Saturday, 19 November 2016

Moving on to 4K: A look at the Sharp LC-75N8000U UHD "HDR" TV.


As you can see above, I made the move to a larger 75" screen 4K/UHD-TV from my 55" LG 55LW5600 purchased in 2011. Not sure if it's as appreciable in the image above, but the extra 20-inches diagonally make a huge difference in the movie watching experience from the sofa! (The camera focal length and perspective clearly makes a big difference in pictures...)

This is the Sharp LC-75N8000U. As I discussed recently, I've been looking around at 4K TV's for quite awhile. Admittedly, I just could not resist the price to give this a try at least (currently only ~US$2000 on Amazon)! With this post, let's have a look at this display and I'll throw out a few thoughts...

In the summer, when I was visiting China, I had a chance to browse through local brands like TCL, Hisense, Changhong, SkyWorth along with Korean LG and Samsung, and Japanese Sony and Sharp models through the various electronics stores there. In comparison, local Best Buys here in Canada are positively anemic in stock on display! When looking at the displays playing 4K demos, it really can be tough telling the difference between the different models. Typically the manufacturers have their own demo videos. The TV default display settings are all overly bright and saturated. The demo rooms are all well lit - presumably so the prospective customer can read the specs and feature stickers. As such the reality is that making a choice as a consumer can be perilous, especially for larger sets like 75" since they're not as commonly found as 55" or 65" units. More often than not, blog posts and forum reviews become a major source of info and advice when it comes to actual product recommendations these days.

Upon returning to Canada in September, I figured I would take the leap and upgrade my 55" LG 55LW5600 from 2011 to probably the least expensive 75" TV's I found - at least this will give me some perspective on the "low end" and see if I can be satisfied with what I see... Here it is before being placed on the wall - the Sharp LC-75N8000U:
Front: Decent sized screen surface area...

Back: Notice the vertically arrayed speakers (another set on the other side), and the square control "joystick" along with the various HDMI, USB, antenna, component, and ethernet ports.
Note that although Sharp is a Japanese brand, these days the Sharp TV's in North America are actually re-branded Hisense models. This "Sharp LC-75N8000U" is actually a Hisense H75M7900 in other parts of the world. Unfortunately they took away the 3D feature here in North America!

At this price point, one of course cannot expect a miraculously good TV picture quality wise. 4K spatial resolution looks great of course and for the size of this TV, the extra pixels IMO is a must. It's an edge-lit LED display which allows it to be quite thin in places (basically the top third) but there are compromises in terms of black levels and brightness uniformity. On a black scene, my unit wasn't too bad but at a distance in dark conditions it does look "dirty" due to imperfect uniformity of black level and had a little light leakage in the bottom left corner; nothing too obvious when actually playing a movie. Also as a VA (Vertical Alignment) panel, you will lose contrast at an angle but it's not too narrow and four adults could sit on my couch about 11' away and appreciate the image without unreasonable loss of quality (VA screens are better than IPS in this respect). The screen is a bit reflective and specular highlights (my ceiling potlights at the back of the room) could be distracting and there was a mild horizontally spread rainbow reflective pattern. The inputs consist of 4 HDMI ports (2 HDMI 2.0 and 2 HDMI 1.4). I don't know why they chose the ARC HDMI as one of the HDMI 1.4 inputs sticking out sideways in the picture above near the blue USB3 port - HDMI 2.0 ARC would have been more universally useful I believe. As usual, there's a collection of other inputs/outputs: optical TosLink audio out for those not using ARC, USB ports for media, component input, and coaxial antenna input for over-the-air TV.

When I hooked up the HDMI 2.0, it was able to pick up that I had attached my ODROID-C2 running the C2 build of OpenPHT (Plex player) and configured my controls with CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) automatically so the remote up/down/side/enter buttons controlled the ODROID menu selection when viewing that HDMI input... Convenient.

Let's talk about picture quality and some settings for a moment. Although this set has multizone dimming, it's arranged as 16 vertical strips which were noticeable when turned on with high contract material - too distracting with obvious banding in high contrast scenes. As such I felt it was better left off.

Not unexpectedly, the default video settings are meant for display in a store, not for a home theater where ambient light is lower and better controlled. By default, it's just too bright for my room. There are many settings to try (for details, check the manual in PDF) and here's what worked best for me using Disney's World of Wonder Blu-Ray first then fine-tuning using the free HCFR software and X-Rite i1Display Pro calibration device (firmware updated as of October 10, 2016 - V00.01.00a.G0129):
Picture Mode: Theater
Brightness: 53, Contrast: 49, Color: 62
Aspect Ratio: Direct
Backlight: Local Dimming - OFF, Backlight - 30, ECO Sensor - OFF
Advanced Picture Settings:
     Tint: R3
     Sharpness: 5
     UltraSmooth Motion: OFF
     Noise Reduction: OFF
     Adaptive Contrast: LOW
     Color Temperature: WARM
     White Balance:
          2-Point:
               R-offset: 2, R-gain: 3
               G-offset: 0, G-gain: 0
               B-offset: -6, B-gain: -2
          10-Point:
               10%: R -5, G 0, B 5
               20% to 80%: no change, RGB all 0
               90%: R -2, G 0, B 0
               100%: R 6, G 0, B -1
Of course, each TV set is a bit different. These settings worked for me so consider it as a "ballpark" for what might work for other sets. Notice that I've decreased the "Backlight" value to only 30% here because I watch movies in a dark room. At this level, the brightness was measured as 136 cd/m2 using the i1Display Pro (remember, typical movie theaters are only around 50, and the new Dolby Cinemas are aiming for 106) - easily bright enough for standard dynamic range video in my setting.

Gray balance turned out pretty good with some adjustment to the 2-point and fine tuning with the 10-point color settings above:

One of my concerns was that there was no gamma setting. At best, I only managed reasonable quality to around gamma of 1.6-1.7 (see image below showing average gamma of 1.64). Yeah, if I pushed the fine tuning values, I was able to get the average to 2.1 but this caused unnaturally crushed blacks and loss of bright level detail as well. Gamma <2 is too low especially in a very dark theater room, resulting in a lack of contrast "punch", with a mid-range "pastiness" to the image unfortunately. An example of this would be in Mad Max: Fury Road. The harsh sun of the post-apocalyptic desert appears muted and the vast shades of orange and yellow isn't as satisfying:

Sharp/Hisense should do something about the look-up table settings to get gamma to at least the standard 2.1-2.3 range.

These days, almost all new 4K TVs pride themselves on displaying HDR (High Dynamic Range, as discussed previously) images. Not unexpectedly, Sharp/Hisense wants to tap that market with this "inexpensive" screen. Realize that on a hardware level, the panel is based on 8-bit technology, which means 10-bit data is dithered. Images still look good but as expected, very fine gradations are not as smooth. At the time of my testing, this screen can display HDR10 video from its limited selection of Smart TV apps, particularly from the built-in player app which can handle USB sticks and UPnP/DLNA streaming. The TV detected my Plex movie/video server running on my Windows Server 2012 R2 computer. Yup, the LG OLED HDR demos looked pretty good. I noticed what appeared to be some "clipping" in the very bright scenes unfortunately so it clearly was not as good as what I have seen from LGs and Samsungs. Although the maximum TV brightness isn't great (Sharp claims 300 cd/m2), material like the "Cymatic Jazz" demo from LG does look fantastic, but this set doesn't have the "pop" to impress with the "Chess" demo where the full-on bright scene with the queen (?) looked a bit washed out. Look here for other HDR10 demo material - the Samsung clips like "Wonderland" are excellent. One annoyance about the built-in TV streaming app is that everything seems to be scaled to 16:9, even widescreen movies of other aspect ratios (didn't try 4:3 material to see if this was OK). Of course, no ability for Dolby Vision support either which would increase cost for licensing and hardware.

Colors look reasonable for the Rec.709 gamut using my calibration settings above, and I was not really able to test in HDR mode to see if it's expanded:

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to measure the saturation values to see how well they would line up before the screen started to bug out. I suspect there would be significant issues given the low gamma.

I tried some YouTube 4K/60Hz streaming from the Smart TV app and that looked great as well, very smooth streamed off ethernet and this can be attributed to the hardware VP9 decoded playback. I don't know if the hardware is capable of VP9 Profile 2 for the new YouTube HDR streaming (at this time, only the Chromecast Ultra can display these streams in HDR10 format, we'll see how many of the 2016 HDR Smart TV apps can actually be updated). It's also good to see that this set does support 4K, 60Hz, 4:4:4 chroma subsampling just fine going from my Skylake HTPC to a Yamaha RX-V781 receiver (excellent unit with analogue pre-outs that I'll talk about another time!) - no special subsampling setting or anything like that to sort out.

Despite the ability to show HDR from the built-in "Smart TV" player app, a deficit right now is that I have not seen the firmware that allows HDR10 with HDMI inputs yet. The firmware is already out in the UK with the Hisense H75M9700 (see forum thread here)... Oh well, it's not like I have a UHD Blu-ray player (like the Samsung UBD-K8500) or the XBOX One S at this time or any movies. I do however have a cheap Amlogic S905X TV box though that I could have tried, capable of HDR output with custom Kodi player in LibreELEC (like this one) as well as audio bitstream pass-through from Dolby Digital to DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD.

I didn't do any detailed tests like input lag, judder, or motion blur - I'll leave that to the TV review pros! However, for movie watching and basic HTPC stuff like a little surfing and my son playing Minecraft on it, nobody was complaining. I wondered why they didn't bother including the 3D feature with this North American model compared to the Hisense H75M7900 in the UK - that would have added some significant value for a display this size and price point I think (IMO, this is a really dumb move).

Despite the amazing price, I obviously wasn't completely satisfied with the image quality. Alas, after a little more than a month of use, I noticed some unexplained "blanking out" episodes for a few seconds here and there no matter what sources I tried or whether the HDMI was connected to my receiver. It also wasn't a problem with HDMI cables. Since it was still within the return period, I packed it back up and sent it back (believe me, this was a hassle given the size of this 108lb monster!).

Let's summarize...  Gamma is too low (this bothered me the most), screen was too reflective, HDR through HDMI firmware is still forthcoming (not sure if it's out now in November), limited 16-zone local dimming basically there to check off a feature box and given the banding effect, I recommend that it stay off. But big is beautiful when it comes to theater screens. Black level is decent and better than my old LG55LW5600 1080P TV. Obviously these days an edge-lit LED lighting system is not going to be "reference" quality - consider FALD  (Full Array Local Dimming) or OLED lighting technologies instead. For the discerning home theater videophile, with lights off, black is visibly dark gray with the Sharp. Two HDMI 2.0 and two HDMI 1.4 ports are enough if you plan to route most inputs through the receiver. It supports HDR10 although the TV brightness and 8-bit panel specs obviously are not ideal from a brightness/contrast perspective. Having said this, for the relatively low entry price into a 75" 4K screen TV, this is reasonably good value still I think.

--------------------

Well, I can say I've dipped my toes into the inexpensive end of large screen 4K TV's now and did find myself willing to pay more for better quality. (More than I can say about expensive audio stuff like cables, right?)

I've actually already ordered one of the 75" Vizio P75-C1 FALD sets through Costco here in Canada where I also got the Sharp - great return policy and warranty extension. Lots of positive comments about image quality for the Vizio (good review on Rtings) and I do like how the company updates users on fixing firmware issues on forums. Plus having both HDR10 and Dolby Vision compatibility is nice. I honestly wish there's a good 75" 3D-capable set with 4K and HDR. It's also too bad there are no large 75" OLEDs yet at reasonable prices ($18K LG 77" OLED Signature anyone?). Maybe that's the future in a few years...

RIP to both Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell in the last couple weeks. You Want It Darker:




Hope everyone's enjoying the music and images as we head towards year end...

11 comments:

  1. That's a nice huge TV. Enjoy your movies! :)

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  2. I would recommend using SpectraCAL calibration software you will be able to adjust nearly everything colors, greyscale, gamma, color temp, etc to industry standard. I used this software and I achieve a 2.4 gamma and a average delta/e of 0.5 across a 10p grayscale calibration. I calibrated my brothers TV and LG older model to a 0.3 Delta/e but gamma is a 2.2 which is still good for a dim rooom.

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    Replies
    1. After reviewing your settings I'm gonna say you need to maximize your contrast and brightness settings contrast needs to be set to the highest without clipping. A setting of 49 seems to low? and to have brightness higher than contrast seems unorthodox? Other than that according to the color temp graph you can doing good at 6500kelvin and your grayscale is pretty good under 3 but I would go deeper and get under 1 closest to 0 as possible.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Nicky,
      So was it this Sharp LC75-N8000U model you put the calibration through? Would be great if you have a link to the settings you found useful! Beneficial for the folks who own one of these and want to try...

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  3. No, I calibrated my Samsung and my brothers LG. But I can tell you that contrast should be 90-100 typically and brightness around 40-50. But I would start with the defaults on those settings in Movie mode or theater mode which ever is equivalent. When calibrating the workflow always starts with brightness which you will want to be in a dark room. Then move onto contrast if you have a meter that can measure 0-100 or if you have a peak white pattern run the sequence the green, red, blue lines should be linear and once you calibrate the greyscale the green, red, and blue lines will merge meaning you balanced the red, green, and blue. Once you complete greyscale and are achieving delta/e <1, gamma at your desired output lets say 2.4-2.5 which is a pitch black theater, and you have balanced red, green, and blue you will see a HUGE difference in your viewing experience.

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    1. Right. I see. And that's the problem with this set. I did start with the movie mode equivalent, was roughly adjusted with WoW and then fine adjusted to get grayscale proper using the X-Rite. The problem is there was no specific gamma control setting on the TV unlike my old LG (and my new Vizio P :-).

      I looked around the Hisense 75M7900 forum post I linked to in the text and noted that the calibration settings a few folks posted for the TV is actually pretty close to the Sharp I had. Oh well, it is what it is and it'll be interesting to hear if other Sharp LC75-N8000U owners have done their own calibrations and been able to achieve accurate color balance and proper gamma.

      I'll certainly have a peek at the SpectraCal software!

      Delete
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  6. Can you get the same effect of the bigger screen by moving closer???

    Could you tell the difference between the same movie in 4k vs 1080p at normal viewing distance ???

    Somehow, in audio many people ask questions like this, but in video it's simply assumed that bigger and/or more resolution is simply better, and not just planned obsolescence.

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  7. Thanks for criticizing the reflective screen. There are some critics who think this is better somehow, but it certainly doesn't seem that way to me (and I'm stuck with one now).

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  8. I was thinking of getting a new 4k TV myself, You got a nice one there! although there is nothing perfect! I know that some things might be more annoying than the other, we should let go a few default :) I read this about the the best 4K TVs but couldn't choose which the best to buy yet!

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