Sharp LC-32LE551U LED TV Review
A simple solution with solid performance
The Sharp LC-32LE551U (MSRP $309) is a 32-inch, Full HD option that trades frills for affordability. Also available in 39- and 48-inch sizes, you won't find any 3D, internet features, or fancy extras here.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.