Pop along to any supermarket these days and you're likely to walk out with a DVD player or flat TV along with your weekly shopping. This 26in LCD screen from Dual, for example, is a supermarket model sold exclusively through Asda. The brand may be unfamiliar, but the DLCD26-1's low price - just under £500 - may ensure that your trolley somehow finds it way to the sound and vision aisle before proceeding to the check-out.
Its price tag and screen size suggests that the Dual is destined for a bedroom rather than the centre of a state-of-the-art home cinema setup. The connections continue this idea, as there's no component video for high-quality progressive scan images and the DVI socket at the back is for PC data only.
The screen therefore won't be able to receive either Sky's high-definition service, or high-def signals from a DVD player. Still, at least there are two RGB-enabled Scarts at the back, for potentially good-quality images from a DVD player and set-top box (even if access to them is extremely fiddly), and a convenient set of side inputs for hooking up a camcorder or games console.
The DLCD26-1's styling is also in keeping with its price tag. But while the silver/light grey cabinet is a little dull and unexciting for our tastes, at least it is neatly finished and features main controls along the top for easy access.
The Dual's menu system is sparse but simple to use, and analogue TV channels are easily tuned and stored to their presets. The factory-set brightness level was too high on our sample, which resulted in some white flaring on the side of presenter's faces, but this can easily be fixed by adjusting the set's brightness. Colour and contrast with studiobased TV was generally good, and on the whole the Dual manages to mask any nasty edging effects - although we did notice colour banding during sunlit outdoor shots.
Connecting the Dual up to a DVD player via an RGB-enabled Scart, we put it through its paces with our test disc, Kingdom of Heaven. First impressions are good thanks to the screen's strong colours, but sadly the set doesn't stand up too well to closer scrutiny. Images from our test movie lacked the kind of depth that is usually so evident with DVD material, due to black levels that were more like blocks of dark blue than true black. And while the set initially seems to have a skill with colour, it is actually quite heavyhanded. This lack of subtlety makes brightly lit images appear almost animated, rather than natural.
On the plus side, movement is fairly well handled, and Kingdom of Heaven's chaotic battle sequences were free from smearing, suggesting a surprisingly good pixel response time for a budget LCD. But the set did struggle with camera pans across landscapes, showing some significant signs of break-up on fine and intricate details in the distance.
The DLCD26-1's audio is a bit more impressive, considering its price point, with a dynamic bass setting helping to give the initially thin-sounding speakers a boost with our action-heavy test movie. There's also a 'wide sound' mode and a host of EQ controls to help you fill out the sound for a more dynamic performance.
The DLCD26-1 has been stripped down to basics in order to reach a low price. It's not HD-ready and its pictures are merely average at best, with problems with both colour and contrast. Nevertheless, the fact that it offers 26in of flat screen for less than £500 means that it's likely to find its way into many supermarket trolleys along with the weekly grocery shop.