For most people on a budget, buying a TV is a balancing act between what they can afford and the features and quality they want. Sharp's 55-inch LC55UB30U Aquos 4K Ultra HD ($848) is going to appeal to many shoppers weighing their options.
The LED LCD set delivers an admirable 55-inch 4K picture (3,840 by 2,160 pixels). The edge-lit screen is also backed by a reliable name in TV sets and has up-to-date smart-TV features. These are presented in a format that should make it easier for the average owner who wants to spend more time watching TV than searching for something to watch.
Design: Strong but basic
The Sharp Aquos LC55UB30U doesn't present an exceptionally thin design. It's nearly 3 inches thick overall (without the supporting feet) and has a 0.65-inch black bezel. Its bipedal stand uses inverted V's as feet, which makes the set look pigeon-toed. While aesthetically odd looking, it makes for a very sturdy base for tabletop placement.
The Ultra HD set includes all the connections most buyers will need. There's built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) and 4 HDMI inputs, all of which are compatible with the 4K HDCP 2.2 copy-protection scheme, eliminating any possible confusion for consumers (not all sets can boast the same universal compatibility).
Rounding out the connections, there are 2 USB ports, RF for a cable connection, analog and digital audio plugs, and shared composite/component video hookups.
Image Quality: Subtle contrast
Using the Sharp Aquos LC55UB30U's preferred Movie-mode picture settings, the set posted some of the best contrast ratios we've measured, proving itself to be superior at rendering details in solid-color objects and dark scenes. The blackness of space, for example, looked deeper and vaster than on many other edge-lit screens, which can turn a solid black image gray. Variegated landscapes also appeared softer but more realistic, rendering subtle shades and details.
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Upscaling Blu-ray and other content didn't present much of a problem for the Sharp Aquos LC55UB30U. In the movie Gravity, there were no blurry stars or streaky skies. On the Sharp set, stars maintained their pinpoint precision. When Sandra Bullock spins out into space, one can make out not only the Milky Way but also her suit and details in the shadows that are lost on other sets. In Skyfall, James Bond's head did briefly wink in and out while he was riding his motocross bike across the roof of the Grand Bazaar, but it was barely discernible.
The Sharp LC55UB30U was also good at reproducing natural colors and hues, such as those of trees, fruits, and vegetables. In other words, oranges looked like oranges, rather than skewing toward the yellow end of the spectrum. On the downside, colors tended to look washed out the farther the viewer moved from the center of the screen. Such off-axis viewing issues will tend to reduce the size of the ideal sweet spot in most living rooms and dens.
There was one image performance-test result that may disappoint gamers. The Sharp Aquos LC55UB30U had a rather sluggish lag-time result (172.6 ms), which will affect how rapidly images are refreshed, slowing game performance, especially for competitive first-person shooters. Casual gamers, however, might not notice the difference.
Interface: All-in-one design
Sharp has steadily improved its smart-TV interface, which now combines multiple entertainment sources on a single screen. This allows you to search through broadcast and streaming services for a movie, whether it's available through an online subscription like Netflix or your satellite provider. The graphics are attractively laid out and generally easier to scan than on most TV interfaces. There's also a SmartCentral app for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets that you can use to surf for new shows without interfering with what's currently on the big screen.
The SmartCentral button on the remote invokes options for TV, Streaming and Apps. The last item includes Netflix, CinemaNow, Vudu, YouTube and Picasa. Other app sections include TV, music and social networking utilities. Many of the apps appear in multiple categories, revealing that the Sharp Aquos set is a little light on supporting streaming services compared to smart sets from Samsung and Panasonic, for example.
Audio: Deflated sound
The Sharp LC55UB30U has a pair of downward-firing, built-in 10-watt speakers, which is typical for a flat-panel TV. What's not typical is the Aquos LC55UB30U's rather deflated sound.
There are only two audio presets for the Aquos — Movie and News — and you can't adjust the bass or treble in either one. In Movie mode, the Sharp Aquos emphasized the treble and bass ends at the expense of midrange notes. In Skyfall, Daniel Craig's voice lacked gravitas; he sounded as if he were suffering from a sinus infection.
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Like the old joke about bad hotel food, not only was the audio quality poor, but there wasn't enough of it. Volume levels were muted, even compared to other sets of comparable or lower price. Explosions simply had no visceral impact, leading me to conclude that the Sharp Aquos LC55UB30U needs a soundbar to match its picture performance.
Remote control: A clicker
The Sharp Aquos LC55UB30U comes with a small, glossy, black IR remote control. It's the epitome of simplicity and harkens back to the era when people referred to remote controls as "clickers." Why? Because the remote has a mechanical, clicking directional pad. You'll either find it reassuring (you know when you've initiated a command thanks to the audible clue) or antediluvian.
I found the remote flimsy if functional. It worked well enough when I was maneuvering through the SmartCentral interface, but navigating some of the settings menus could be irritating. Adjusting the Internet connection options, for example, entailed annoying additional confirmations, which is more the result of clumsy programming than a flawed remote.
The Sharp LC55UB30U 55-inch Aquos 4K Ultra HD TV is going to appeal to many shoppers. It's a modestly priced 4K TV with a quality picture and intelligent smart-TV features. The sonic shortcomings won't dissuade most buyers, who can always add a $300 soundbar and still come out ahead versus other 4K sets.