The march of Freeview continues with digital tuners appearing in different products each month, from plasmas to DVD recorders. This 26in LCD from digital TV specialist Humax has all the benefits of being ultra flat and it saves you even more space by building in two Freeview tuners.
Aesthetically, the thick, glossy black frame dominates the screen and you'll have to get the viewing angle just right as there's no handy swivel function to the tabletop stand.
Perhaps the shrewdest thing is that as well as being Freeview compatible, it includes an analogue tuner, which is especially useful for old-style Teletext, which still has some pages that don't appear on snazzy digital text equivalents.
The LGB-26DTT also has an eye on the future by being high-def ready due to the high resolution LCD panel and its DVI digital input. All other typical AV sockets are offered, too, including analogue component, three Scarts (two RGB) and an optical digital audio output for a direct connection between the digital tuners and a suitable hi-fi. Unlike most existing set-top boxes, there is also a slot for Top-Up smartcards.
Despite having twin digital tuners, there's little you can do with them. Although you can output via Scart to a recorder, you can't switch to another digital channel without affecting any recording.
DVD recorder users should also note that the output quality is only composite video, making it much worse than standalone digiboxes. There is,however, a split-screen or picture-in-picture facility for tracking two channels, so you can even drive yourself insane by having both Sky News and BBC News 24 at once.
The onscreen menu and remote control are almost identical to Humax's 32in IDTV with built-in hard-drive recorder.The user interface is attractive and logical, but although the main buttons on the remote are well laid out, the whole thing is very long. Rather than cram everything into a smaller handset, Humax provides a 'simple' alternative remote with basic channel up/down, volume and menu controls.
Humax did well to include an analogue tuner in this TV as the standard aerial reception is decent. Digital performance is mixed and highly dependent on the amount of picture information being broadcast, as well as the quality of the source material.
It's a double-edged sword - an overly compressed digital broadcast can ruin a top quality production, while the cleanest digital transmissions may make inferior-looking programmes appear even worse.
For example, squirting highly compressed digital channels such as Sky Travel on to an LCD panel can exaggerate artefacts like mosquito noise around captions, so although colour and contrast are consistently high, the overall image can look degraded.
Although using external boxes can introduce softness because of analogue conversion along the way, this can smooth out the harshest blocking.
The screen is adept at handling strong colours, such as the deep blue and green hues of the graphics in ITV's weather forecasts.The brightness of the highlights make the contrast range seem wider than it is.
Although detail is strong, diagonal lines are jagged, causing some rippling effects in very finely textured details like brickwork or fabric.
RGB Scart input is rather dark and edges look over sharpened, while the component input has a big problem with PAL progressive signals in that the image doesn't fit the screen properly (this doesn't happen with NTSC). Interlaced via component is adequate, but more soft, dark and smeary than the DVI option. There are also lip-sync issues with component and audio line inputs.
Therefore, if you can connect a DVD player or, eventually, an HDTV receiver, with DVI then the results are generally impressive.There are still some limitations due to LCD technology.
The darkest parts of the image aren't a very deep black - witness the shadowy scenes in The Incredibles from Chapter 19-21 - but you don't lose too much detail in dim areas either.The same goes for Collateral and its many night scenes in low light. Details are visible, but the screen adopts a dark grey rather than black tone.
Bright colours really stand out via DVI, notably the rich reds of The Incredibles' superhero costumes and deep greens of the forest in chapter 23, which look almost fluorescent and 3-D with sharp detail. At times the red bias of the panel is overpowering, even when setting colour temperature to 'cool'.
You can't tweak saturation in DVI mode. The more naturalistic Collateral is carried well, however, especially skin tones. There are no obvious contourblocking side effects in smooth tones via DVI and outlines are defined perfectly with very little ghosting or over-sharpening.
The only drawbacks are some bleed where powerful saturated colours join and image lag from the LCD's response time (which is a below average 16ms). However, from a normal 2-3m viewing distance for this size of screen it's not too problematic.
Sadly, the tiny speakers beneath the screen cannot cast a very meaty or wide stereo sound, so if you are using this for movies, sports, concerts or anything where the aural atmosphere is crucial, then a separate sound system is recommended.
DVI is this TV's best asset. The screen is HD compatible and, although 26in is rather small to get the benefits of any extra resolution, if watching upscaled DVDs at 720 lines in progressive scan is any indication, you can enjoy a much better picture even at this size. It certainly puts standard digital TV to shame.
However, in the mean time, you can get a respectable Freeview performance from this set with the minimum of fuss and clutter. We just wish that it made more of its twin tuners and that the overall picture was better from other inputs.