4K is still in its infancy. Even if you've got the $US7,000 burning a hole in your pocket for a top-tier 4K set, I'd recommend a gorgeous 1080p OLED panel instead. But if you simply must have a 4K television, you don't necessarily need the very best.
TV manufacturers are pushing out a new, more affordable wave of 4K televisions that can cost under $US3,000, easy. That's four grand less than our reference set, the Sony XBR-950B. So we decided to find out how much bang you can get for that buck -- starting with Sharp's UD27.
With the UD27, Sharp has finally entered the 4K market in proper fashion -- no more of that Quattron Plus baloney -- and you can find a 60-inch model for just $US2,000 right now. But can it keep up with the Sony? In many ways, the answer is yes.
For the purposes of this test I focused on how easy the televisions were to set up, how intuitive they were to use, and of course, their picture quality. As such, I consumed an unhealthy amount of streaming content -- through the set's integrated apps, an attached Chromecast, 4K mastered DVD titles, standard HD DVDs and far too much Ninja Gaiden III. For full-scale 4K content, we employed Sony's external 4K server as well. But before we get into how those panels performed, let's talk a little bit about what each set has to offer.
The Sony 950B and the Sharp UD27 are surprisingly similar in design, with each offering a ridiculously narrow bezel surrounding panels of equivalent size and weight. Both sit atop a pair of screw-on feet, and feature HDMI 2.0 ports in addition to the normal smattering of USB, component, and audio inputs.
Similarly, both are edge-lit with local dimming and can decode HEVC signals which allow them to display streaming 4K as well as handle that resolution running up to 60 frames per second. Additionally, the UD27 comes in either 60- or 70-inch versions (we employed the 60-inch for this test) while the Sony is available as a 65-inch or an 85-inch panel.
the UD27 running native 4K test content
Initial setup was much more of a challenge with the Sharp because, unlike the Sony, it doesn't actually run an initial setup routine. It just turns on and goes straight to static. I spent a good 10 minutes digging through the UD27's extensive menu system just to find the network connection menu and another 15 minutes getting it to connect to my Wi-Fi, followed by individual setups for the streaming services and video calibration.
All in all, I spent nearly an hour fiddling with the UD27 before I could enjoy the picture -- nearly triple the time I needed for the Sony. What's more, the set continually suffered from connectivity issues. Even when it would confirm that the wireless connection was properly configured and working, the Sharp would often refuse to load its integrated Netflix app or browser, citing "No Network Connection." The app selection's pretty paltry, too. If you're looking for a smart TV, this probably isn't the one for you.
the XBR-950b (L) and UD27 (R) running native 4K test content from the same source.
Once you get past the initial setup, however, both of these sets are really, really impressive. Both do a phenomenal job of boosting standard and HD signals into 4K resolution. And, with proper calibration, the UD27's Spectros display can deliver incredibly rich, saturated hues (especially reds and greens) that rival the gamut and colour accuracy of the 950B. Still, the Sony does offer an extended dynamic range that results in better contrast and deeper blacks. (And both of them are surpassed by LG's 1080p OLED in terms of colour, in case you're still not sold on 4K.)
I was also very impressed with Sharp's AquoMotion 480 feature which boosts the set's native 120Hz refresh rate to 480Hz, all but eliminating motion blur during sports broadcasts. It's not something you want to leave on, though. I tried watching an episode of Marco Polo at 480Hz and it looked like a soap opera sans the lens flare.
the XBR-950b running native 4K test content
Film buffs, however, can look forward to the UD27's THX video certification and Dolby audio certification. The dedicated THX mode is about as close as you can get to a home theatre without installing stadium seating in your living room. You won't want to watch everything in THX -- doing so drastically lowers brightness and sharpness, which is no good for sports or live programming -- but it's perfect for movies.
Overall, I still slightly prefer the Sony for general viewing, especially since the set integrates with Sony's network and your existing PlayStation, but the Sharp UD27 is definitely worth a look (maybe two or three looks) for anyone who's passionate about cinema. And in terms of delivering value for money, the UD27 delivers more than enough of the Sony XBR-950B's quality for you to consider it over that pricey set.
Still, the Sharp isn't the only new 4K set you might be able to afford. I'll be testing others, soon, to figure out which are worthy of your wallet.