Sharp Smart TV System 2012 Review
Steve Withers takes a look at Aquos Net+, Sharp's current Smart TV platform
The current crop of smart TV platforms appear to fall into three main groups - there's the all-singing, all-dancing systems; the slightly more simple versions with apps and browsers; and the stripped down versions that usually just include some video-on-demand (VoD) services. The Sharp smart TV platform falls firmly into the second group and includes a number of apps and VoD services, an open web browser, media player and basic recording capabilities. This might sound like a lot but compared to the reference badge winning platform from Samsung reviewed, it's actually rather limited. In that sense it is more like the Toshiba smart TV system that we recently reviewed and it's no coincidence that both Sharp and Toshiba are members of the new Smart TV Alliance, presumably in the hope that they can expand their platforms going forward. However, that is for the future and the purpose of this review is to give a detailed breakdown of Sharp's current 2012 system - so here goes.
EPG Quality & PVR FeaturesSharp's Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) is rather uninspired compared to much of the competition, with no picture-in-picture feature and small type that can be difficult to read. The EPG tries to cram too much information onto one page, which means that along with the hard to read type, it often doesn't complete the titles of programmes in the listings. Thankfully you can change the default setting, which shows six hours ahead, to a setting that only covers three hours and makes the guide far more readable. You can also access the channel listings from the main menu but then you can't check for upcoming programmes. There is also a search feature in the EPG that uses either genres or dates which can prove handy but it lacks the cross platform video search facility found on systems from other manufacturers.
Like most manufacturers these days, Sharp provides the option to record programmes using a connected USB drive. When you first connect a USB drive, the TV asks if it's for Media or Time Shift purposes and if you select the latter then you can use the attached drive and the timer features in the EPG to create a basic PVR. This will allowing you to record from the built-in tuner and utilise the time shift functions. These functions have been integrated as conveniently as possible with dedicated buttons on the remote control. We found this feature to be quite useful and the interface is effective, however there is only one tuner which means you can’t record one programme whilst watching another, so it is limited.
ConnectivityMany of Sharps’s TVs now come with built-in WiFi which makes it easy for you to connect with your broadband router and your home network wirelessly, removing the need for any unwanted cables. It’s easy to setup the WiFi connection and integrate your TV into your network. The resulting network can stream content at high speed and offers a wide, stable transmission range for a reliable, cable-free home system set-up. If your TV doesn't have built-in WiFi you will need to use a wireless dongle but if it doesn’t offer either of these options, you can still access your router or network using an Ethernet cable. We had no problems connecting a Sharp TV to our router and network, using both the built-in Wi-Fi (if available) or an Ethernet cable.
Whatever your method of connection, thanks to DLNA networking technologies, Sharp TVs are able to communicate with compatible devices – so you can wirelessly stream multimedia stored on your home network to your TV. We were able to wirelessly connect to our home networks and wirelessly stream content without any problems. The file support is reasonable and includes JPEG, LPCM, MP3, MPEG2, WMV, ASF, MP4, MOV and AVI. There’s also support for DivX HD but you’ll need to go online to activate the license for playback.
Media Playback QualityAs mentioned previously when you first connect a USB drive, the TV asks if it's for Media or Time Shift purposes and if you select the former, you can choose to look at photos or play music and video files from the connected USB drive. Sharp has enhanced their Media Player, which now offers easier playback of photos, videos and music via USB drives. To access any of this content, as well as any recordings on an external HDD or a media server, you just use the appropriate buttons on the remote control.
In terms of file support for devices connected via USB, Sharp TVs are reasonably good and can handle JPEG, MP3, MPEG2, AVI, MKV, ASF, WMV, MP4 and MOV, which should cover most people's needs. As with media playback over a network, we didn't have any problems via USB but we can't vouch for everyone’s collection and, no doubt, there will be instances where there are compatibility issues – almost certainly due to the audio encodings used – but overall support seems very robust for a television.
Internet PlatformOnce you have connected your TV to your broadband router, you can then begin using the internet capabilities, which Sharp call Aquos Net+. This platform is somewhat dated when compared to the competition and even the name feel a bit anachronistic. To launch Aquos Net+ you press the button called 'Net' on the remote control but this size and location of this button give a fair idea of the lack of emphasis Sharp place on their current internet platform. It is also quite slow to launch but once you are on the main page, it is easy to navigate and the majority of the apps and features are in one place. Although as we'll discuss later, that is mainly due to the fact that there aren't very many apps to start with.
You can also customise the layout of the main page, which means you can position the more commonly used apps for easier access. To select a particular app you just highlight it and press enter and from the home page you can access any of the features available. The number of apps on offer is very limited but includes Napster, on-demand radio service AUPEO and video from iConcerts which, as the name would suggest, has a number of concerts available to view although a subscription is required. AUEPEO is pretty decent and works on a Spotify style personalised interface and recommendation engine. If you love news channels there are a number available including Meteonews, Euronews and TV5Monde, although the latter is obviously in French. There is also an area called Funspot where you will find some basic games but sadly the App Gallery promises more than it actually delivers. All we found in the App Gallery were additional apps for eBay, TomTom and TED Talks.
Video on DemandIn the UK, by far the most popular aspect of smart TV is catch-up video and Video on Demand (VoD), which makes sense since this intersects with the primary function of a TV. It is therefore very surprising to discover just how limited the VoD and catch-up services are on Aquos Net+, offers YouTube, Viewster, Screendreams and CineTrailer but no Acetrax, LoveFilm or Netflix. Incredibly there isn't even the BBC iPlayer, which is included on just about everything these days, let alone any of the other catch-up services. Of the available options, the YouTube interface works quite well, Viewster has some free content but it's mostly of the straight to video variety and Dailymotion has some entertainment value. However the lack of choice is just unacceptable and whilst we can live without a lot of the smart TV features that other manufacturers offer, catch-up TV and VoD are an essential part of any successful smart TV platform. Sharp will really need to improve this part of Aquos Net+ next year.
Social NetworkingThe support for social networking was also surprisingly limited, with only Twitter and Picasa offered. The absence of Facebook is surprising but there is an option to add Skype, although to take full advantage you will need to purchase an optional camera and microphone attachment. We've never been big fans of social networking via the TV but clearly it is an area that will only grow over time, especially among the younger generations who live their lives on Facebook. If Sharp want their smart platform to be taken seriously they will need to improve this area next year.
Web BrowsingOne area where Aquos Net+ is a success is in the inclusion of an open Web Browser which allows you to visit all your favourites websites via your TV. The interface is specially designed for the TV and offers you quick access to your favourite sites. You launch the browser by selecting the Internet app on the main page and the resulting interface is well designed and looks suitably tailored to the display's panel. We found that web pages loaded reasonably quickly and it was relatively easy to navigate around, although you are restricted to using the remote control which makes typing text very tedious.
We also found the browser’s bookmark feature to be quite useful because, when you call up the Web Browser, you immediately have the possibility to select one of the bookmarked website thumbnails using your TV remote control. This approach added convenience and faster access to our favourite sites, as we didn't have to type in a new Web address every time. Thanks to this latter feature you can create a series of favourite sites that are easily accessible from the home page, which will mean that as time goes by the Browser will become easier to use.
- Good media playback capabilities
- Nice, clean interface
- Web browser works well
- Smart TV Alliance is promising for the future
- Serious lack of VoD services
- Lack of other content
- Limited social networking capabilities
- No remote app for Android or iOS
Sharp Smart TV System 2012 Review
The design of Sharp's Electronic Programme Guide is decidedly uninspired compared to much of the competition, with no picture-in-picture feature and small type that can be difficult to read. There is a search feature in the EPG that uses either genres or dates which can prove handy but it lacks the cross platform video search facility found on systems from other manufacturers.
Sharp call their internet platform Aquos Net+ but, compared to the smart features employed by many other manufacturers, it is fairly basic and even the name feels anachronistic. The main page offers a rather limited choice of apps and whilst YouTube is present and correct, the BBC iPlayer is surprisingly missing. There is in fact a distinct lack of apps, especially in terms of Video on Demand (VoD) and whilst there is an App Gallery, it is decidedly thin on content. On the plus side, the platform does at least show the majority of apps on one page and there is a degree of customisability available.
There is also an open web browser included which actually works quite well but is rather slow to navigate due to being limited to the remote control. If there is one area where Sharp's platform is markedly behind the times it is in terms of how you interact with the platform itself. Whilst systems from other manufacturers are communicating directly with smartphones, tablets and other devices, allowing people to share content easily, Sharp doesn't even have a remote app for iOS or Android.
There is no WiFi Direct or MHL compliance but the Sharp smart TV platform is at least DLNA compliant, allowing users to stream content from their home network. There is also support for USB and when you first connect a USB drive, you can choose between using it for Media playback or Time Shift purposes. If you select the latter then you can use the attached HDD and the timer features in the EPG to create a basic PVR, allowing you to record from the built-in tuner. If you select Media then you can choose to look at photos or play music and video files from the connected USB drive or via your home network - file support is reasonable for both.
The Sharp smart TV platform is perfectly adequate and two years ago it would have been considered state-of-the-art but technology never stands still and now it appears rather dated. There is a serious lack of content, especially when it comes to VoD services and the only method of interacting with the system is via the remote control. Let's hope that the new Smart TV Alliance provides Sharp with the opportunity to take their platform to the next level.
Ease of Use6
Media Playback Quality6
Applications - Software5
Applications - Hardware5
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