For a TV brand that used to be one of the best-known and most widely respected in the UK, Sharp has been mighty quiet for the past couple of years.
Its range of available TVs has shrunk markedly, and review samples have been few and far between. But it's snapped right back onto my radar, for sat before me is a new Sharp TV that combines a large 60-inch screen with my favourite feature-du-jour, a native 4K/UHD resolution.
The fact that the 60UD20 is a native UHD TV is actually quite a relief given that Sharp has previously been keen on a 'pseudo'-4K technology, Quattron+, that uses extra sub-pixels to produce a resolution that supposedly sits somewhere between HD and UHD/4K. With other brands already doing native 4K TVs at pretty aggressive prices, the time for pseudo-4K tech seems to have passed, frankly.
The 60UD20 houses its 3840 x 2160 pixels inside a very attractive body. Its exceptionally slim bezel minimises the impact owning a 60-inch TV has on your living space, while the mix of a silvery trim and glossy black for the main frame works handsomely. Even the desktop stand arrangement is eye-catching in its use of striking half-oval 'legs' at each end of the bottom edge.
Just bear in mind that putting the legs at the 60UD20's edges means you'll need to sit it on a piece of furniture that's at least as wide as the TV.
Connections on the 60UD20 initially look spot on. Particularly welcome are its four HDMIs, which are built to the latest 4K-friendly v2.0 standard to support 60p 4K playback. Also good to find are two USBs and an SD card for playing back multimedia files (SD card slots remain bizarrely rare in the TV world), as well as both Wi-Fi and LAN network options. What's more, the Wi-Fi options are truly 'built in' with the 60UD20, rather than requiring a slot-in USB dongle as has been the case with other recent Sharp TVs.
No Netflix UHD
Deeper exploration of the 60UD20's connections, though, uncovers a fairly significant shortcoming. Namely that the streaming support doesn't extend to decoding the 4K HEVC format used by Netflix (and, very likely, other 4K streaming services in the future).
With Netflix being the only widely available 'mainstream' source of 4K/UHD material, the 60UD20's inability to play it is clearly a significant blow. Though it's a blow that may be softened in the coming months by the arrival of external streaming solutions.
Shifting focus to the 60UD20's picture specifications, the native 4K/UHD panel is clearly a great starting point. It's something of a relief too, to find that the screen is built in Sharp's own factories rather than being one of those troublesome low-contrast IPS panel types from LG that have found their way into rather a lot of TVs from various brands over the course of 2014.
Note, though, that the 60UD20 doesn't employ one of Sharp's Quattron panels, where a fourth yellow sub-pixel is added to the usual RGB sub pixels.
Sharp drives the LEDs producing the 60UD20's pictures with a degree of local control to boost contrast, and provides a huge roster of picture calibration tools, including full gamma, white balance and colour management.
So extensive are the 60UD20's set-up options, in fact, that they've helped it earn the endorsement of the independent THX quality assurance group – an endorsement which also, crucially, shows that the 60UD20 is considered by THX as being capable of delivering a high performance standard.
So far as picture processing is concerned, as well as the usual noise reduction systems, local contrast controls and other contrast boosters there's a circuit that delivers a pseudo-800Hz motion system.
Any relatively high-end TV these days needs some sort of smart TV system. So it's a shame this is an area where Sharp continues to struggle to keep up with most of its big-name rivals, with the system on the 60UD20 looking basic and providing relatively little content.
The only apps of note available during my time testing the set were Netflix and YouTube. There are a few other more niche video streaming offerings, but key stuff like the ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5 and Amazon Instant are all AWOL. In fact, even the BBC iPlayer wasn't there during my time testing the TV, but Sharp promises this is due any day now…