Having fallen a bit behind its TV rivals over the past couple of years, Sharp clearly needs a stand-out product. Cue the 40LE600E, which introduces direct LED backlighting to the masses for the first time.
The direct LED lighting that's the 40LE600E's main talking point needs more explanation. LED light sources offer a variety of advantages over normal CCFL lamps, ranging from running efficiencies and performance benefits to aesthetic considerations.
There are two ways of using LED lights in a TV: you can put them around the edge of the screen, firing across it, or directly behind the screen, shooting straight forward.
By choosing the direct system, Sharp has delivered a fairly chubby set that isn't anywhere near as sexily slim as Samsung's latest edge LED TVs. However, it does mean the 40LE600E can offer a key feature that the edge system can't: local dimming.
Since the LED clusters can be controlled individually, it's possible to turn sections of them off in dark parts of a picture, potentially producing a far deeper black level response than you'd get from a normal LCD TV.
The 40LE600E is the first sub-£2K TV to use white dimming rather than RGB. So while it might not deliver quite the same colour accuracy and range as the more costly latter approach, it is the cheapest LED TV we've seen.
Surprisingly, the 40LE600E doesn't have much else to shout about on the feature front. All that's worth mentioning are its three HDMIs, and the fact that the new X-gen panel uses a wider pixel aperture design to enhance brightness. Annoyingly, the USB port is for service purposes only.
Ease of use
The 40LE600E's onscreen menus aren't particularly exciting, but they get the job done. And the relative lack of features prevents any serious brain strain.
But we've marked the set down because of its plasticky remote control that has an obtuse layout, labels that are impossible to read in a darkened room, plus some miniature, commonly used buttons.
In most ways this set's pictures are a huge advance on Sharp's standard LCD models. The most obvious difference, as expected, can be seen during dark scenes.
Gone is Sharp's customary bluish wash, and in its place are blacks that look, well, black. What's more, the 40LE600E delivers on LED's contrast promise by enabling really bright whites and colours to sit right alongside the impressively deep black levels.
There's perhaps not quite as much subtle shadow detailing in dark areas as you get with, for example, a decent plasma screen or Samsung's edge LED models. Also, the TV's optional dynamic contrast system can cause a little greyness in shots with mixed brightness, as well as a few obvious brightness level 'jumps'.
But while black levels aren't perfect, they are certainly very good indeed.
The 40LE600E also excels with its colour reproduction. The white dimming hasn't stopped colours from roaring out of the screen with amazing intensity, during dark and light scenes alike.
The 40LE600E's innate sharpness is pretty good too, as it does a good job of capturing the clarity that makes HD so lovable.
And finally, we were relieved to find the TV remaining largely free of the white halo phenomenon sometimes witnessed with direct LED TVs. When the 40LE600E is at its best, its pictures really are sensational. But unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.
For starters, the TV's dynamic preset is pretty diabolical, featuring horribly forced colours and far too much noise. Next, while the 40LE600E's standard-definition colours are a vast improvement on the odd tones we've regularly witnessed with Sharp's regular LCD TVs, SD pictures aren't scaled up to the full HD resolution particularly cleanly.
The 40LE600E's final and worst problem is that it loses sharpness when showing motion. Not enough to make the picture look actually smeary, but sufficient to take the sharpness out of HD footage during motion-packed sequences, making us look forward to Sharp's upcoming 100Hz LED models.
The 40LE600E's speakers don't succumb to distortion even under real pressure, there's a good amount of detail, and vocals are always impressively intelligible.
The downside, predictably, is that there's not enough bass around to make sound such as explosions particularly convincing – an issue which can also leave some trebles sounding over-bright.
The £1,100 price is pretty fair for a 40in TV that uses cutting edge technology to such generally impressive effect.
But, given that Samsung's impressive 40B550 LCD model costs half as much, a bit more multimedia savvy may have made this TV a slightly easier sell.
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