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Sharp Elite wins Value Electronics' HDTV shootout

The $6,000 Sharp Elite LCD TV won the annual HDTV shootout put on by high-end retailer Value Electronics.

Six HDTVs participated in the 2011 Value Electronics shootout. Robert Zohn

The winner of the 2011 HDTV shootout put on by Value Electronics last weekend was the Sharp Elite, an LED-based LCD TV with a full-array local dimming backlight that sells for around $5500.

According to the event scorecard (PDF, shown below), the Elite handily won two of the four picture quality categories: contrast ratio and black level. It fared the worst of the six contenders in color accuracy and was second-best in a category called "moving resolution (sharpness)."

The annual shootout--which I did not attend and which is not affiliated with CNET in any way--is the brainchild of Value Electronics proprietor Robert Zohn, whose high-end Scarsdale, N.Y., home theater retail store hosts the event.

Scores were derived based on votes from members of the shootout audience, which consisted of executives and senior engineers from CBS, ABC, and THX, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the National Association of TV Broadcasters (NAB), and manufacturers including Sharp LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony, as well as "serious a/vphiles and leading members of their respected user forums," according to Value Electronics. The shootout and voting took place over a period of two days, and attendees with obvious vested interests (like TV makers) were not allowed to vote.

All six of the participating TVs were calibrated by well-regarded HDTV experts, namely Ed Johnson, Dewayne Davis (known on AVS Forum and HighDefJunkies as D-Nice), and Kevin Miller, former TV reviewer for CNET and founder of TweakTV.

Details on the results and methods
We spoke to Zohn on the phone to get some more details about the event and how it played out. "In the seven years since we've held the shootout, this is the first that an LCD won," he said. The main reason it won was superb black level and contrast, and Zohn added that the Elite did "exceptionally well" at uniformity (including blooming) and off-angle viewing--traditional weak points for local dimming LED-based LEDs.

The Elite wasn't perfect, however. Zohn cited a few color-related issues, including undersaturated green, an inability to reproduce accurate teal, and the fact that color calibration can't be performed while local dimming is engaged. Regarding the last issue, Zohn mentioned that a Sharp executive at the event promised "on camera" to have a fix rolled out within the next month.

Meanwhile the Panasonic TC-P65VT30 and Samsung PN59D8000--which each cost significantly less than the Elite--took second and third place, respectively, in an extremely close vote. Zohn said that the audience agreed that the Panasonic VT30 had a better overall picture, by virtue of its visibly superior black level; on the other hand the "near-reference" color of the Samsung PND8000 was almost enough to equalize them.

Interestingly, Zohn said two calibrators voted differently from the audience. Miller and D-Nice both picked the Samsung PND8000, not the Elite, as the overall winner by a nose over the VT30, citing color-related issues on the Panasonic. Zohn said he hadn't yet received the vote of Ed Johnson, the third calibrator. (Update Oct 12: See Ed's comment below for his direct insights and observations).

Engineers at Panasonic apparently took issue with the calibration of the VT30 and even offered to take the sample back to their lab for examination. For what it's worth, I saw plenty of color-related problems with my VT30 review sample, and in my opinion it's indisputable that the Samsung PND8000 and PND7000 plasmas have superior color accuracy.

I also asked why the shootout didn't include the LG 55LW9800 and was surprised when Robert told me "They [LG] pulled it out at the last minute." I consider that unfortunate; if nothing else, I'd be curious to see if any of those ace calibrators would have had better luck wrangling that TV's Medium and High local dimming settings.

At one point Zohn also revealed a "surprise contestant," which turned out to be the Pioneer Kuro PRO-141FD. I wasn't surprised when he mentioned that it beat the picture quality of all of the other 2011 models in the lineup, according to the audience.

Zohn also sent us the full calibration reports for all of these TVs, as well as a chart showing ANSI contrast ratio and MLL as measured for each. See the spreadsheet below for more.

The Sharp Elite is the only TV series among the six that CNET has not reviewed. Sharp has promised to send me a review sample soon.

This article was modified after publication to clarify a quote from Robert Zohn.