Viewed straight on, directly in the center of the Sharp’s screen, its black level and contrast ratio are actually quite good. When I switched off its contrast-ratio- enhancing modes (see Test Bench on page 40) and turned the Backlight control to –16, black level measured a reasonable 0.005 footlamberts (ftL) and max light output 13.18 ftL, for a contrast ratio of 2,636:1. That isn’t bad for a flat-panel. However, performance falls off rapidly if you’re sitting slightly off-axis. For example, I measured contrast ratio halfway between the center and edge of the screen at 704:1. Sitting just one seat over on my sofa, roughly 15° degrees off-axis, I found a contrast ratio of just 786:1. Is this falloff common with most LCDs? Yes, but here it’s greater, and because the LC-80LE844U is so huge, you’re always looking at more than just the center of its screen. With a maximum light output of 85.99 ftL — plenty for a TV this size — it can throw some light, though.
The Sharp’s color accuracy out of the box is okay, and while its color management system does an above-average job of letting you dial in specific colors, I couldn’t find a balance between measured accuracy and an accurate-looking image — I can’t recall seeing such a wide discrepancy in a TV before. In the Movie mode, for example, the colors measured spot-on, but once I went back to watching real video, white folks looked like I would if I’d spent a day at the beach. (Not that I go to the beach. Or outside.) The Sharp’s off-axis color shift is as severe as its brightness drop-off, so colors also look washed out when you’re not sitting dead-center.
The TV’s brightness uniformity, typically not an LCD strength, wasn’t bad. There was some vertical banding and a few brighter splotches when I viewed a black field, and the edges of images dimmed when I moved off-axis — something that was noticeable with movies and TV as well as with test patterns.
One of the biggest issues I had with the LC- 80LE844U was its non-defeatable motion interpolation in the Movie mode. Even when I turned off the associated features in the menu, there was still a slight smoothness to movement (the “soap opera effect”). I checked with Sharp, and this is, indeed, a “feature” of the Movie mode. Baffling. I was told to use the TV’s Game mode if I wanted to actually turn motion interpolation off. Since I loathe the look of motion interpolation on movies, this seemed the only option. Game mode did reduce the effect but didn’t remove it completely. Worse, Game mode locks you out of other picture menu features. For example, you’re limited to a 2-step grayscale adjustment. (The TV’s other modes offer a 10-step option.) Colors looked über-vibrant, and the effect couldn’t be fully calibrated out. I feel like there’s a decent TV in here somewhere, but at every adjustment step, the Sharp fights you from letting it out.
I also noticed a bizarre artifact that was visible with all content. Dots were visible around certain objects (most often, edge transitions from bright to dark colors), almost like a composite-video dot-crawl artifact. The effect, which was almost like a crenellated edge, was present regardless of picture settings. It’s not a huge deal, and if you’re sitting 9 or 10 feet from the TV, you probably won’t notice it at all.
Sharp’s nonrechargeable AN-3DG10 active shutter 3D glasses are lighter than they look and quite comfortable. While the 3D picture of the LC-80LE844U was big and bright, performance was seriously degraded by crosstalk. Hugo, a fairly bright movie that creates a strong perception of depth, looked decent. Underworld: Awakening fared less well, with distracting crosstalk following the bright objects that populate this otherwise dark movie.
The Sharp looked its best when showing Blu-ray movies. The image was clean and punchy. However, this was only with Blu-ray. When displaying non-Blu-ray content, the TV performed notably worse. Images from AT&T U-verse displayed rampant blocking noise and gradation artifacts — so much so that the picture was nearly unwatchable. Enabling Digital Noise Reduction in Auto or High mode helped slightly, but not enough to counteract the effect, and the mode’s higher settings also softened the image slightly. As my normal “TV” is a 102-inch projection screen, I don’t believe this added noise is due to size.
It was seriously odd that the same TV with the same settings could look so dramatically different when I switched back and forth between Blu-ray and U-verse. To put it simply, if you’re watching Blu-ray sitting directly in front of the LC-80LE844U, the TV gets relatively high marks for performance. But performance takes a dive when sitting even slightly off-axis, or when viewing any source other than Blu-ray.
My preference, however, would be to get the best-looking and largest image possible for a set amount of money. If a $3,000 projector/$3,099 screen combination can produce a larger image that’s equally as bright, if not brighter, and looks like a fl at-panel TV when hung on the wall, then how is that not a direct competitor? Will the LC-80LE844U look better in the daytime with the room lights on and the window shades open? Yes. Will the projector look better the rest of the time? I’d say so.
I applaud Sharp for trying something different and selling an über-bigscreen TV for “reasonable” money. But in order to do so, it clearly had to make some concessions in picture quality. With its poor off-axis picture, rampant noise and artifacts with anything less than pristine Blu-ray content, and always-on motion interpolation, the LC-80LE844U doesn’t compare well with other flat-panels. Personally, I’d say go projection. But if an enormous 3D TV is what you really want, then this Sharp is yours by default.
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