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The good: The Sharp LE650 boasts better overall picture quality than most competing LCD TVs. Black levels and shadows are dark and detailed, color is accurate, and the image maintains fidelity well in a bright room.
The bad: Sound quality has been compromised in the pursuit of a smaller cabinet; some slight black uniformity issues; cheaper big-screen TVs are available.
The bottom line: The Sharp LE650 series sets the big-screen LCD TV value bar high with very good picture quality for the price.
If you're looking for a big-screen TV of 60 inches or above, then Sharp should be one of the first brands you consider. Last year's LC-LE640U was a very good combination of picture quality and value, and its replacement offers more of the same. In fact they're almost identical, and that's not a bad thing.
The 650 incorporates a couple of tweaks to the set's design and picture processing, as well as a few extra features. The highlights are an expanded Smart TV offering with Skype and Hulu Plus now standard, while in picture-quality terms both color and shadow detail get modest bumps. On the flipside, a smaller cabinet means sound quality is compromised a bit, and the TV's processing doesn't perform as well with interlaced content.
At its current price, the 650U is still a good deal, even if it does exact a bit of a premium over the likes of the Vizio E1i-A3 series, a worse performer that's still its principal current competition. I expect that competition to stiffen further over the next nine months as more makers enter the 60-inch-plus mainstream, but if last year is any indication, the Sharp 6 series will continue to remain one of the best values.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sharp LC-60LE650, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
Part of my setup involved placing the LE650 alongside last year's LE640, and once I did so, the differences between the two units became apparent. The The LE650 has a much thinner bezel -- especially on the bottom -- and thus it appears to sort of squat on its stand. What has the company excised in order to deliver a shorter TV overall? The speakers have been moved from below the screen, and instead fire toward the back.
The remote control that the company popped in the box is the same as last year's, with a bunch of handy shortcut buttons at the bottom you can customize for your favorite Smart TV services.
The bezel is much slimmer at the bottom than last year's TV.
Apart from a new SmartCentral page, Sharp's menu system is identical to those of previous years. Navigation is top-loaded and scrolls left to right, and it is fairly easy to find the things you need.
The 650 series is Sharp's entry-level model and does without some of the more involved features like a 240Hz refresh rate, 3D compatibility, and the four-color Quattron system found on step-up 2013 models like the 7 series and 8 series. The TV has an edge-lit display but lacks local dimming, and I wouldn't be surprised if only the electronics (and not the LCD panel itself) received an upgrade over the LE640. Other features include USB and DLNA media playback and built-in Wi-Fi.The LE650 sports a new "Wallpaper Mode" that can display preinstalled artwork or photos from a USB drive when the unit is powered down. It's a nice touch, and the muted backlight level makes the image look less like a TV left turned on and more like room decor. Sharp assures us the power draw is minimal.A carry-over from previous years is Sharp's excellent live help service, Aquos Advantage. Included is a full onscreen manual, complete with a table of contents.
Smart TV:If there's one major change to this TV, it's better brains. While only select Sharp models from last year got the full Smart TV suite, in 2013 it has now been rolled out to the entire range -- with the exception of the 50-inch 6 series. Every other 2013 Sharp, including this one, can receive access to Hulu Plus, Pandora, and a Web browser in addition to old favorites like Netflix. Check out our 2012 chart for the full rundown of apps.
The TV now includes two smart modes too. Hit the Smart Central button and you'll see the marquee look of before, hit it again and you'll get a more traditional interface divvied up into categories -- video, music, games etc. Like most Smart TVs the games aren't much chop, and Sharp hasn't yet erected a store to buy new ones.The Web browser functions, but that's probably the best thing you can say about it when the only control is the remote's cursor buttons. Add to this a sluggish response time and you could be quicker powering on a desktop before using this feature at length.
The Sharp 650U features five tweakable picture modes, a gamma slider, a full color management system, and an upgraded 10-point grayscale control. Also included is the ability to tweak the strength of dejudder, aka Soap Opera Effect, from really smooth to even smoother.
The television carries four HDMI ports -- just like last time -- but the fourth is now MHL compatible, which means you can connect smartphones or the Roku stick. Analog connections (one component, two composite, one VGA for computers) are as complete as I'd expect. A pair of USB ports, one facing the side and one the bottom, rounds out the package.
Is the LE650's picture quality a significant improvement on the TV that came before it? No, but that's perfectly OK since its predecessor was one of the few LCD TVs last year to earn a "7" or higher in this category. The LE650 has better color accuracy, particularly with skin tones, and it can render shadow detail a bit more successfully than the 640, but conversely its 1080i film de-interlacing got worse. The 640's strengths, including solid black level performance and the ability to handle ambient light well, remain intact, allowing this Sharp to outperform competitors like the Vizio E1i-A3.
Sound quality, on the other hand, is considerably poorer than it was last year. With the new thinner bezel, the speakers have a hollower sound which can lead to less intelligible speech.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.
Black level:Black levels are very similar between the old and new Sharp, with the LE650 showing an ever-so-slight edge, particularly with high-contrast scenes. The two Sharps were the darkest in our lineup, apart from the Panasonic ST50, and the Vizio and LG were the weakest in terms of having the lightest black levels.
During "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part II," however, something unusual was happening between the two Sharps. The LE640 showed a preference for shadow detail on the right side of the screen (45:55) while the LE650 illuminated the left. In the LE640's case this turned out to be a matter of the TV creating false details in dark areas -- none of the other TVs in the lineup exhibited the same "unmasking". Shadow detail on the LE650, on the other hand, was very good, with both punchiness and subtlety in equal measure.
Color accuracy:Overall the color balance of the Sharp LE650 was very good, especially in the cooler end of the spectrum. Blues and cyans on the Sharp were closer to the Panasonic ST50 during the images of oceans in "The Tree of Life." Greens and reds showed a tendency for desaturation, but skin tones were quite good.
At the start of the Innocence chapter in the same movie, the mother lays down on the grass, and while her blue dress and pale skin looked identical to that shown on the ST50, the grass behind her looked somewhat blue. Switching to "Star Trek" (31:21) as Uhura (Zoe Saldana) sits at the bridge with a purple light over her, the effect was much warmer than on the LE640.
The blue-black problem, where black and near-black areas showed a decided bluish tint, did show its head occasionally. The competing Vizio E601i performed better in terms of near-black tone.
Video processing:While the 24p playback test ("I Am Legend") was smooth, the 1080i playback test with its oscillating grid showed some strobing. This could create some artifacts with 1080i-based material originating on film, although they'll surely be subtle, so this isn't a major problem. The 650U's motion resolution is standard for a 120Hz TV.
Uniformity:Uniformity was an issue for the previous year's television, and it's no surprise that the issue hasn't changed on the LE650. While it was acceptable there were some issues in the top-left corner -- both black and color uniformity were off. However, both Sharp TVs performed better than the LG LM7600, which had very poor uniformity with yellow blotches of leaking light. When viewed off-axis the LE650 also performed identically to the LE640 with desaturated colors and blueish blacks.
Bright lighting: The big Sharp is well suited to a bright space. It has a matte screen, and like the LE640 before it, performs well in a lit room with contrast and deep blacks equal to its peers'.
Televisions like the LE650 ably demonstrate why sound bars are becoming more popular -- the tiny bezel usually equals poor sound. Last year's LE640 sounded pretty good with a forward-facing speaker, but this year it's been tucked in and faces down. The result is a hollower, less present sound, and speech particularly suffers.
However, with rock music and action movies there has been a slight improvement in bass response. Compared to the other TVs in the lineup, the LE650 was nearer the bottom while the Panasonic ST50 came out best with full bass, clear vocals, and plenty of treble. The only TV that was worse than the Sharp was the LG LM7600, which distorted our Nick Cave test track.
Sharp LE650 calibration report