Unless you have $22,000 or more to spend, the 70-inch Sharp LC-70LE732U is the biggest flat-panel TV you can buy today--the competition maxes out at 65 inches. Moreover, it's a pretty good deal by giant-TV standards, available for less than $3,000 at press time. Sure, rear-projection models offer more screen size for the buck, but judging from past testing, they can't match the picture quality or design of this Sharp. The fact that it's one of the most popular TVs on CNET this summer proves that huge TVs are gaining mainstream appeal.
Compared with the better big plasmas, the LC-70LE73U series won't perform as well in the dark confines of a home theater, but the brighter the room, the more its light output advantage shines through. At these screen sizes energy efficiency is also an issue, and this 70-inch LED is a miser compared with power-hungry plasmas. No, it's not for everyone, but if you have at least 9 feet of space between your TV wall and your couch, and crave the immersion that only a huge screen can deliver, the Sharp LC-70LE73U series is worth a look.
In a TV this big, understated styling is a good thing. We described the LC-LE830U series as "a bit generic," and its big brother follows suit. The LC-70LE732U is mostly glossy black, with a medium-size bezel, slightly rounded corners, and a strip of silver trim along the bottom edge (the 733 and 734 have a darker trim).
Sharp's 2011 menu system has been redesigned to appear above and to the right of the live image. Unfortunately for calibrators, the menu design can interfere more than normal with center-screen measurements, making setup more tedious than it needs to be.
The main Apps menu appears as a strip overlaid along the bottom of the screen, and in addition to the streaming options it provides a shortcut to Aquos Net (with widgets like news, weather, photos, and traffic), Aquos Advantage Live, and USB and DLNA access.
The main Aquos Net interface needs work. It occupies half the screen and widgets live in that "console," an arrangement that works fine but doesn't accommodate custom widget sizes. Worse, the widgets can be hard to find; the main "Add widgets" menu only lists a portion of those available, while the Aquos Network houses some more. The design seems outdated, the menus are crowded, and there's no obvious way to rearrange or customize widgets' placement in the console.
Sharp's main differentiating feature is Quattron, a proprietary modification of the panel design used by nearly all LCDs (both LED-based and otherwise), plasmas, monitors, projectors, smartphones, and so on. All 1080p TVs have 1,920x1,080 pixels, which are typically composed of three subpixels, one each for red, green, and blue, that combine to form color. Quattron adds a fourth subpixel, yellow. You can check out our "Oh, myyy!" slideshow from 2010 for more information on the technology, which is largely unchanged this year.
The Sharp LC-70LE73U is one of the better-performing LED-based LCDs of the year, beating all of the edge-lit 2011 LED models we've tested with the exception of the Samsung UND6400 and LG LW5600. Its full-array LED backlight deserves much of the credit: while it doesn't deliver the black-level benefits of local dimming, it does improve uniformity compared with edge-lit models. That backlight also appeared to improve black levels and color in dark areas compared with Sharp's edge-lit 60-inch model.