push the Elite down into 9 territory. Its picture is that much better to our eyes than any of the 2011 flagship plasmas from Panasonic or Samsung, although again the 2012 VT50 is superior.
We have asked Sharp for information on a rumored firmware update to fix the color issue, and as of June 12, 2012, the company has not issued a fix. The firmware we tested, current as of press time, is 214U1110031.
Movie THX provides the best out-of-the-box picture on the Elite. Its only measurable issues were slightly blue color temperature and a bit of a gamma spike at in midbright areas. Our calibration was aided greatly by the extensive color controls and we achieved generally excellent results. We couldn't improve that spike in gamma, however, mainly because we measured some luminance fluctuation from one measurement to the next, which prevented us from achieving the kind of picture-perfect charts seen on some other TVs. We didn't see any of these fluctuations in program material, for what it's worth.
We avoided the Intelligent Variable Contrast mode for two reasons. First and most important, it made the bright areas too bright to our eye, so the picture appeared too "pumped up"; in quantitative terms, light output was about 50 percent higher than it should be even in the lowest IVC. Second, IVC's on-the-fly adjustments caused visible harm to fidelity. Again in the lowest IVC setting for example, we saw white detail appear and disappear from our contrast test pattern when we summoned and dismissed the menu. That setting did yield slightly more linear gamma measurements compared to the Local Dimming setting, but it certainly wasn't worth the trade-offs.
For our comparison and image quality tests we watched "Watchmen" on the Elite along with the best TVs we had on hand; three plasmas that scored a 9 or higher and the best LED TV of the year. Despite its unexpectedly poor showing in our review we'd have liked to have included the LG 55LW9800 as another local dimming representative, but we no longer have that review sample.
|Panasonic TC-P55VT30||55-inch plasma|
|Samsung PN59D8000||59-inch plasma|
|Sony XBR-55HX929||55-inch local dimming LED|
|Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference)||50-inch plasma|
Black level: The Elite delivered a deeper shade of black than any TV in the room, including our Kuro. The two were extremely close in difficult dark scenes, such as the fight between The Comedian and his masked assailant, but looking at black areas like the letterbox bars and the deepest shadows the Elite ekes out the slightest extra bit of darkness--although outside of a side-by-side comparison it would be impossible, we'd wager, to say which was darker. Both produced letterbox bars that almost completely faded into the blackness in our dark room, for example, while the bars were much more clearly visible on the other TVs.
As usual for an LED TV the depth of black became lighter (worse) from off-angle, and indeed moving just one butt cheek to either side of the sweet spot in the exact middle of the Elite's screen was enough to cause the Kuro to appear darker. So unless you're That Guy with the best seat in the house, you'll see better blacks from the Kuro. On the other hand, even from moderate off-angle positions the black levels on the Elite were still better than those of the other TVs in our lineup (see below for more on the Elite's off-angle picture).
Blooming, that bugaboo that plagues every local dimming TV we've tested to a certain extent by allowing bright areas to "spill over" into adjacent dark ones, was a nonissue on the Elite from moderate viewing angles. That initial fight scene has plenty of highlights in dark areas, as does the follow-up scene when Rorschach searches the now-trashed apartment, and in neither case did we notice blooming unless we looked very hard for it in just the right places. The Sony local dimmer, by comparison, showed blooming in many places, such as the letterbox bar below the photo of Sally Jupiter (13:55) and around the PS3's "play" icon, where we could clearly see where the Sony's LED "zone" ended. On the Elite the blooming was so subtle or invisible that it was nearly always indistinguishable from our perception of a similar effect on the plasmas. As a result the Elite maintained its advantage in perceived contrast ratio or "pop" over the non-Kuro plasmas in pretty much every scene, regardless of how dark, bright or mixed the content therein.
Shadow detail on the Elite was extremely good, surpassing that of the VT30 with its slightly too-bright shadows and the Samsung with is too-dark ones that tended to obscure details. The Sony, Kuro, and Elite rendered details near black extremely well and were really difficult to distinguish even side by side. Of course shifting far off-angle brightened and washed out the Elite's shadows along with the rest of the image. We also looked for signs of the wonky gamma we measured in bright areas, but they looked every bit as accurate as the Samsung, for example, with its perfect measured gamma.
Color accuracy: The Elite performed very well in this category subjectively despite the issue described below, and outdid the VT30 and the Sony to our eye, falling short of the Kuro and the Samsung.
The Elite's main issue seemed to be a too-bluish tint in areas that should appear greenish/blue and cyan. Confounding enough, the problem only appeared in program material, not on any test patterns or charts we saw. It showed up most noticeably in scenes like the laboratory of Dr. Cyan, er, Manhattan, in Chapter 7 and the shot of the statue over the cemetery (34:55), both of which appeared noticeably bluer and more purple than where the other sets were more properly greenish/blue (although the Sony was closer to the Sharp than the plasmas). To its credit other colors on the Sharp looked great, and crucial skin tones, for example the face of Laurie in the restaurant (31:59) appeared very natural and quite close to our reference.
Colors near-black were excellent, with less of the bluish cast we saw on the Sony, and every bit as accurate as the plasmas. Thanks to its inky blacks, color in the letterbox bars appeared even more neutral than on the Samsung and Panasonic.
Video processing: The Elite offers plenty of options and performs superbly in this department. Its dejudder (smoothing) processing is controlled by the Film Mode setting in combination with the Motion Enhancement option. Under the former setting both Advanced (High) and Advanced (Low) introduce dejudder, while Standard was grayed-out most times we employed 1080p/24 sources. Off was the best for 1080p/24 film content, yielding the correct 24-frame cadence.
If you're a stickler for that cadence we also recommend leaving Motion Enhancement turned Off. In the other settings (below) we detected a slight amount of smoothing in our 1080p/24 tests, although frankly it was so subtle we missed it the first few times around and only saw it when we compared the Sharp Elite directly to the 1080p/24 modes of the other sets.
The Motion Enhancement control is supposed to affect motion resolution but even in our test pattern we saw little difference between the two 120Hz settings and the Fluidmotion setting, which uses a scanning backlight. The latter did appear slightly sharper but, as usual, reduced light output quite a bit. All three scored the maximum 1200 lines on our test, while turning Motion Enhancement Off delivered the usual 400 lines.
As usual, we had a very difficult time detecting any blurring or other detrimental effect of poor measured motion resolution in program material, which is why we recommend that sticklers for 1080p/24 keep both settings Off. If you think you notice blurring (or just want to reassure yourself that you're getting full motion resolution), feel free to crank up Motion Enhancement, but be aware that slight smoothing is the trade-off.
Sharp says its Precision Color Plus (called Quad Pixel Plus on its Aquos TVs) can use the extra yellow subpixel to smooth diagonal lines slightly, but to our eye it was impossible to discern any difference between the On and Off positions from a normal seating distance. Therefore we left it turned Off.
Uniformity: The Sharp's uniformity across the screen was excellent. We did detect a few brightness variations when watching a hockey game as the camera tracked the puck across the ice (the Sony showed comparatively fewer variations while the plasmas, as expected, showed none), but watching the vast majority of program material, including less demanding moderate-speed pans, it had no issues. The edges and corners showed the same brightness and color as the middle of the screen, and as we mentioned above, blooming was almost impossible to discern.
The Elite is probably the best LCD we've ever tested at maintaining picture fidelity from off-angle, but it's not perfect. While the Kuro stays deeper for anyone not in the sweet spot, the Elite's black levels remain remarkably dark. They were good enough to out-black those of the next-closest plasma (the VT30) even when we sat about three feet to either side of the sweet spot from our theatrically immersive seating distance of 92 inches from the 60-inch screen. Sitting further back (which we don't recommend if you can help it) means that even more seating positions will see the Elite's superior picture. From more extreme angles than that the Elite's color saturation and black levels did look worse than the plasmas, so if you demand great fidelity from every seat in the house--or if "domestic considerations" have pushed your favorite La-Z-Boy a couch-length from the sweet spot--a plasma is still the better choice.
Bright lighting: The Sharp Elite preserved black levels better than any other TV in the room, but on the other hand its screen was also the most reflective. Bright objects like lamps or even well-lit faces of viewers appeared brighter when reflected in the Sharp's screen than in any other set in our lineup. At the same time the image retained more contrast and pop than that of any of the other sets.
All told we'd prefer the Samsung's screen in a bright room, followed by the Panasonic due to their dimmer reflections, but presumably those who can afford an Elite (and care about reflections) also have the means to position it so ambient light isn't a major problem during critical viewing sessions.
3D: The Elite delivered a very good 3D picture overall, although it wasn't the best we've seen this year--that title still belongs to the Samsung UND8000 series. For our 3D comparison we replaced the 2D-only Kuro with the UND8000 and added the LG LW5600 to represent passive TVs. As usual we left all of the TVs in their best dark-room picture presets (THX in the Elite's case) because we don't calibrate for 3D. We chose to watch old favorite Tron: Legacy.
Crosstalk, the worst 3D artifact, was rare throughout the film on the Sharp. In difficult areas like the floor of the dressing room (28:21) and the bright white piping on Quorra's uniform (1:04:02) we saw some traces if we looked closely, whereas the Samsung LED and the passive LG LW5600 were cleaner. On the other hand the two plasmas showed about the same amount of crosstalk as the Elite in those scenes.
Aside from crosstalk the Elite's 3D picture was quite similar to its 2D counterpart in terms of black level: superb. It evinced deeper blacks than any TV in the room, especially the plasmas and the LG. The Elite also showed brighter highlights compared to the plasmas (albeit still dimmer than the LG), which also helped the image "pop" in comparison. Shadow detail was very slightly murkier than the VT30 in areas like the face of Sam at 1:03:05, but all told the Elite had the punchiest 3D picture in the room.
On the downside the color issue also persisted in 3D. In Chapter 4 (23:37) for example, the street looked redder/bluer and less green in the default THX mode on the Sharp than on the other sets. If anything the difference was more noticeable in 3D. We assume some of the color problems can be cleaned up via a 3D calibration, but we suspect, as with 2D, that the Sharp will still be a bit less-accurate in those greenish/blue areas than its flagship peers.
Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of the 70-inch member of the Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD series, but we did test the 60-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0007||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.3118/0.3321||Good|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3129/0.3307||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3126/0.327||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6657||Average|
|After avg. color temp.||6521||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||0.6078||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||0.2137||Good|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||0.1704||Good|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2214/0.3243||Good|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.323/0.1562||Good|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.419/0.5023||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||1200||Good|
|PC input resolution (VGA)||1,920x1,080||Good|