Sharp's stripped down LC-32LE551U is attractively designed, 1080p TV and has an especially user-friendly remote. Its out-of-the-box image quality was less appealing, and you can get better-performing TVs for the price.
Design: Keepin' It Classy
Though it has yet another glossy black plastic frame, the Sharp LC-32LE551U's is a modest standout, with an especially thin bezel. At the rear is a power button, which is nice should you lose your remote, and two arrays of ports.
(Click images to enlarge.)
You'll find a pair of HDMI inputs as well as analog video inputs, digital and analog audio outputs, and a USB port. The HDMI 1 port is unfortunately tucked away in a recessed well that may force you to kink the cable to stuff it in.
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Ease of Use: Needlessly Complicated
I'm baffled by TV setup software that requires you to go through a laborious and time-killing channel scan even when you're using an HDMI input from a set-top box or cable box; yet Sharp insists on it. After waiting far too long for the LC-32LE551U to finish, I had to mash buttons, cycle through inputs and eventually unplug the TV to bypass the scan.
Once you're set up, though, the menu system is easy to use: It drops down from the top of the screen, presenting easy-to-read icons and text entries that are spare and organized. If only such functional simplicity were brought to bear on the setup.
Remote Control: Generically Good
Sharp's bundled remote is a winner. It's a nice size for one-handed, no-look operation, and has dedicated buttons for accessing the most-useful settings — like audio and picture presets, and input sources. There are no bells or whistles, and that's just fine. If only all remotes were this simple.
Image Quality: Maintenance Required
The Sharp LC-32L551U has six picture presets: User, Standard "(Energy Star)," Movie, Game, Dynamic and Sport. Yet even the best among them battled for last place among other 32-inch TVs in our instrument tests. They didn't fare much better in our subjective viewing, either. (For details on our evaluation methodology, please see How We Test TVs.)
Color: Pick your poison
The best mode I could settle on for the LC-32LE551U was the Movie preset, which nonetheless tended to produce an image that was too green/yellow and murky. This echoed our instrument tests, which showed the entire color gamut (range of reproducible colors) actually drifting toward green. And green itself was highly saturated, stretching outside the color gamut used by HDTVs. Still, compared with other settings, skin tone appeared more natural and not overly orange, with Daniel Craig's face in Skyfall looking a fair mix of pink and spray-tanned. Overall, though, there's a flatness that washes out details and any subtlety, be it the texture of clothes or gradations of skin tone.
For watching a recorded football game, I opted for the Sports mode. It was crisp but turned the green of Eagle's uniforms nearly black and oversaturated the pink Breast Cancer Awareness logo emblazoned on the field.
Detail: Where's Waldo?
At first, the Blu-ray version of Gravity looked good, especially the deep-black cosmos. Then a scan of Earth rolling by revealed a landscape missing all the resolution and detail that 1080p sets are able to produce. And once I turned on another set with a shared signal, I realized that the Sharp's dark image was in fact obliterating the vast majority of shadow detail. In practical terms, Sharp's set reduced the Milky Way's 300 billion stars to a few dozen.
The fast camera pans in Gravity's opening scene proved to be a real definitive test of a set's ability to handle motion. The LC-32LE551U failed to keep pace, and instead produced a stuttering slide show.
Audio Quality: Surprisingly Good
The LC-32LE551U had excellent audio quality. Impressively, in Standard mode, voices seemed to emanate directly from the center of the screen rather than bouncing off a surface or sounding muddy, as happens with some sets. Turning on Movie mode created separation of audio channels for a good surround effect
Bottom Line: A Qualified Contender
The Sharp LC-32LE551U is low-cost enough that it might make sense as a secondary set for someone who doesn't care about smart TV functions — or has a dedicated streaming box such as a Roku to attach. However, shell out the dough only if you're willing to tweak the advanced picture settings, as the picture presets are too inconsistent. If you can afford the extra $80, go for our top pick among 32-inchers, the Vizio M322i-B1 (see review), a smart TV that offers vastly better image quality.
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