Hands on: Sharp Aquos Beyond-4K Ultra-HD TV review

Sharp's new UHD is forging a path ahead where few others are willing to go: post-4K

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

I'm beyond excited to test Sharp's Beyond-4K for myself, but the lack of native content and prohibitive price tag has a very real chance of harshing my buzz.

For

  • Yellow sub-pixel
  • 66 million sub-pixels
  • Revelation upscaler

Against

  • Late 2015 release
  • Almost no native content
  • Ultra-HD is ultra pricey

There were some pretty impressive 4K TVs at CES 2015.

LG had a brand-new 4K OLED. Sony showed off its super-slim XBR-X900C. And Korean manufacturer Samsung debuted its Quantum Dot-killer, the Samsung SUHD.

But there was one TV that had twice as many sub-pixels as any of its competition: the Sharp Beyond 4K TV. Equipped with a new-and-improved 120Hz, Quattron+ panel, Revelation Upscaler and SPECTROS rich-color display perfect for HDR-quality streaming, Sharp's flagship tellie will take visual fidelity to post-4K quality when it launches in late 2015.

The yellow dot

So how exactly is Sharp getting a leg up on the competition? A simple yellow sub-pixel. Well, OK, maybe it's not that simple.

Without getting too technical, think of each pixel like a flashlight with three colors, red, blue and green.

In a typical LED display each pixel can use the flashlight to create any variation on those colors. Maybe it would use 10% of the red light and 40% of the blue light to create a dark purple or flash them all simultaneously to generate white. Got it? Good.

Sharp's proprietary Quattron+ panels add a fourth sub-pixel, yellow, into the mix. And if that wasn't enough, splits each pixel in half effectively doubling the amount of pixels in the same area. This results in a maximum of 66 million independently controlled sub-pixels on-screen at one time. Which, if you were wondering, is 42 million sub-pixels more than standard 4K sets.

Now that's a lot of flashlights.

Sharp blinded me with science

What you just read was the non-technical section.

The truth behind the technology involves using red and green phosphorus in the manufacturing process, as well as a bit of on-screen color correction.

If you look at a typical TV calibration chart you'll see that vibrant reds and greens are the most difficult to achieve using a standard LED screen. Using the di-color phosphorus means the sub-pixels don't need to work so hard to achieve brilliant greens, golds and oranges, while a back-end blue LED achieves better contrast on the front-end.

This technology is called SPECTROS, and according to Sharp it gives its displays a "21 percent wider color spectrum than conventional LED HDTVs."

SPECTROS works hand-in-hand with the Beyond-4K's full-array LED backlighting with local-dimming and High Dynamic Range technology to digitally enhance contrast.

Content, content everywhere and not a pixel of it to watch

So far, so good. Sharp's got a killer new panel that's leveraging cutting-edge tech to bring post-4K content to the masses. We like it. There's just one problem.

Almost nothing is shot in 8K quality, and very little is shot in 4K. In fact, there's just a single camera in the entire world that shoots native 8K video: an Astro AH-4800, unveiled in 2013.

Now, we here at TechRadar don't like to clip a technology's wings before it can fly, but it seems like Sharp has pushed its panel beyond what the average consumer wants.

Sharp Beyond 4K UHD review

The buoy on the water is Sharp's Revelation upscaler that can upconvert all standard HD and 4K content to take advantage of the extra pixels. Supposing all goes well in the final version, the upscaler could take in 4K content and convert it to an even higher resolution.

Whether or not the resulting version looks any better remains to be seen, and will be the first thing we test when we get our hands on a unit later this year.

Smart Central or Android TV, you can't go wrong

That's it for the cold, hard facts. Because the TV launches so late in the year, Sharp representatives on the showfloor couldn't tell me one way or another what platform their high-end panel would pack. However, I was told it would come down to either Android TV or Smart Central, either of which pack a bevy of benefits and challenges.

Let's start with Smart Central. Its big improvement this year is its simplified UI that starts with four simple options (channels, discover, devices, setup) and offers quick- and full-view menus.

Click into channels for example and you'll find your eight most-watched channels waiting for you. In quick-view, you'll be able to preview each one before making your choice. Take it into full-view and you'll bring up a guide similar to what you'd find from your cable provider.

Discover works the same way, but with curated content from the web. Smart Central will come with Hulu, Netflix and YouTube out of the box, but it sounds like it could be sometime before Amazon Instant and HBO Go join the party. Sources and Setup work in the same way, and aren't worth the words to explain them.

Android TV on the other hand offers more content than Smart Central, but the open nature of the platform means more shovelware will likely sneak its way in. Pessimism aside, benefits include being able to download any app on Android TV's store, Bluetooth controller support and Google Cast. Not a bad trade.

Early verdict

The Aquos Beyond-4K packs some interesting technology into its behemoth 80-inch screen. Having a yellow sub-pixel could make for better color accuracy than Sharp's previous models, and I feel good with the panel's underlying platform - whether that turns out to be Android TV or its proprietary platform, Smart TV.

If the yellow sub-pixel and pixel splitting technology didn't already put it there, financially speaking, the Beyond-4K TV will be in a league of its own. There hasn't been any specific numbers announced, but considering Sharp's UH30 line of TVs are expected $3,199.99 for a 70-inch and rockets up to $5,999.99 for an 80-inch, it's not unrealistic to expect Sharp's latest set to cost well-over $6,000 when it launches in late 2015.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.