- Rich black levels
- Above-par shadow detail
- Highly detailed 4K and HD picture
- Low motion judder
- Color accuracy, uniformity not great
- Very limited smart platform
- No global settings adjustment
- Updating may be problematic
- Flimsy, old-school remote
A seminal name in TVs for decades, Sharp’s exit from the American TV market starting in January 2016 (including both continents) shook the electronics world. Sharp sold its Mexican manufacturing plant to Hisense, allowing the aggressive Chinese company to continue its goal of moving deeper into the U.S. market and beyond. As such, all newer Sharp TVs sold in the Americas are really Hisense TVs in disguise.
The recent move leaves many legacy TVs from Sharp’s stockpile still on shelves, including the popular Aquos line. We decided to take a look at Sharp’s value option for 4K Ultra HD, the UB30U, which is now available at a relatively enticing price online of around $1,300. Without frills like High Dynamic Range or advanced smart features, the now-discontinued UB30U is anything but future-proof, but it is a whole lot of TV real estate for a bargain. We spent some quality time with the TV to find out if it’s worth your consideration.
Out of the box
We reviewed the 65-inch version of the UB30U, and while we may be stating the obvious here, this is a massive TV that is onerous to haul around and unpack, even with two people. Weighing around 65 pounds, it’s several pounds heavier than many competitors. That’s due, in part, to the TV’s full array backlighting system, which also helps makes it around an inch thicker than most edge-lit TVs. Unlike the pricier models in the 4K Aquos lineup (which start at 60-inches and above), the UB30U also comes in 43, 50, and 55-inch versions, but Sharp has always been about big screens, and the 65-inch version offers the most features and, we think, the most value.
Inside the box are a manual and some promotional materials, a kit for mounting, a flimsy remote control and batteries, and a power cable.
Features and design
While it’s chunkier and weightier than many TVs in its class, the UB30U half-inch bezel is relatively slim, outlining a strikingly large screen. The side-fins that hold the TV up also offer some style, as well as placing the TV pretty low. Be aware, the design will require a wider TV stand than center mounted TVs, and the UB30U just barely fit on our home stand. The panel’s width, height, and depth are 57.72-inches x 33.29 inches x 2.83 inches, respectively, but the stand makes that depth just over 15 inches.
Nestled in an indent on the TV’s backside are an ample collection of inputs, including four HDMI ports (including one ARC input and one with MHL), two USB ports, a hybrid composite/component input, digital Optical and analog audio outputs, and both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connection.
As mentioned, the TV’s LED panel uses a full array backlighting system, often preferred by videophiles, thanks to a reputation for better screen uniformity and less backlight bleed than edge-lit displays. The 65-inch version of the UB30U is the only model size that also includes adjustable local dimming (dubbed Aquo Dimming), which reduces backlight bleed while allowing for improved contrast and black levels.
One of our least favorite features, and perhaps the one that most easily dates the TV when compared to its peers, is the remote. The unit is light, flimsy, and IR-powered (meaning you’ll need line of site). Newer TVs from Samsung and LG increasingly come equipped with Bluetooth remotes that work from any position, along with options like touch panels, motion sensors, and more. On the flipside, the remote does have more actual keys than many newer remotes in the form of quick keys, but without a number pad, it doesn’t assist channel or password entry.
The TV is powered by a quad-core processor running Sharp’s Smart Central platform. That’s an important distinction as both pricier 4K models above the UB30U, including the UE30 and UH30, run Google’s more advanced Android TV OS.
Smart features and interface
Smart is always a relative term, and that’s especially true for smart TVs. In short, Sharp’s platform, Smart Central, isn’t — at least not compared to the majority of newer systems on the market from the likes of Samsung, Sony, and LG.
For starters, the only real streaming apps are Vudu, Netflix, and YouTube. Counting the latter two apps, that also means there are only two ways to stream 4K content natively, leaving out Amazon and several other HD services. What’s more, the UB30U doesn’t allow for picture adjustments to be set globally, meaning any changes are lost during native streaming. That includes motion enhancement (set by default), which invokes the squrimish soap opera effect, a phenomenon that makes TV and (especially) film look unnatural to many viewers.
The solution, of course, is a streaming stick or set-top box, which are not only more prevalent than ever, but also offer 4K streaming for as little as $70-80 (we recommend checking out Roku’s new line, as well as the forthcoming Chromecast Ultra). Still, we wish Smart Central was faster and, well, smarter. For instance, the system knows when you’ve connected a Blu-ray player, but won’t automatically tune to the live input when you power the unit or TV on. It’s also sluggish, and simply less intuitive overall than many newer systems.
We also experienced a firmware update issue: The TV just wouldn’t complete the prompted update, and continued prompting us. On the bright side, Sharp’s support line was helpful, talking us through a manual update via USB flash drive, but it was still an annoyance.
The UB30U looks OK out of the box in Movie mode, but if you fancy yourself a picture enthusiast at all, you’ll need to make several adjustments. We made subtle adjustments to Backlight, Contrast, Color, and Tint. We also dug into the Advanced settings to turn off Digital Noise Reduction (which saps all 4K detail in many scenes) and Motion Enhancement (thanks to the 120Hz panel, the TV doesn’t need it anyway). We left Aquo Dimming on low, which helps immensely with backlight bleed while maintaining relatively good shadow detail. The overall color was also just too blue, and was especially obvious during The Martian, so we went deeper into the Color Temp’s 10-point setting and backed down the Blue Gain. You can read our full list of adjustments at the end of this review.
We tested the UB30U using a Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Blu-ray player with both HD and 4K Blu-rays, as well as streaming services in 4K and HD resolution, and local HD programming.
Like just about any mid-tier 4K TV, Sharp’s UB30U has multiple strong and weak points to balance. Starting off on a high note, thanks to the full array backlighting and local dimming, the TV offers great black levels and decent shadow detail for its price class. We were bothered by some pretty prevalent backlight blooming straight away, with smears at the top left and bottom corners of the TV, but engaging the Aquo Dimming on low helped a lot.
Challenging scenes like The Martian’s storm sequence or the dark corridors of the X-Men hideout in X-Men: Days of Future Past, which can get murky quickly, are pretty well rendered. Images get a bit flattened and indistinct when things get extremely dark, but overall the TV performs well in the shadowy moments, and the Aquo Dimming keeps distracting border and screen blooms to a minimum — until you step off-axis, that is. The TV loses color accuracy quickly when you stand up or to the side, fading the colors and turning the black borders to purple streaks with just a few steps. Luckily, a TV this big affords a larger sweet spot, but you’ll need to keep your seats front and center because you lose a lot from the side.
As mentioned, we had to play with the color settings more than usual, and the TV still looks more blue than we’d like in some scenes. That was accentuated during The Martian, where the transition from the red planet to Earth is perhaps purposely exaggerated. The neon lights of NASA headquarters are particularly washed out and blue-toned, though our adjustments helped. White details in general are a bit washed out, something we couldn’t remedy through basic adjustment. It’s a small complaint, but flesh tones are also a bit redder than we’d like.
Still, Sharp has always made color a point of emphasis, and many scenes are richly rendered. The deep green of Logan’s ’70s Pontiac in Days of Future Past looks fantastic, as does the gleam of Hank’s red sweater inside the X-Mansion, and Raven’s blue skin against the slate sidewalk. The Martian’s red and white space suits are also very engaging against Mars’ rusty backdrop. These days, it’s hard not to wonder how much better the colors would look in the full splendor of HDR, but then again, landing a good HDR TV at this size will likely double the cost.
When it comes to detail, the UB30U’s 4K Ultra HD resolution is on full display in shows like Netflix’s Luke Cage, where close-ups on faces reveal details you’ll likely miss on your HDTV, including each little pore, each mustache hair, and even a pair of moles on Pop’s neck. In our X-Men example, we could see right down to the threads of the medals adorning the uniforms of the film’s many military characters.
Sharp’s UB30U TVs are still covered under warranty, and the 800 number found on the site can be easily accessed. The warranty is just one year, and Sharp will even send a service professional to your home or business to repair defects if troubleshooting comes up empty. It should be noted that, while the 65-inch model is handled directly, the 50-inch model is serviced by AmTran, though service appears to be similar for either unit.
There are plenty of great features aboard the good ship UB30U, not the least of which is its impressive local dimming. However, color accuracy issues, poor off-axis viewing, and an aging smart platform and interface (with little to no chance of meaningful updates) make this one 2015 TV that should probably stay there.
What are the alternatives?
Those looking for a similar feature set will want to explore Vizio’s M-series. The M65-C1 offers the same screen size and full array backlighting, along with a more intuitive, better-supported smart platform. If you want to step down in price, there’s also the similarly designed D-series TVs, also from Vizio.
How long will it last?
Durability isn’t so much the issue with this TV as viability in the 4K Ultra HD market to come. Leaving HDR behind is one thing, but the UB30U’s lack of an advanced smart platform, intuitive interface, or a modern remote will make this TV feel more and more antiquated as time goes by.
Should you buy it?
No. There are just too many caveats to recommend this TV in such a crowded market. Back in 2015, we’d say this might still be a solid choice, but the detractions we’ve mentioned so far, coupled with its discontinuation and possible updating issues, make this a sketchy buy. If Sharp drops the price safely below a grand, the value will kick back up, but as of now it’s a no-go.
Backlight — +14
Contrast — +28-32 (depending on room lighting)
Brightness — 0
Color — -1
Tint — -2
Sharpness — 0
Motion Enhancement — Off
Aquo Dimming — Low
Color Temp — Blue gain -5
Gamma Adjustment — -1
Digital Noise Reduction — Off