Sharp's SQ15U and UQ17U Q+ televisions are not 4K TVs, but they can receive a 4K signal. With the LC60SQ15U, Sharp hopes to provide a bridge between 1080p (HD) and 4K (UHD) resolutions.
Surprisingly, the resolution isn't even the TV's most unconventional quality. Picture purists may be alarmed to know that the SQ15U is engineered to look different than almost any other HDTV on the market—its backlight LEDs are notably blue.
That said, we can't wholly advise consumers against this TV: You might like how it looks, after all. Underneath the blue veil, the SQ15U produces solid black levels, good motion performance, decent light uniformity, and accurate color—all hallmarks of a quality panel. Additionally, if you're on the fence about 4K, the SQ15U serves as a bridge between the content available today, and what's on the horizon.
For $1,800 online, the 60-inch SQ15U is fairly priced—but it's also very eccentric. All content is optimized to be played back on displays that adhere to a particular set of "rules," and this Sharp breaks them flagrantly. Make of that what you will.
4K versus FauxK
Traditionally, digital displays have three sub-pixels—small rectangular transistors that make up each pixel, or dot. Sharp TVs add a fourth to the mix and then split it in half, vertically, so that the sub-pixel count is drastically increased. Where "normal" 1080p TVs have 6 million sub-pixels, the Q+ TVs have 16 million sub-pixels. You can think of the Q+ TVs as "half 4K," at least in sub-pixel count.
You can read about this in more detail on the Science Page.
Kind of blue
Something is rotten in the state of Quattron.
Not to be dramatic, but this TV is bizarre. The LEDs used in its backlight are more blue than usual, an intentional design choice, but a controversial one. Everything is therefore tinged with blue.
Just looking at a TV only tells a reviewer so much, though, which is why we test in a controlled laboratory and use light-measuring equipment: to see how correct a TV is. There are concrete, mathematical HDTV ideals set forth by the International Telecommunication Union, and that's what we test against. That is also the standard that filmmakers, for example, use when mastering content—so it looks the same around the world.
I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey side-by-side on this Sharp and on our reference TV (a plasma), and the difference in white balance was severe. For example, during the scene where Bilbo and the Dwarves are fleeing into a tree to escape pursuit, the Sharp rendered the sky, plumes of smoke, and even the green needles of the tree with a tinge of blue.
Obviously, this deviation isn't nearly as apparent without a side-by-side comparison: Because the human eye is very insensitive to the color blue, it might not look wrong to you at all—it doesn't look as bizarre as it sounds. In fact, while TV manufacturers have been adding a little blue to the white balance for years, this is something entirely different.
To continue on a positive note, outside of the odd white balance, this Sharp does plenty of things right. I measured a healthy minimum luminance level, for example, and solid contrast performance overall. Blue or no blue, viewers can expect dark, shadowy scenes to look convincingly inky, while colors are mostly accurate and even: Green, and its secondary yellow, are a little over-saturated within the TV's native color space.
One of this TV's biggest strengths has nothing to do with light production. The Sharp LC60SQ15U wields a 120 Hz panel capable of 240 Hz imitation—in English, that means it does a solid job avoiding blurring, tearing, and trailing during motion content. Naturally, appreciation of this will vary from viewer to viewer. If you're watching sports, for example, you'll want to crank up the Aquomotion setting to get a free-flowing appearance. If you're watching the latest James Bond film, though, you'll notice the dreaded "Soap Opera Effect." Proceed with caution.
Basically, if there's one thing to keep in mind about the LC60SQ15U, it's that it isn't for purists. If you own a home theater and are used to the uncompressed appearance and color depth of Blu-ray discs, they're going to look wrong on this TV without a lengthy calibration (although it can meet standards, as you'll see on the Science Page).
Other kinds of content, though? Sharp seems confident that compressed content delivered via cable, satellite, and certain streaming apps will look better on its blueish Q+ than on standard HDTVs. This claim is purely subjective as far as we know, however—so take it with a grain of salt.
You could say this TV is a ... sharp dresser.
If there's one thing about a Sharp TV that immediately sets it apart from the competition, it's how low the panel sits on the stand—the LC60SQ15U is no different.
The silver-wrapped screen sits atop the "Wing" stand, ultimately resting only a few inches above the tabletop. Narrow bezels and a slim panel give this TV a modern air, and it looks equally good on a TV stand or mounted to the wall.
Sharp's "wallpaper mode" is another design flourish worth mentioning. This setup allows the user to turn the TV screen into a pretty painting or a digital clock while it's not in use. Obviously, the wallpaper mode naturally uses more energy than if you turn the TV off entirely.
Power viewers rejoice—the LC60SQ15U delivers an almost absurd amount of video connection options, so you can hook up all your game machines and disc doodads without complaint.
In an L-shaped cutout on the back of the panel, you'll find four HDMI inputs, two USB inputs, VGA (D-sub) in, an RS-232c control port, four analog audio inputs, digital and analog audio outputs, a coaxial jack for cable or antenna connections, LAN (ethernet) in, a component video input (YPbPr), and two composite (RCA) inputs.
Alongside the panel and stand, you'll find a single, complicated remote control. This long, infrared wand has a ton of buttons, most of which are within easy reach of the thumb, though if you have smaller hands you'll find yourself adjusting your grip a lot.
Smart Central gets the overhaul it deserves.
In the past, we've had our qualms with Sharp's smart platform, "Smart Central." This year, the platform is looking a lot better. It isn't perfect yet, but it's a step in the right direction.
Connect the SQ15U to a wired or wireless signal and press the remote's Smart Central button to find the TV's app bar. The bar can be customized, but by default it features the most popular streaming options: Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, etc.
Press the button a second time to access the full Smart Central platform, which is now organized into three content pages: TV, Streaming, and Apps. With the TV page, Sharp has finally jumped onto the cable integration bandwagon. You can select your region and cable provider, and available content will be listed here—trust me, it looks much better than a typical cable menu.
The Streaming page works in a similar fashion, except instead of pulling content from a cable provider, it provides a customized list of streaming options—movies, TV shows, documentaries—from various providers. As you might guess, the Apps page organizes a handful of less-popular apps between categories like News, Entertainment, and Lifestyle. There's a lot of shovel ware here—junk that hardly anyone will use. That said, at least it's kept out of the way in its own section.
Oh, and the web browser is still terrible with a remote control. Get a wireless mouse/keyboard, or the app for your smartphone, if you're going to go down that road.
Sharp's software menu remains almost entirely unchanged this year. There are still an exhaustive amount of sub-menus and options, and setting up the SQ15U exactly the way you like it will take some learning. The Picture, Sound, Network, and Setup menus are just what you'd expect, but there are a few extra picture options that require more explanation.
The Resolution Enhanced modes under the Advanced picture settings are what really sets the Q+ TVs apart from Sharp's other 1080p options this year. There are two of these modes, and they add sharpening, luminance, and more of that aforementioned blue tinge, effectively imitating the appearance of 4K content.
On a Blu-ray disc like Planet Earth, it looks really good—not so much for a film like Gladiator, however, with lots of dark, warm scenes. The Resolution Enhanced modes also notably detract from sub-1080p sources, making them look unnaturally sharp—oh, the irony.
The blue elephant in the room
Securing a 60-inch LCD TV for the current online price of $1,800 is honestly not a bad deal (though Vizio has shaken up the definition of deal this year). And when you consider the inherent flexibility in Sharp's Q+ technology, it makes the price more palatable.
There's still the question of whether a TV that effectively distorts any and all content is any good. Like consumer headphones that boost bass to complement certain musical genres, the SQ15U boosts blue to complement... something. All we can confirm is that sometimes it looks awful, and sometimes it looks great. It all depends on what you're watching.
Whether or not you want to take a chance on two new technologies in a single product is up to you. Both have potential benefits and potential drawbacks—if you're looking for a low maintenance option, this probably isn't it.
The Sharp LC60SQ15U is an odd TV. Not only can it display 4K content despite not actually being a 4K TV (3,840 x 2,160 pixels), its backlight is engineered specifically to exhibit a blue quality. For this reason, our hardware and software reported severe deviations in terms of white balance (black, gray, and white) and RGB (sub-pixel) balance.
In terms of dynamic performance, however, the SQ15U stands up to scrutiny: It produces solid black levels and is bright enough to combat even very high amounts of ambient lighting. Additionally, its gamma curve—which dictates how much luminance is added at each signal level—can be calibrated for optimal performance in either dark or bright environments.
Calibrating the SQ15U was no easy feat, primarily due to eccentricities within its backlight control. In order to adhere to the proper white balance for HDTVs, tons of blue had to be removed from the sub-pixel balance. There are various "white points" that digital displays can adhere to, but the standard is called D65, and it's what TV content around the world is mastered to. The exact coordinates for D65 on the 1931 color space (x=0.313, y=0.329) adhere to a correlated "color temperature" of 6500K, hence the name.
To correct a TV's white point, I would normally begin by using a 2-step white balance control to correct the RGB balance. A display's 2-step control is what manages the dark and bright halves of the grayscale. After that, I would fine-tune my work using a 10-step white balance control, which would get into more detail and really iron out all the remaining kinks.
With the SQ15U, this process wasn't possible. Once I had tinkered with the 2-step controls, I entered the 10-step white balance controls to finish the job—only to find that the previous corrections I made with the 2-step controls were discarded. The SQ15U makes you choose one or the other, it won't let you use both sets of controls. Since I couldn't reduce the blue as much using the 10-step controls as with the 2-step, I wound up not using the 10-step controls at all.
During the calibration process, we use CalMan 5 in combination with color and light meters to set a TV's luminance as close as possible to "black room" ideals: 40 fL (or 120 cd/m2 ) and a gamma sum of 2.4. I had no trouble honing down the TV's gamma sum, but completely correcting the exact gamma points along the grayscale was impossible due to the disconnect between the white balance controls. The TV's CMS (Color Management System) allowed for great flexibility in adjusting the hue and saturation of the primary and secondary color points, but the Value control (for color luminance) had no affect on the relative luminance of the points within the gamut as a whole.
The LC60SQ15U's unique ability to display a native 4K signal without actually being a 4K panel is made possible by Sharp's Quattron technology, which adds a fourth sub-pixel to the usual three sub-pixel setup. That probably doesn't make any sense—just bear with me for a moment.
Traditionally, digital displays have three sub-pixels, small rectangular transistors that make up each pixel, or picture element. Think of them like peas, and the pixel is the pod. Almost all digital displays use a red, green, and blue sub-pixel setup, but Sharp TVs add a fourth sub-pixel—yellow.
The Q+ TVs start with Sharp's four sub-pixel build and then split it in half, vertically. So while there are still 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels, the actual sub-pixel count is drastically increased. Where "normal" 1080p TVs have 6 million sub-pixels, the Q+ TVs have 16 million sub-pixels.
A 4K TV has 24 million sub-pixels, so you can think of these Q+ TVs as "half 4K," at least in sub-pixel count. These extra sub-pixels allow the LC60SQ15U to play 4K content even though it isn't actually a 4K TV.
A television's contrast ratio is determined by dividing its luminance at 100 IRE (peak white) by its luminance at 0 IRE (black). A higher number, preferably over 1000:1, complements numerous aspects of the display's picture quality, chiefly immersion.
I measured a solid black level of 0.065 cd/m2 within the SQ15U's Movie picture pre-set—this was with the Backlight at its default level. The corresponding brightness (using the ANSI checkerboard pattern) was a somewhat dim 94.72 cd/m2 –so if you're watching in a room with lots of ambient lighting, you'll want to turn up the Backlight to +16 or more.
Our viewing angle test measures a TV's contrast integrity at off-angles—when the contrast ratio falls below 50% of its head-on value at a particular angle, we consider this the limit of viewing flexibility.
The SQ15U tested with a decent total viewing angle of 66°, or ±33° from the center to either side. You won't be able to watch from extreme off-angles like you would with a plasma or an OLED TV, but you can expect an average amount of flexibility nonetheless.
A color gamut illustrates where a TV's colors fall (in hue and saturation) compared to Rec. 709 ideals. Errors in color production affect the balance and vivacity of whatever you're watching, and are often the difference between a good TV and a great TV.
In Movie mode, the SQ15U exhibits accurate colors, though not without small discrepancies. You wouldn't notice oversaturated greens during most content, for example, but you might note clipping and blurring in a nature documentary with a lot of foliage—or worse, never know what you're missing. Using the TV's CMS (Color Management System), I was able to correct these small errors to ensure maximum detail retention and color purity.
What's more telling here is the TV's white point—it falls way outside of the ideal coordinates, skewing heavily into blue, which affects not only the purity/hue of whites, but of grays and blacks as well. Scenes with neutral tones, like a dark night sky, stormy clouds, or bright white snow end up tinted with a blue tinge.
Our grayscale and RGB balance tests made the SQ15U's deviation from standard performance very obvious.
A television's grayscale refers to its range of black, gray, and white shades, and error within that grayscale is represented by a collective number called DeltaE. An ideal grayscale DeltaE is 3 or less—any more means visible deviation from standards. We measured a whopping DeltaE of 17.46—basically, every shade of the grayscale is tinged with blue. Using the TV's 2-point white balance controls, I was able to reduce this to 2.49, just below the acceptable ideal.
Taking a closer look at that grayscale error, we can see where most of it comes from: an imbalance of emphasis within the red, green, and blue sub-pixel matrix. Blue is heavily emphasized throughout the entire grayscale, eventually growing so prevalent within the signal that the green sub-pixel is pushed almost completely out.
A gamma sum reveals how quickly (or slowly) a TV adds luminance along the grayscale as it travels from minimum luminance (black) to maximum luminance (white). Gamma sums range from 1.8 (where a display gets bright quickly) to 2.6 (where a display gets bright slowly), but most TVs adhere to 2.2, 2.3, or 2.4.
Prior to calibration, the SQ15U exhibited a gamma sum of 2.22—very close to the 2.2 standard, which is employed for environments with a medium amount of ambient lighting. During calibration, I used the display's 2-point white balance control to to edge it closer to a 2.4 ideal, which is better for a dim or dark room. Unfortunately, it was impossible to line up all of the points precisely because of the TV's 2-point/10-point control disconnect.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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