Technology

Sharp's Limited-Edition Aquos


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Editor's Rating: star rating

It may give you sticker shock, but Sharp's new LCD TV uses LED lighting technology that gives viewers a dazzling home-theater experience

Just a few years ago, a high-end, high-definition TV would set you back about $10,000. These days, you can get an excellent set for half that price. So I found it odd when, in September, Sharp introduced its Limited Edition 65-inch Aquos XS series with a whopping $18,000 price tag.

After trying it out for two months, I was still asking myself whether it's worth the premium. Now available online for as low as $15,000, the Aquos XS delivers an outstanding picture. It's a good choice for people who have their hearts set on liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology, and money to spare. But it suffers from design quirks that may leave some TV buyers hankering for a more affordable set—say, a plasma set from Pioneer that sells for about one-third the price.

The LED Advantage

The Aquos XS is part of a new crop of LCD sets that employ a relatively new lighting technology called light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. They have three major benefits over the fluorescent-tube LCDs that are more common today. Unlike fluorescent tubes, LEDs allow greater flexibility over which parts of a TV are lit to deliver a picture. That helps them deliver much better black levels and detail. Because there's less leakage of light from always-on bulbs, you can view the picture better from off-angles. LED screens are also more energy-efficient and should last longer than tube lighting.

The Aquos XS takes LED technology even further. Sharp's engineers used a combination of red, blue, and green diodes, enabling the set to deliver more color combinations than white LEDs found in sets from Samsung and others, and as much as 150% of the colors represented in the official broadcasting color gamut. (Old cathode-ray tubes were limited as to the number of colors they could produce, and standards were set around that.)

As a result, detail you might miss in other sets, particularly LCDs, jumps off the screen of the Aquos XS. While watching the Blu-ray high-definition version of The Dark Knight on a Sony (SNE) PlayStation 3, I was surprised to see details and colors that I had missed when I watched the same movie several times in theaters. Ditto for the opening 20 minutes of Iron Man.

The Aquos XS also uses 120 Hz technology that aims to reduce motion blur in fast-action scenes by doubling the typical screen refresh rate. I'm not usually a fan of this technology because it can make your picture look more like standard video. But in my tests using a Denon Electronics Blu-ray player, a DirecTV (DTV) satellite feed, a Nintendo Wii, and the PS3, I was happy to see that each experience delivered movie-like scenes when they were supposed to.

Out of the box, the Sharp set tends to make reds and greens jump out more than they should, but it's easy to tone the colors down by using one of the presets common on many sets, such as movie or game modes. And advanced users can dive deeper to adjust the color gamut—though with its high price tag, it's more likely that Aquos XS buyers would opt for professional calibration.

Some Design Flaws

I had mixed feelings about the set's design. Sharp's engineers opted for a brushed-steel front bezel but had to make several trade-offs to deliver an overall frame that measures a little over an inch thick. My biggest gripe was with the touch controls that hang down from the front-center of the screen, giving the TV a buck-toothed appearance.

In a reflection of its recent tieup with Pioneer, Sharp attached a sound bar below the screen that delivers surprisingly good sound. But if you're a home-theater enthusiast with a surround-sound system, this feature may be extraneous. A company executive says you can remove the sound bar. I took a stab at it, but got the impression it may not be worth the hassle.

Some potential buyers might be turned off by the comeback of the external set-top box that acts as the brains of the Aquos XS. The Audio Visual Controller box connects to the TV via an HD multimedia interface (HDMI) and houses all the inputs, which include five HDMI (one on the front) for newer set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, and game machines; two component video inputs (one on the front); a VGA computer input; and an RF input for connecting a digital over-the-air antenna or cable tuner.

There's also an Ethernet port that enables certain Internet-delivered "widgets," including local weather, news, stock tickers, and enhanced support services. For all those who might have older equipment such as VCRs, the AVC box has three composite video inputs as well as an S-video input.

Heavy Lifting

At 138 lb. without a stand, the limited-edition model is particularly heavy when compared with most other HDTVs of its size. A Sharp spokeswoman says the company needed to reinforce the frame to protect the fragile glass housing the LEDs. But if you add one of the accompanying stands being offered, you'll need at least two brawny people to position the TV. Some walls might require reinforcement if you plan to hang it.

The accompanying remote is nicely laid out, with a small backlit LCD screen on top, a numerical keypad, and four of the most common command keys below (input, mute, send, and back). But the volume and channel rocker buttons should be larger, and for the cost, I would have expected the entire remote to be backlit—though this is only a minor quibble.

The Sharp Aquos is one the best LCD TVs on the market today, though rival products from Samsung and Sony deliver many of the same benefits for far less. But if you're willing to pay up for a truly theater-like experience and want to stand out from the crowd, the XS Limited Edition will fit the bill.


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