As a 40-inch LCD TV with LED backlighting, the first thing we need to do in this review is nail what bit of the LED world it belongs to.

And rather surprisingly, it turns out that it's a direct LED model - as in, one where the LED lights are positioned directly behind the screen, rather than being positioned around the screen's frame as happens with edge-lit LED LCD TVs such as Samsung's B7000 and B8000 ranges.

The reason this is surprising is that direct LED lighting is still generally considered to be the 'premium' LED approach in quality terms, and so not the technology you might expect on a self-consciously affordable LED-lit TV.

It has to be said Samsung has done a pretty solid job of countering the 'direct is best' idea with some of the arguments it's put forward to support its edge LED TVs - and there's no denying that Samsung's B7000 and B8000 ranges have been for the most part outstanding TVs.

But the direct LED TVs will always have one movie-loving trick the edge approach won't: local dimming.

Sharp 40le700e

In other words, with direct LED TVs it's possible to control each cluster of LEDs behind the screen individually, so that you could, for instance, have one cluster completely turned off to give a really deep black in that section of the picture, at the same time that the neighbouring cluster can be running at full brightness to give a really bright white.

You don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that having local control over brightness in this way can have a pretty profound impact on contrast compared with normal LCD lighting, where the image is being driven by a single, always-on light source.

The only potential problem with the system - and one we'll return to during the performance part of this test - is that there are nowhere near as many LED clusters lighting the picture as there are pixels in the full HD screen

Although Sharp is cagey about exactly how many clusters there are, we suspect the number is substantially less than the 224 being sported by, say, Philips' new PFL9704 direct LED screens.

Sharp 40le700e

What this means in picture terms is that the local dimming might not be able to get the light levels exactly right for every pixel in the picture.

This was certainly a big issue with early direct LED TVs, but successive generations have made huge improvements, so hopefully the 40" 40LE700E will continue this progression.

One smaller point worth making about the 40LE700E's LED make up is that it uses white dimming rather than the RGB dimming found on a few much more expensive LED-lit TVs - including Sharp's own ultra high-end XS1E models and Sony's Z4500s.

RGB dimming is reckoned to give a richer, more expansive colour performance - though we have to say from what we've seen that the cheaper white version used here arguably produces a colour palette better suited to current video standards.

Turning to rather more prosaic matters, the 40LE700E is a bit of a mixed bag aesthetically.

Viewed straight on, its glossy, minimalist bezel, bold triangular blue power light and subtle infusion of blue along the extreme bottom edge make for an attractive proposition.

But if you're sat to the side, you can't help but notice how chunky and utterly bland its rear is. In this respect, at least, edge LED-lit TVs have a clear advantage.

The 40LE700E's connections improve on those found on its cheaper LE600E siblings in that they include a handy extra HDMI - bringing the total to four - and add a USB port capable of playing MP3 audio and JPEG photo files.

All the other bits and bobs you'd normally expect on any modern TV - Scarts, CAM slot to support the Freeview tuner, digital audio output and so on - are also present and correct.

You don't get any Ethernet or wireless connectivity for accessing PC files or the internet, but we can live without this if it's one of the reasons Sharp's been able to make the LE700E so affordable.

Since it's what chiefly separates the LE700E range from the LE600E range, you could argue that the most important single feature of the 40LE700E is its 100Hz engine, there to double the frame rate and in the process hopefully reduce LCD's tendency to blur moving objects.

In fact, adding to the potential importance of this feature is the fact that our main criticism of the LE600E models has been the extent to which they suffer from motion blur. So if the 40LE700E can put this issue to bed, we're likely to be very happy bunnies.