You know what? This is a fantastic looking television. The image in punchy in a legitimate contrast ratio kind of way, the colors are fantastic, and it’s crazy bright too boot.
So is it the perfect TV?
Born from the bizarre wedding of Pioneer and Sharp, the ELITE LCD was branded blasphemous by many in the press (including yours truly). How dare they brand an LCD with the fabled “ELITE” name. The last display that held that name was the vaunted KURO (genuflect). Even with Sharp/Pioneer’s promises of amazing contrast ratios and incredible blacks, those of us who review and measure TVs eyed it all with practiced suspicion. An LCD that performs as well as a KURO plasma? Show me that and I’ll eat my hat. I don’t wear hats (it’s false advertising), but I would buy a hat, wear it, just so I could eat it.
I have not bought a hat. But it was close.
The key to the ELITE’s stellar picture quality is with a local-dimming LED backlight. As in, an array of LEDs behind the screen that can be dimmed in groups depending on what’s on screen. The easiest example would be the credit crawl at the end of a movie. All the LEDs behind the part of the screen where there’s black would shut off (actual black). The LEDs behind the white lettering of the credits would remain lit. This would make the whites punchy bright, and the blacks really dark. Have enough zones, and you could have a pretty convincing contrast ratio.
This is a disappearing technology, the ELITE is one of the only TVs that still offers a local dimming backlight. Most LED LCDs, even high-end ones, are edge-lit, with their LEDs along the sides or top/bottom of the screen. Despite lots of marketing to say otherwise, any “local dimming” with an edge-lit LED LCD is going to be excessively coarse. So coarse as to add little, if any, actual contrast ratio benefit.
But the ELITE is local dimming, and probably the best I’ve seen in a consumer product. That credit crawl example from earlier? On older local dimming TVs this would cause a halo around the letters (at best), or a noticeably higher black level around the entire crawl (at worst). I saw a few examples of halos with a few black-on-white letterings, but it was rare. With regular video, I never noticed it. In fact, all I noticed was how good the contrast ratio looked.
And measured. There’s two aspects to the ELITE’s contrast ratio. There’s what the LCD panel itself is doing, and what the local dimming backlight adds to the party. The former is easy to measure. By turning off the local dimming, I measured an average contrast ratio of 3483:1 across the various backlight settings. This is decent for an LCD, but not spectacular.
This isn’t the whole story, though. I would consider this the minimum of what this TV can do. Add in the local dimming, and it gets, well, significantly greater. In the basic Local Dimming On mode, with the backlight set at +16, I measured 0.0012 ftL (converted from cd/m2) and 82.22 ftL, for a contrast ratio of 68,517:1. Want even better black levels? Turn down the backlight in this same mode, and touch the bottom of measureable with our light meter, with 0.0003 on the black side, and 14.16 on the bright side (47,200:1). I would suspect there is some rounding error present, as the brighter mode resulted in a higher contrast ratio. Either way, it’s impressive. If light output is your thing, the Local Dimming Advanced High mode produces 0.0023 on the black level side, and a blinding 116.2 on the white side (50,522:1).
Most contrast ratio-enhancing tricks used with LCDs produce limited visual increase in picture quality. Not so here. The image really does look incredibly punchy. Black bars on 2.35:1 movies disappear into the room. Bright lights seer. Even more important for “real” contrast ratio, within any individual shot, the darkest parts of the image are really dark, the bright parts are really dark. Non-local dimming LCDs can’t do that at all. Only plasmas, OLED, and local dimming LCDs can.
And as far as local dimming goes, this is the best I’ve seen. The normal side-effect of local dimming backlights is how many “zones” there are. There might be a few hundred LEDs forming the entire backlight, but it’s too processor intensive to dim each one individually. So they get grouped together into zones. Sharp isn’t telling how many zones there are. Early local dimming models had a few dozen, if that. As a result, certain scenes, like the credit crawl mentioned earlier, would have a haze around the credits as the white lettering fooled the backlights to turn on, when most of the area should be black. The ELITE must have more zones than any TV I’ve measured, because this was barely noticeable. Sure if you put up a bright white box on a black background, the edges of the box are dimmer than the rest, but with regular content it just looks like the panel has an extremely high native contrast ratio. The Advanced modes, according to Sharp, transfer the power saved in the darker areas of the image and send it to the brighter areas for even more pop.
Does it look like 68,517:1? Not exactly, I’ve seen some displays (like LCOS projectors) that have slightly lower native contrast ratios but look better. That said, it looks like one of the highest contrast ratios I’ve ever seen, regardless of technology. The rest is picking nits (pun intended).
Another important area the ELITE does well is with color. In the THX Movie mode, they’re pretty close to spot on. An extensive color management system allows you and/or a trained calibrator to dial in the colors even further.
On the color temperature front, Out of the box the color temp was a bit odd (40 IRE being radically different from the rest of the grayscale range. I think it’s highly likely my sample came from another reviewer (who apparently is insane or blind). 2-step and 10-step grayscale calibrations are possible. I found the steps in the 10-step mode to interact too much with each other, making calibration annoyingly difficult. However, in the 2-step mode near perfect grayscale tracking is possible, so the 10-step mode is superfluous. You can view the calibration report here at ELITE PRO-60X5FD Report.
Like nearly all LCDs, the PRO-60X5FD suffers from poor off-axis performance. One seat over on the couch finds the black level rising (and contrast ratio decreasing), exacerbated the farther you get from center. Among non-IPS LCDs, I found the performance about average.
120 Hz and beyond
Another typical LCD foible, motion blur, wasn’t bad, though somewhat noticeable. I find closeups to be the most noticeable casualty of motion blur. As the person is steady, you can see every hair and wrinkle. As soon as they move slightly, they blur just enough to lose some of that detail. When they stop moving, the detail comes back. I find it distracting. The 120 Hz High and Lo modes did a decent job seemingly to decrease motion blur somewhat, and did so without the dreaded Soap Opera Effect. The FluidMotion “combines an advanced frame creation system with unique scanning backlight technology, to create a greater than 240Hz effect.” You lose some brightness with this, and while the frame interpolation wasn’t as severe as with some other LCDs, I found 120 Hz mode just as detailed without resorting to “frame creation.”
On the processing side, I found no surprises though performance was average. It de-interlaces 1080i correctly. The jaggies test on the Spears & Munsil Benchmark were about average, showing small jaggies pretty much throughout its sweep. The Ship clip on this same disc showed much of the same, small jaggies throughout the rigging.
3D, as you’d expect with such a bright image, was excellent. There was minimal crosstalk, and excellent depth. The lightweight AN-3DG20-EL glasses are USB rechargeable, and feature a 2D mode, a nice touch. However, the emit a noticeable buzzing sound when active.
With 3D, and Blu-ray in general, there is a smooth clarity to the image that’s better than I’ve seen on most TVs. Less “TV-like” and more “window-like.”
When it comes down to it, the PRO-60X5FD is a fantastic looking television. It’s bright, has an incredible contrast ratio, accurate color, and a smooth, noise-free picture. It’s one of the best looking TV’s I’ve seen. However, I find it hard to recommend outright for three main reasons: it still suffers from poor-off axis performance and some motion blur, like nearly all LCDs. I find these two faults annoying and significant. If you don’t, then you can move on to the biggest reason I can’t whole-heartedly recommend the PRO-60X5FD: Price. List price is an incredible $6,000. Even at a slashed Amazon price of $4,620, it’s a whopping $1,200 more than the 65-inch Panasonic 65VT50, or more than double the 55-inch 55VT50. I call these two models out specifically as we’ve found the VT50 to have some of the best picture quality on the market today. They are not as bright as the PRO-60X5FD (not by a long shot), but do offer comparable contrast ratios and don’t suffer from motion blur or poor off axis.
So if price is no object, you really need a lot of light, and you won’t be viewing it off axis (or forcing off-axis seating on those you like), we at HDGuru award the ELITE PRO-60X5FD a ♥♥♥♥ out of five hearts rating.
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