Sharp Aquos LC-46X8E Full HD LCD TV Review

Sharp's latest 46-inch X8E high definition 1080p LCD TV looks fab’ and lacks no frills, but how does is get along on our Best4Reviews test bench?

The Sharp Aquos LC-46X8E forms part of the new mid-range AQUOS LCD TVs and it’s an impressively attractive beast, replete with a host of advanced features and a clever eco-friendly mode to boot.

Similar to the new, soon to be tested and our competition prize, AQUOS B20 slim line range of TVs, it’s similar in terms of technical kit too, with a smaller footprint and titanium inserts with extra solid build to help give it even more polish and panache.

Sharp’s black screen technology and matching piano black lacquered finish help produce a rather refined look to the new TV and as such it makes for a splendid sight sat glowing in the living room of any home.

A matching metal stand comes in the box and bolts quickly and easily into place – or you can wall mount the TV; the various ports on the reverse are recessed with manual controls all discreetly tidied away on the right edge of the set (from the front).

The set is quick and easy to set up with auto tuning for the digital TV side of things and the 2,073,600 pixels from its 1920x1080-pixel resolution provides the best output from your HD sources such as Sky or BBC HD, Freesat set top box or a Blu ray player, such as the Sony Playstation 3 I’ve used for this test.

The fact that this and the other TVs in the range feature that all important native 1080p “Full HD” ready screens means any HD signal is presented as broadcast (there’s no down sampling as with lower resolution screens) and means the picture quality is stunning and razor sharp.

Pure Black Panel
The set’s excellent “Pure Black Panel” does what it says on the tin, helps produces an excellent black as with the AQUOS LC-52X20E test (http://www.best4reviews.com/DF.asp?R=1&xH=15&xM=5&ID=288) while the 10000:1 Dynamic Contrast Enhancement ratio means pictures have punch

The LCD refresh rate of 6-milliseconds means there’s some judder and slight blur during fast action even from HD sources. Standard resolution sources suffer also, but no more than you’d expect, interestingly, upscaled DVDs (via the PS3 again) seem to fare better but the truth is, a larger screen simply enlarges everything, including compression artifacts, noise and grain.

A noticeable picture flaw is the way low contrast images or areas of a moving image with dark, even colour (such as fog or mist or shadow areas) revealed trials and banding (or judder). However, using my standard test scenes from Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (and more recent Blu ray discs such as National Treasure (the first movie) and I Am Legend0 all have elements that push the 46X8E in various ways.

The stand out scene within Spiderman 3 is where the character Sandman first forms after being zapped at a physics research lab. Each grain of sand that represents the character slowly reforms into a man with each crawling creeping grain clearly defined on the screen.

Light and Shade
Subtleties of light and shade, colour and highlight are all there and it’s a scene that underlines the sheer level of detail that can be obtained on the 46X8E. To help optimise the picture you get pre-optimised AV modes for Dynamic, Dynamic (Fixed), Standard, Game (contrast, brightness and the Action mode are automatically set to help get the most from any game played on the set), Movie and a User mode that allows you to tailor the set’s settings to whatever you wish.

Automated features notwithstanding, each of the system’s presets can be further tweaked in menus with powerful advanced settings available to further enhance or change the way the screen behaves.

And those menu’s run across the top of the panel, as with all AQUOS sets and they are scrolled using the supplied IR remote control that quickly allows you make adjustments and see what effect the adjustment has on the image still displayed on screen.

A neat Eco Power Control system allows you to customize the TVs power consumption performance and an Optical Picture Control (OPC) uses a small light sensor on the front of the TV to monitor ambient lighting. When activated, it adjusts the TV’s brightness and contrast to suit the ambient light, the brighter the ambient conditions, the brighter the TV becomes and vis versa.

As OPC adjusts, small green leaf icons appear on the screen 9if switched to display them in menus), the more little bunches of leaves that appear the less power is being used and the dimmer the screen, which keeps pace with the ambient light. As with other Sharp LCD TVs with the same feature, you don’t notice as it slowly adjusts other than the little green leaf icons indicating changes.

Colour balance is excellent though a little muted and is adjusted via a set of predefined colour temperature settings and thanks to excellent noise processing and finely controlled sharpening means you can tune your picture quality to get some excellent results no matter what the source. 50 and 60Hz playback plus 24Hz for the right input source, such as Blu ray discs help out too.

In terms of connectivity, you’ll be pleased to read that as well as the three HDMI sockets, other connections include a UHF/VHF antenna connection, two scarts and an S-Video port, there’s a 15-pin mini D-sub 3.5mm jack and a component “in” as well.

Add to these an optical digital audio out, a headphone port and an RCA pin audio out and a Common Interface (CI) you can connect just about any multimedia device to the TV be it an external surround speaker systems, games consoles, DVD and of course a Blu ray player at the same time.

The large IR remote control has a better response than other, similar remotes; the lag between pressing a button and getting anything to happen on screen is much less noticeable. The IR controller includes controls for any AQOUS Link kit – other Sharp HDMI devices can be controlled from the one remote – so that’s cool too.

But the set’s not without its flaws. The dual 15-watt amps and four-speaker system provide plenty of volume but the sound lacks richness, and with the bass at full, distortion makes it sound pretty bad at higher volumes. While the audio lacks punch the NICAM surround system does do its job well with good separation.

Another worrying aspect was my test set had input ports three, five and eight fail without warning though when the HDMI port (five) went, it did DROP the signal a few times before packing in completely.

Verdict: 
And so, the Sharp AQUOS LC-46X8E is great looking TV with some excellent features yet not without some issues that mean a good surround system will help get the best out of the set and that anomalous failure of some of the connectivity ports. However, the slim line design, styling and the excellent sized screen, in fact a good balance between “too big” and “I wish I could buy a bigger screen” means the John Lewis special that is the X8E looks set to garner favour. Add in the fact that this excellent John Lewis special is now sold with a offer of over £400 worth of free home cinema system TV stand make it even better value so it easily achieves out Best Buy award as a result.