What you will find is decent performance for your dollar. While the 551U definitely has a few drawbacks—a narrow viewing angle, for example, and some uniformity problems—overall it's not a bad TV at all. Securing a 1080p model in this size for $300 (or $250 online) is a solid deal, and there's nothing so egregious about the picture quality that you couldn't overlook it for that price.

Just keep in mind that for about the same price you could also buy Vizio's 32-inch E Series, or for $30 more get Samsung's 32-inch H5203, both smart TVs that perform a little better overall.

The Sharp LC-32LE551U is a mixed performance bag, touting its fair share of both high and low points. Time in the lab revealed solid black levels—always a plus—but a surprising lack of overall luminance and brightness for an edge-lit LED TV. The contrast ratio is still better than average, but with a little more output this Sharp would be far more fearsome. Likewise, the TV's color production is mostly on point, but oversaturation causes some detail loss in green and yellow objects. Finally, a very narrow viewing angle means you're forced to sit front-and-center to get the best picture.

Pretty sleek for the price

It's hard to find an affordable, entry-level TV that still looks decent, but Sharp pulls it off. The 551U sports super-thin bezels, a hollow rectangular stand, and a trim, modern profile. The bezels and stand are glossy, which looks great at first, but also means the 551U easily transforms into a fingerprint-magnet if you're not careful.

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Glossy bezels and a hollow stand lend the 551U a modern appearance.

You'll find video and audio ports tucked into a recessed area on the back of the TV. A single USB input allows the 551U to play JPEG, MP3, or MPEG-2 files from a connected device. There are also two HDMI inputs, a coaxial jack, shared component/composite hookups, optical audio out, and analog stereo output via RCA.

Other than the panel and stand, the only thing in the box is a simple infrared remote control. It's nothing special—just cheap plastic—but it works reliably.

We calibrate each TV we test to observe how closely it matches international standards out of the box, and also to demonstrate to consumers what it's capable of with an informed calibration. We calibrate in a black-room environment, seeking a reference white (100 IRE) output of about 40 foot-Lamberts and a flat gamma curve of 2.4.

Because it's an entry-level TV, the 551U lacks a full suite of calibration controls, so I wasn't able to perfect it during calibration. There's no gamma pre-set slider or CMS (Color Management System), although Sharp does include a 2-point white balance control. I increased the Backlight preset in Movie mode from 40 to 59, and removed a good amount of red push from the upper half of the grayscale.

Sharp-LE551U-Calibration.jpg

Because it lacks a CMS or gamma selector, calibration can only do so much to correct the 551U's performance issues.

Keep It Simple, Sharp

The entry-level 551U doesn't blow your mind with incredible 3D images. It won't re-write the story of your connected life by syncing with devices on your home network. You can't even do something as simple as streaming Netflix... honestly, it's kind of refreshing. Your interactions with this TV are essentially limited to adjusting picture and audio settings. Sharp includes a generous suite of picture controls for an entry-level TV, continuing the focus on picture quality versus bells and whistles. In fact, this TV might be perfect if you already own a modern gaming console or a streaming stick.

The 551U might be perfect if you already own a modern gaming console or a streaming stick.

The Picture menu supplies numerous calibration pre-sets, called AV Modes, to optimize the TV for varying use cases. With numerous modes—User, Standard, Movie, Game, Dynamic, and Sports—as well as ample controls to toggle within each mode, the possibilities can be confusing if you haven't bought a new TV in a while. Suffice it to say that the Active Contrast and Enhance Color options do precisely what they claim to, but they also cause a bit of input lag during video games.

Additionally, the 551U boasts a number of audio options, such as an EQ (equalizer) and surround sound imitation. Finally, if you are a picture quality hobbyist, you'll be euphoric over the included color temperature selector and 2-point white balance controls.

The 551U is an odd bird for an edge-lit LED TV. While most TVs like this are very bright, but foster washed-out black levels, this Sharp is the opposite. I measured a solid black level of 0.03 cd/m2 while using the ANSI standard checkerboard pattern, but a reference white output of only 112 cd/m2 , which is not terribly bright. Even with the backlight at maximum, the TV barely breaks 200 cd/m^ 2, meaning it's not a good performer in well-lit environments.

Even still, the black level is good enough that the TV sports a contrast ratio of 3,733:1, which is above average, and is probably one of this TV's best traits.

Sharp-LE551U-Contrast.jpg

A great black level lends this somewhat dim Sharp a contrast ratio over 3,000:1.

You might wonder whether a wide viewing angle matters for a 32-inch TV, but when it's as narrow as this, you'll almost certainly notice it. Our viewing angle test measures how far from center you can watch a TV before the picture degrades past enjoyable viewing, and the 551U doesn't lend viewers much flexibility. I measured a total viewing angle of only 32°, or ±16° from the center to either side of the screen. You'll have to watch from head-on to get the best picture, which might make for close quarters on movie night.

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The 551U tested with a very narrow total viewing angle of 32°.

A mix of pros and cons

From a pure performance perspective, the Sharp LC-32LE551U is a mixed bag, but overall we think plenty of consumers could enjoy this TV.

Testing revealed solid shadow production, for example, but they were coupled with disappointing highlights. While watching The Dark Knight on Blu-ray, black areas of the screen looked great, but the rest of the image appeared flat and hazy because the TV doesn't get very bright.

Black areas of the screen looked great, but the rest of the image appeared flat and hazy because the TV doesn't get very bright.

If you're a fan of bright, flashy colors, you won't be let down by this Sharp. It tends to oversaturate greens, losing slight details in things like grassy fields, but its color production is otherwise quite accurate. Transitions between color gradations are smooth and even, though they tend to show some banding as the TV grows brighter.

If there's one thing I'd advise, it's to watch this TV in a dim room rather than in a very bright or pitch-black one. Because it doesn't get very bright, the image struggles to compete with lots of ambient light (like overhead lamps or sunny windows). On the other hand, astute viewers might notice subtle but present uniformity issues in a totally dark room, especially during dark-gray patterns.

Astute viewers might notice subtle but present uniformity issues in a totally dark room, especially during dark-gray patterns.

I also spent a few days playing video games on this TV (it's a rough part of the job, but someone has to do it), and I was impressed with its motion performance and input lag. Input lag refers to how long it takes a TV to display the input from a connected source like a video game console. The only reason you wouldn't want to pick this TV up for dorm-room game night is the viewing angle—people sitting at obtuse angles get cheated out of a good viewing experience.

A smart choice for value shoppers who don't need smart features

With decent color production, healthy contrast, good black levels, and an affordable price point, the glossy 551U series would be right at home in a dorm room, guest room, bedroom, kitchen, or garage as your go-to for prime time cable or video games. The narrow viewing angle might limit group viewing a bit, but in this size class, that's not as much of a problem. This Sharp won't blow you away, but for the sale price ($259 online) it's a solid display.

If you don't want to deal with setting up smart features or jumping through menu hoops, keep the LC-32LE551U on your radar.

Of course, there's a lot of competition in the bargain range this year, especially if you need smart functionality. Exhibit A: Vizio's 32-inch E Series, which features a simple, useful smart platform and full-array local dimming, but is also cheaply built.

Still, if you don't want to deal with setting up smart features or jumping through menu hoops, you might prefer this Sharp for its superior design and appealing price tag. If you're in the latter group, keep the LC-32L551U on your radar.
A color gamut is a visual representation of all of the millions of colors a TV can produce. The gamut, usually triangular in shape, lives inside of a color space that represents the colors available to human vision. TVs adhere to a gamut requirement called Rec. 709, which dictates the exact hue and saturation of their red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, and white production.

The 551U performed alright here, but oversaturates green quite a bit. This performance isn't something that can be corrected with calibration controls, and makes for some detail loss during scenes with lots of green highlights—grassy fields, meadows, and the like.

Sharp-LE551U-Gamut.jpg

The 551U produces fairly accurate colors, but tends to oversaturate green, meaning details in green highlights are a little hard to see.

If you thought "grayscale" was some weird disease in a fantasy novel, you're probably right, but it also refers to the neutral shades created by a TV. Black, gray, and white elements are produced via additive color, meaning a combination of the TV's red, green, and blue production. This is, obviously, a tricky way to create colorless elements, and takes a careful balance of emphasis, like a skilled juggler at the big top.

When TVs add elements of color, such as blue or red tinting, or produce white that's too "warm" or "cool," this is measured in a collective of error called DeltaE. We like to see a DeltaE of 3 or less within the grayscale, but out of the box the 551U tested with a DeltaE of 5.06. Using the TV's 2-point white balance control, I reduced the total error to just above 3.

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The 551U tested with a grayscale DeltaE of a little over 5 out of the box—not a perfect result, but really not too bad.

Error within the grayscale is almost always the result of improperly emphasized colors within neutral shades. Over-emphasizing one color often results in under-emphasis of the other two, which can also cause color production issues and, of course, tinted grayscale elements. In the case of the 551U, it tends to eventually push red at the expense of green and blue, resulting in the grayscale error noted above. Using the TV's built-in 2-point white balance, I removed the excess red, resulting in a slightly better RGB balance.

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In Movie mode, the 551U tends to over-emphasize red within the grayscale, resulting in under-emphasis of blue and green.

Gamma is one of those performance points that's not very sexy, but is still really important to how a TV functions. Gamma refers to the luminance increase at each step of a TV's electrical light output from black to reference white, or from 0 IRE to 100 IRE. Increasing too slowly from step to step can obscure or even gloss over details, while increasing too quickly can cause banding and sudden jumps between gradations. Ideal gamma curves for consumer displays are usually 2.2, 2.3, or 2.4.

Both before and after calibration, the 551U tested with a gamma of 2.25—a very solid result. This means its natural gamma performance is suitable for a dimmer room, but not a completely dark room, which is also where its contrast performance will be most impressive. We love to see this kind of synergy between a TV's performance points.

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The 551U tested with a gamma curve of 2.25—a good result for a dim or semi-bright room.

Meet the testers

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@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.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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