Three is a fairly powerful number to us humans: think of the Pyramids, the Holy Trinity and even the Three Little Pigs. In construction, a triangle is the strongest shape, and you can't even tell a story without a beginning, middle and end.
Three is strong in the broadcast world too, which is based around the RGB standard of Red, Green and Blue light. But it's not for nothing, humans are one of the few mammals that see the world as made up of a series of three colours — trichromatics, for those taking notes.
Though we do have other systems based on four colours — particularly in print with CMYK — it's yet to take a hold in broadcast. Until now, it seems. Sharp's Quattron system takes the RGB system and adds a third colour: yellow. But how this works is shrouded in witchcraft, voodoo and even maybe some vindaloo. On a recent trip to Japan, Sharp executives told us the TVs add the extra colours that should have been there, but that the RGB cameras couldn't capture. But what does this actually mean?
Imagine an iPhone 3GS on growth hormone. Imagine it sitting on its side in your lounge room. Now you're getting the idea. The Sharp shares a lot of elements with other devices from the past couple of years: the black glossy front, the silver trim and a slim profile. The TV sits atop a silver pedestal, and silver bleeds subtly from the base to inside the frame as well. While not entirely original, this is still a very attractive television.
Along the front of the TV lies an illuminated Sharp logo, the power "triangle" from the LE700X TV (which should rightly be a square, given the theme) and a series of capacitive — though not very responsive — controls on the right.
In the past Sharp's remotes have been kind of dreadful: stodgy, grey and with tiny buttons. The company has remedied this somewhat with the LE820 remote. It fits well in the hand and all of the buttons are relatively easy to locate. There's no backlight, though, and most of the buttons are black on a black background.
Yes, the Quattron system is the star of the show, and its inventors say the addition of the fourth colour increases panel contrast as well as allowing a wider colour gamut. Sharp has been a little coy as to how any of this works, and it's unclear if content with more colours than RGB — "Deep Colour" — would still be extrapolated to include extra yellows.
As far as black levels go, Sharp says the TV has "Mega Contrast", but all they really needed to do is what every other company does: stick a random number in front of a bunch of zeroes!
Beyond this, the Quattron is a 46-inch full high-definition screen illuminated with local-dimming edge-LEDs. The TV comes with a Fine Motion Advanced 100Hz mode and supports 1080/24p signal inputs. For the green-conscious, shrewd or both, it features Advanced OPC (Optical Picture Control) and an Eco function for reducing power consumption. As a result, the screen features one of the highest power ratings with six Energy Stars.
While overseas versions of this television get a panoply of features including IPTV and movie playback, the specs sheet is a little more modest with the local model. The TV does include an Ethernet port, but it doesn't do very much apart from stream music and JPEGs from your network server. It can't even be used to update firmware, instead you'll need to download the latest version from the website onto a USB key.
In addition to Ethernet and USB (which is also used for media playback), you get four HDMI inputs with audio return channel support, a single component input, an AV-in and a VGA port. Outputs include an optical digital and a headphone out.
We first loaded up our Toshiba BDX2000 with our Monster calibration DVD and fine-tuned the TV picture — finding that the default modes were all kinds of horrible, while the Movie mode wasn't too bad.
With the TV "calibrated" we started with the synthetic HQV discs, which are a good measure of a television's processing capabilities — or how it gets rid of picture artefacts, in other words.
The synthetic tests were a mixed bag, with the TV performing well with 24p content but failing video support with some moire issues. Noise was also a problem, particularly with mostly green images, and this was a precursor of what was to come.
What the synthetic tests don't tell you about are things like colour, detail or black levels, and so we threw in a copy of Mission Impossible III on Blu-ray to check; and this is when the problems actually began. MI3's bridge scene (Chapter 11) is a good test of noise, 24p support (including moire effects) and colour. And unfortunately the Sharp failed them all.
The railings on the bridge were full of jagged moire artefacts and motion was a little jerky. The sequence then moves to the inside of the car and the Sharp demonstrated it could deliver natural skin tone and plenty of detail.
Following the initial attack, you see Tom Cruise clamber out of the car and watch the rocket drone fly off into the distance. This shot is a tester for any TV as the sky is full of noise, but unfortunately the Sharp didn't do so well, and in a way we'd never seen before.
Usually a poorly performing TV will simply render this sky as a mass of buzzing, electronic dots instead of as a "grainy film" image. The Sharp not only changed the colour from blue to green but made it look like someone had attacked the screen with a can of green spray paint. This problem also occurred whenever a particular shade of blue appeared leaving a jarring patch of green on the screen.
You could argue that a professionally calibrated screen should look the same on the Quattron as it does on any other TV, but we would suggest that less than 1 per cent of people would ever get their TVs calibrated.
Switching to the on-board tuner we found it was again capable of a vivid image. A rugby match from the Commonwealth Games was portrayed with little noise, but at the same time it seemed "fuzzy" — yellow-clad players on a green field were a little hard to look at.
By contrast, our King Kong DVD has never looked so colourful and punchy, but we're not entirely sure if that's a good thing. There were no noise or MPEG artefacts on compressed scenes, and the high contrast levels lent the movie a true sense of depth.
During general viewing a few things occurred to us:
- Like the LG LE7500, the panel is very reflective and you'll need to watch in the dark, but unlike that panel black levels are natural and not "crushed"
- The TV suffers from an "iris" effect similar to what you see in projectors, whereby transitions from dark to bright scenes takes a moment longer to get to full brightness — this happened even with active contrast turned off
- There is a slight halo effect around contrasting images eg, around white text during credits.
Last but not least: sound quality! We had a reader complain this week that we don't give enough credence to how a TV sounds, and while it's an important consideration, we'd buy a TV with a great picture and poor sound, but not the other way 'round. Thankfully, the Sharp is an engaging communicator and able to deliver soundtracks and dialogue in a balanced fashion. It may miss some of the attack of other sets, plus it also doesn't go very loud, but at least there's little chance of damaging the speakers irreparably.
The Sharp Quattron LC46LE820X is a good TV, but we must admit it's not an accurate one. However, it could be argued the colour performance of this television is a matter of preference in itself. Based on our anecdotal experiences, two out of three people buying a new TV simply leave it in Dynamic or shop mode all the time. These same buyers may prefer the richer colour response that the Quattron provides — for these users a "natural" picture is meaningless.
Even so, we'd suggest users look instead to less hyperactive technologies from the likes of Panasonic (in the case of plasma) and Sony (for LCD). You will probably end up paying more but the resulting picture will be entirely more pleasing.