In the LCD TV Premier League, Panasonic is undoubtedly the champion. Loved by the public and critics alike, its flatpanel TVs consistently finish at the topof the table when it comes to picture quality and feature lists.

In a bid to defend its title, the company has added a new member to the 2007 squad – In-Plane Switching Alpha (or IPS-A for short). This new panel technology increases the LCD viewing angle to 178°, which (theoretically) keeps the picture looking solid whether you’re wide on the wings or sat in the centre.

IPS-A is joined on the TX-26LMD70’s team sheet by V-Real 2, Panasonic’s proprietary processing engine, which tackles every aspect of the picture and boosts contrast ratio to a whopping 7,000:1.

As for the socket line-up, Panasonic plays four at the back – two HDMIs and two RGB-capable Scarts – with component, PC and a common interface slot for terrestrial pay-TV on the bench.

The TX-26LMD70 also boasts Viera Link, which allows you to hook up other Viera Link-enabled components using the HDMIs (such as AV receivers or DVD recorders) and control them all from one remote.

TV reception comes courtesy of a built-in Freeview tuner with a 7-day EPG, and the digital TV operating system is immaculately presented and well thought out. The terrific remote offers large, clearly signposted buttons that make this set a dream to use.

Standard setter

Things get even better when it comes to performance. Kicking off with Children of Men on HD DVD, the TX-26LMD70 does a fantastic job with the movie’s consistently tricky images.

Right from the opening shot of a group of people stood in a coffee shop, the TV smacks you round the chops with superb reproduction of fine detail. Facial features, clothing textures, even the minute text on the TV screens – all of it is rendered with supreme sharpness.

The excellent contrast level not only helps convey this detail with real conviction, but it also makes black areas of the picture look solid. Subtle shadow detail can be made out within dark objects like Theo’s suit jacket during his trip to Ark of the Arts.

Finally, colour reproduction is fiery and forceful when need be, but suitably restrained with subtler tones, giving pictures a realistic, natural and well-balanced feel.

The TX-26LMD70 laps up hi-def but also does a grand job with standard-def pictures from the digital tuner. And a thorough investigation of the horizontal viewing angle reveals that IPS-A is more than just bluster – it actually works, delivering strong contrast and colour from a wide seating position. The vertical viewing angle is still narrow though, so make sure the screen is positioned at eye level.

Average audio

If the TX-26LMD70 has a weakness, it’s the audio. The speakers’ performance is no disaster – dialogue is clear over busy action scenes and some bass does manage to poke its way through. But for the most part it feels flat and undynamic, not doing justice to the fabulous visuals on screen.

Overall, all-important picture quality is among the best we’ve seen, and despite the average audio there’s enough raw talent and stylish design to justify its price tag.