Is it really possible for a 1080p to look more like a higher-resolution Ultra HD TV? That’s what Sharp claims with its new Quattron Plus-series televisions, which use clever video processing to improve on standard 1080p resolution. As a result, Sharp is offering these sets as a less-expensive alternative to true Ultra HD TVs.
We recently purchased three Quattron Plus sets—the 60-inch LC-60TQ15U ($2,000), the 60-inch LC-60UQ17U $2,200), and 70-inch LC-70SQ15U ($2,700)—and put them through a battery of tests in our TV lab. While these TVs are less expensive than comparable UHD sets, they’ll still priced well above most 1080p sets their size.
What we found was surprising: In some ways these Q+ TVs do actually provide more detail than standard 1080p sets. But they also come with a few drawbacks that we think don't make them a great deal for most consumers.
Inside the Q+ technology
If you're really interested in what Sharp is doing with its Q+ sets, you can read our highly detailed technical evaluation of the technology and how it works. But the simplified version is that Q+ greatly increases the number of subpixels in these sets. Without getting too technical, images on a TV are made up of tiny dots, called pixels. In most TVs, each pixel is made up of three subpixels: one red, one green, and one blue. If you’ve seen Sharp’s older commercials (starring George Takei from “Star Trek”), you may be aware that regular Quattron TVs have an additional yellow subpixel.
But the Q+ technology divides each subpixel in half, so that these sets have 16 million subpixels, or 10 million more than most other 1080p TVs. We found that the Q+ technology did actually add more horizontal picture detail, but not without some shortcomings, as we note below.
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When we played 4K test patterns from a special UHD player on the Q+ sets in normal mode, they looked like other 1080p TVs. But when we activated the TV’s “Resolution Enhance” feature, horizontal resolution improved, making the TVs look very UHD-like in that respect, but there was no improvement in vertical resolution. And when watching HD Blu-ray movies, we actually saw a slight loss of 1080p vertical resolution, so the edges of some objects, such as the diagonal lines of a building, became more jagged than normal.
Also, when we froze a frame from a dark scene, some of the images had smeared, horizontal streaks. It wasn't always apparent, but when evident it showed up as video noise like we used to see with VHS tapes. We preferred the TVs with the Resolution Enhance feature turned off, as this provided the most neutral, artifact free image, but we imagine that some will like the look of the set with the feature turned on.
Beyond pure image detail, there's another thing to consider: Even though the Q+ TVs can accept UHD signals, they lack two key features that are now standard in 2014 UHD sets: built-in HEVC decoding, and HDMI 2.0 inputs. HEVC is a new, more efficient way of sending video; Netflix is now using it to stream the second season of “House of Cards” in 4K. If your TV doesn’t have an HEVC decoder you won’t be able to watch these 4K programs any time soon. Also, Q+ TVs have HDMI 1.4 inputs rather than the HDMI 2.0 inputs now found on new Ultra HD TVs. HDMI 2.0 supports 4K/UHD signals at 60 frames per second, which will be needed to view future 4K broadcasts shot at this frame rate. HDMI 1.4 is limited to 30 frames per second with 4K content, which is fine for movies but not live sports.
The Sharp Quattron Plus sets offer solid performance, and they do manage to squeeze more horizontal detail into a 1080p set. But we ultimately don't think these sets provide the best value for most consumers, since they cost more than regular 1080p sets but don’t deliver the performance or features found in UHD TVs. We think it makes more sense to either buy a less expensive, top-performing 1080p TV, or spend the extra money for a true Ultra HD TV, especially since prices for these sets will continue to fall.
If you'd like to see how Sharp's new Quattron Plus TVs fared compared to other 1080p and Ultra HD models, visit our latest TV Ratings, which are available to subscribers.
—James K. Willcox
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