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New 80-inch Sharp LCD TV is "viewmongous"

Consumer Reports News: September 28, 2011 12:00 PM

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Apparently determined to distance itself—both figuratively and literally—from its competition, Sharp is unleashing an 80-inch monster-sized LCD TV, which will arrive in stores sometime in the next week or two. Some might consider the price to be equally Brobdingnagian, at $5,500.

The TV, which bears Sharp's entry-level 632U-series designation (80LE632U), is billed as the largest LED-backlit LCD available to date. Even though it lacks some features found on step-up models, it includes 120H anti-blur technology, built-in Wi-Fi, and Sharp's suite of Internet services, including streaming movies from CinemaNow, Netflix, and Vudu. The TV also has Sharp's Aquos Live online support service, which allows a remote technician to control the TV via the Web to troubleshoot problems, help with setup, and fine-tune picture settings for optimal performance.

One unusual quirk of the TV—something unique to Sharp— is that while it includes a full-array LED backlight, it lacks local dimming, a feature that allows zones of the TV to be controlled separately. So some areas of the screen can remain dark while others are illuminated. We've seen full-array backlights with local dimming improve contrast and black levels, something we don't expect to find with this set. This model also doesn't include Sharp's four-color Quattron technology, a feature on most step-up sets.

During a press conference in New York City yesterday, the new 80-inch TV positively dwarfed a 55-inch model, not surprising since it has more than double the screen area of the smaller model. Although the set's $5,500 price tag seems high given the typical $1,000 to $1,400 pricing for current 55-inch LCD TVs, it wasn't too long ago that a 50-inch 1080p plasma cost more than $3,000. Despite the gigantic screen size, Sharp claims the 80LE632U costs only $22 a year to run, although Sharp may calculate energy costs differently than we do. For example, we estimate the 70-inch LC-70LE733U set will cost about $51 a year to operate during normal use.

If the size and the price of the 80-inch set are a bit too much for your room and budget, Sharp also announced during the event a new 70-inch model (LC-70LE632U) in the series, which carries a suggested retail price of $3,299. We expect both TVs to sell for a bit less than the announced prices when they become available at retailers including Magnolia, HH Gregg, and P.C. Richard.

With its largest TVs, Sharp's strategy seems to be to introduce the most basic model first. We expect to see other 80-inch sets later this year that include step-up features, including Quattron color, local dimming, 240Hz technology, and eventually, 3D capability. The company says it will debut an 80-inch version bearing its new flagship Elite badge sometime in 2012.

James K. Willcox

   

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