With all the ‘Quattron’ advertising in the press and online, and with Sulu on the TV, you could be forgiven for thinking that Sharp were repositioning themselves as a high-end, high price, brand. But as you can see from the model we have here for review, the Aquos range of TVs for 2010 also includes the more usual budget fair from Sharp. Gone are the high quality finish, yellow subpixel and enormous price tag and instead we have a TV that will be sold exclusively through Dixons and Currys branches.
So what will you get for the £599 price tag attached to the CT2E? Does it have any new cutting edge technology and can it produce images that mirror the industry standards? We are about to find out…
Design and Connections
As you would expect for a budget line model, the CT2E is made from plastic that covers the entire chassis. That means that this 40 inch model is light to carry and wall mount, although this is no slim beauty. The backlighting employed is the traditional CCFL approach which results in some bulk. Indeed by today’s standards and after a run here at AVForums of super sleek thin models, the CT2E feels chunky and plastic.
The design is a non-offensive traditional rectangular body that has a gloss black bezel and plastic table stand. The edges of the bezel are sharp and straight with a silver plastic strip positioned to the bottom of the frame. Whilst not cutting edge in its looks, it is certainly not an ugly looking TV. The plastic body is likely to withstand a number of years of abuse in the family home, but I have a feeling that the gloss black will show up finger prints and scratches easily.
Around the back of the set we have the connections placed on the rear panel and to the side. As this is a budget model we only get 3 HDMI v1.3 slots against the now common four or more. Also included are 2 Scarts, one component and a VGA/PC input. There are also a number of audio inputs and outputs, including a subwoofer output RCA plug. On the side panel are the third HDMI socket and legacy connections for composite and s-video connections, plus two USB slots. Interestingly there is also an Ethernet connection which we will explore later.
Rounding off the CT2E is the remote control which is a nicely designed and uncluttered affair. Here you will find the most essential of buttons without any added special feature sets to get in the way. It is easy to hold and very intuitive to use with just a few buttons required for every day settings and commands. Even though it is made from plastic and does feel a little cheap, this is after all a budget TV so the remote does its job well enough.
Unlike most of the new TVs on the market today, the Sharp is lacking in any cutting edge features like internet TV or on-demand streaming. However, it will allow you to playback Pictures and MP3 music tracks through the USB port (but not video).
The CT2E also has a Freeview HD tuner built-in and this explains the Ethernet connection which we assume is for future services such as BBC iPlayer. If you live in an area that receives the HD broadcasts then the TV will automatically tune these in when you first set it up. Sadly the Ethernet connection is there due to the Freeview specifications and does not allow internet widgets or DLNA streaming from your PC. But at this price point that is not surprising.
Menus and Set up
Basic. That is the best description of the menu systems available on this LCD TV. The main picture menu has front panel controls (Brightness, Contrast etc) and a colour temperature setting and that is it. No Gamma control, no white balance menus and no colour management system. In today’s market, even for such a price conscious model, there should be controls for correct image calibration. This is mightily disappointing, but just looking at the Sharp philosophy of quadpixel wide gamut images tells us that they are not particularly concerned about image accuracy in their TVs. It seems the company want to reinvent the display standards for content playback in the name of personal preference. Well that just doesn’t wash very well with AV Enthusiasts. It is really quite simple when it comes to what a TV should do. It should produce a picture that is as close as possible to how the original content is mastered. 'Simples'. It should not introduce anything that is not intended to be seen and that includes wide colour gamuts and uncontrollable gamma reproduction.
The menus really are very basic, with three picture presets for Dynamic (yuk!), Standard and Cinema. Then we have the main controls for Brightness, Contrast, Colour, Sharpness, Colour Temperature, Noise Reduction, Film mode, Game mode and a Store button (to save adjustments to that input). Most of those controls are self explanatory with Film switched on for correct cadence detection of film material. As this is an LCD TV we also want better access to the backlight control than that offered here, which is a basic, min, medium and max setting.
Further menu pages are available for sound set up of the on-board speakers and guess what? Yes, they are pretty basic as well. The final pages allow us to set 1:1 pixel mapping for HD sources and there is a USB page for your music and photos. Even the design of the menus is stuck in the last decade with no thought to the lay out and functionality. This is very disappointing.
Upon further investigation we found that if we tricked the panel into believing it was receiving a PC input via HDMI we were suddenly given access to a user white balance option. This again was very basic, offering just one adjustment point and we could only access this by switching the Sencore pattern generator as a PC source. So that meant that the TV tuner selection and any sources such as DVD or Blu-ray would still not benefit as we couldn't actually change the input to PC mode. However, perhaps Sharp could update the TV via firmware to include the user white balance with all input signals? We will certainly ask them...
Out of the Box Measurements
So with things looking grim from a calibration point of view, it all comes down to how well this Sharp produces images compared to the Industry Standards out of the box. And after watching content for a few hours before settling down to measure, I wasn’t that hopeful, if the truth be told.
The Cinema preset with colour temperature set to Warm looked by eye to be the closest to what we would want to achieve, but still looked like it was inaccurate- just not as over the top as the Standard and Dynamic modes. I set the main picture controls for Brightness and Contrast using the usual test patterns and it was time to measure how the Sharp performed against reference standards.
Starting with the Greyscale measurements first and we can see that things are not entirely accurate. Looking at the RGB balance graph first we can see that green tracks well at around the desired 100% mark with just a slight skew from 60IRE and above. Blue on the other hand is around 5% above the desired 100% tracking and Red is 5% low. The result of this is a slightly blue white point with a lack of the desired red energy. We have certainly seen far worse out of the box results for Greyscale but what is the killer blow here is the gamma tracking. As we can see gamma is too bright and excessively so from around 50IRE to 100IRE. This impacts quite severely with on-screen content looking washed out in the higher end of the luminance scale. This gives the image a very false looking black level and shadow details against brighter areas of the image being washed out. There is nothing we can do with this gamma curve as there is no calibration control. Overall whilst not a disaster when looking at the Greyscale tracking the gamma curve does add in an error that impacts quite visibly with on-screen content.
Moving to the colour gamut and things get worse. Before measuring the CT2E I did watch quite a bit of normal TV content and noticed a real lack of colour accuracy. This finding was proven to be the case on measuring the colour gamut as the panel struggles to produce the full gamut required for Rec.709 playback with red, yellow and green being off the mark quite severely. Red is undersaturated along with yellow, with both producing very pastel looking shades with a lack of accuracy apparent to the eye. Green also has a major hue error which results in the World cup pitches looking like they are unnaturally lush. In fact the more you examine the results here we can see that not one area of the results point to achieving any accuracy at all with the colour points. This manifests itself on screen with images that while colourful in some instances; are also extremely inaccurate to the source material, so a very poor results overall.
For the first time ever with our reviews, we have no calibrated results. This is down to one simple fact…there are no calibration tools available. Even trying to enter the service menu threw up issues with the CT2E not accepting any code we tried to access the service area. But even if we could have accessed the service menu I doubt we could have salvaged much from the Sharp as tidying the greyscale (the only thing we would have been able to do in the service menu) would not correct the colour gamut which is well short of the industry standards for reference images. Very disappointing and we urge Sharp to look at this situation as a matter of urgency for future budget models like the CT2E.
Sadly the bad news doesn’t stop with the lack of calibration controls, as it looks like the video processing in the Sharp CT2E is also of the budget nature. Scaling performance with SD material was average with some instances of ringing to fine edges. This was impacted with deinterlacing that struggled with diagonal lines resulting in jaggies on the bottom two bars in our HQV tests. This was also visible with SD football images with pitch lines showing up excessive jaggies. Finally the cadence detection of Pal 2:2 was also non-existent but the NTSC centric 3:2 did pass. Obviously the performance here can be bypassed by using a cable or Satellite box with better quality processing on board and feeding direct to the Sharp.
HD material fared slightly better with only slight jaggies seen with 1080i and 1080p signals from Blu-ray are solid with no issues. The Sharp played back 24p material with no induced judder.
Of course being a budget panel there is no frame interpolation motion compensation with the panel being a stripped down 50Hz model.
There will be a lot of users out there in the market for a cheap TV and in a showroom this Sharp will probably look ok under the strong lighting and in vivid mode. I’m sure it will attract the eyes of consumers using the age old trick of overly bright and strong images to draw attention. But let me just state here and now this is probably the biggest problem with TV sales today. Manufacturers like Sharp are proving the theory that they just want to sell you a TV and probably don’t really care about image quality, because if they did, they wouldn’t have released such a poor TV as this CT2E.
I have always said that there is no thing as a bad TV these days, but this is an example of a badly implemented picture performance. The image quality is pretty woeful in the extreme with washed out mid and high range brightness details and a weird off blue black level and shadow detail. Colours are wrong and stand out clearly as being so. The SKY News HD yellow ticker looks muted and pastel in its tone, skin tones look strangely off kilter with some material and, greens have a weird hue that makes grass look overly vibrant. And this is in the Cinema preset where things are as accurate as you are likely to get them. Looking at the Dynamic and Standard presets just enhance the issues further and brighter! The usual issues of image blur on pans or fast moving objects (that LCD is famous for is) seen without fail on the CT2E, with off-axis viewing also being poor. Contrast and colours fade quickly as soon as you start to move from the central viewing position. Blacks at first may appear to be strong, but feed the panel some testing film material such as 'The Dark Knight' and poor shadow detailing and big swashes of greys (with a blue tint) become apparent. There are also instances of backlight bleed and clouding. Moving to some colourful animation hides some of the weaknesses of the CT2E, but even here, colours feel undersaturated and pastel in their presentation. Again with whatever material you watch on the Sharp, the skewed gamma washes out mid-range and high end details in the image, with a brightness that cannot be tamed.
In games mode the CT2E had a lag time of 35ms which is an average result and may put off the faster gamers out there.
In the Cinema mode and using our three point measurements as 0IRE, 50IRE and 100IRE, the Sharp measured 130 watts at all three brightness points.
It truly is the first time in a long while that I have been utterly exasperated at the resulting image quality of an HDTV. Every model we have looked at so far in 2010 has had at least very basic calibration controls and one preset where an attempt at an accurate colour gamut has been made. After all, if you want to watch content as it should be seen that is the main aim of any TV. Just not this Sharp; which has a poorly performing panel in terms of colour gamut and no adjustment control available at all. And it is the skewed gamma that kills the image dynamics. Very poor. It may be cheap but it is also one to avoid if you value image quality that is accurate and natural.
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