Sharp Resurrects Elite TV Brand

The Pioneer Elite TV brand is becoming Sharp Elite for a new line of LED-backlit LCD TVs. Sharp took the wraps off the first two models, 70 and 60 inches, today at a New York press event. At first glimpse they were dazzling.

Some background: The Pioneer Elite Kuro plasmas were widely regarded as among the best HDTVs ever made. They were a high-end, premium-priced product. But though they wowed critics, they didn't sell enough for the line to survive. Two years ago Pioneer exited the TV business, though it continues to use the Elite brand for its higher-end audio components. Earlier this year Pioneer licensed the Elite name to Sharp for use as a TV brand, a logical move given that Sharp is Pioneer's largest shareholder. And so the LCD phoenix rises from the plasma ashes.

The demo depended entirely on night scenes including a bright cityscape and an amusement park. Tiny points of light were bright and well defined against an ink-black background thanks to full-array LEDs and local dimming. When the room was darkened, it was impossible to distinguish the edges of the sets, indicating excellent black level performance. For the full scoop you'll have to wait for our first review later in the year.

The presentation categorized the various video technologies at work in a pyramid-shaped graphic. At the top of the pyramid was Intelligent Variable Contrast. Jointly developed by the Sharp and Pioneer engineering teams especially for this new line, it analyzes brightness and contrast in real time and controls the other video circuits.

Like Sharp Quattron models, these new sets add a yellow sub-pixel to the standard array of red, green, and blue totaling eight million dots onscreen. The sets are both ISF and THX certified, though according to a consultant, the yellow sub-pixel is not active in the THX mode. 3D capability is the active-shutter type with infrared emitter and each set comes with two pairs of glasses. A fact sheet lists refresh rate as "greater than 240Hz" and the number 720 was bandied about, though the official number, we were told, is a secret. The sets are being produced in a 10th-generation LCD plant.

No premium TV is complete without network features. The new Elites have wi-fi capability and support Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, Blockbuster, and YouTube video streaming as well as Pandora and Napster audio streaming. Skype internet telephony is also supported with camera kit sold separately.

The models shown included the 70-inch PRO-70X5FD ($8499.99) and 60-inch PRO-60X5FD ($5999.99). The badges on the front did not say Sharp Elite, just Elite. The two sets ship this month. They will sell through the Pioneer Elite TV dealer network, which has been hungry for new Elites following the demise of Kuro, as several dealers attested in video clips. Sharp will also continue to market its Aquos line.

MatthewWeflen's picture

Without stats on how many dimmable LED zones there are in the backlight, it is hard to imagine justifying a $6k 60" panel, when other local dimming sets are available for less.

I can only see the premium if they can show that they have, say, twice as many zones.

notabadname's picture

So in those first looks of darkened screens with no distinguishable edge, were there noticeable halos around points of light? That is the $8,499 question.

I don't mind paying a premium for something if it is truly a noticeable improvement. I think I still will wait for passive, full HD screens coming next year, but I will buy 70 to 75" when it has the right specs. Too bad a screen like this couldn't go for around $5,999 though. They would sell well. That would only be about $170/ month (zero interest) over 3 years. I pay that for my bundled cable/broadband (top-tier)/phone service each month.'s picture

Wonder how the Elite will compare to the Sharp 925 series? The 925 series seem to have an exceptionally clear panel. Too bad the 925 series are no longer in production. Having said that, my Sony XBR 2 CCFL LCD series still rocks! Picture quality is awesome when connected to my Sony ES bluray player, just wish I would have bought the 52" instead of the 46"!

K.Reid's picture

While I applaud Sharp for resurrecting the Elite name, I thought all the Kuro engineers allegedly went over to Panasonic - taking the knowledge of how to get that .001 black level with them.

We need more details, but I am skeptical at best since the panel is Local Dimming LED. As notabadname mentioned, halos are an issue with this tech as is off axis viewing unless in plane switching (IPS) is used. Another question - why isn't the yellow pixel active in THX? Why have a yellow pixel at all?

I am holding back my excitement until professionally reviewed (hopefully by Tom Norton). The prices are definitely reminiscent of KURO Elite prices, but we'll have to see if they make the grade and live up that storied brandname. Let the buzz begin.

TheJoBoo's picture

The old "engineers went over to Panasonic" thing sounds like one of those shady, unfounded rumors that you pick up on a Best Buy sales floor. Not that this type of misrepresentation frequently occurs in said environment...

Blove23's picture

What rumors did you get on the Best Buy floor?

JustinGN's picture

I gotta say, I'm skeptical as well, but I've heard a bunch of numbers bandied about by other press outlets. 720Hz refresh seems to be one of the more consistent numbers, though I've also heard 2600 lighting "zones" also tossed around with regards to local dimming. That's a hell of a lot of LEDs to control, but hey, maybe Pioneer and Sharp found a way to do it without sacrificing refresh times.

I love my Plasma to pieces (G20, 50"), but as a gamer I can't reasonably use it for extended sessions without burn in, especially in RPGs and fighting games, my favorite console genres. If Sharp & Pioneer can make a good looking LED-LCD set that's on par with, if not better than a Panasonic Plasma set, then I'm sold. Otherwise, Front Projection it is for the next theater upgrade.

Jarod's picture

This new has gotten me excited since I first heard of it. The description of the demo sounds excellent, but I'm a skeptic until Mr. Norton does a full review. Exciting news non the less. Until then!

MatthewWeflen's picture

From CNET's writeup:

"The new Elite TVs were shown off in a controlled demonstration at a press event in New York this morning and we had a chance to briefly check them out. Like other LCDs with local-dimming, the sets were certainly able to produce very deep blacks, although we could also see some blooming in high contrast images."

Now granted, it's CNET, but I at least trust them to spot blooming.

Not encouraging for an $8500 set.

BigMac's picture

I doubt these LCD "Elite" HDTVs are as good as the original Pioneer plasma Elite (I own one by the way) but even when Pioneer was still selling their plasmas the 50in was going for $2800 - $3200. Sharp is going to have to come down in pricing or they will run in to the same problem that Pioneer was having.

TheJoBoo's picture

As an Elite dealer, we have continued enthusiastically with their hifi components. However, we have faced the reality that they are no longer a high performance TV brand. In fact, there is only one high performance TV brand left, Runco. We have been thrilled with their new Vistage plasma sets. They are amazing in every way. Anyone desiring the best picture money can buy should treat themselves to at least one of them.
As for "local dimming", until they have pixel level light control, LCDs of any flavor will be naturally inferior to plasma displays. How dare they put run the Elite name into the dirt with such technology? Oh, yeah, greed!

Brainiac's picture

I've seen this new television at my local Magnolia/Best Buy. I don't like it. I'd rather own a Panasonic GT30 or VT30 series plasma. The colors are nice, with the lights on the blacks are believable, but the motion sucks.It exhibited tons of judder and froze a lot. For approximately $8000, I expect perfection and this television is far from it.