With Panasonic's current midrange 26in LCD TV having blown us away, we've got sky-high expectations of the flagship 26LXD500. And right away the set lives up to them, with a gorgeous silver and black design that's even more attractive than that of the already lovely 26LXD52.
Connectivity is superb, too; as well as HDMI and component video options for high-def sources, the 26LXD500 offers a PC connection and an SD card slot for viewing digital photos and recording TV shows in MPEG4 format. There are three Scarts and a slot for adding Top Up TV to the built-in digital tuner.
This digital tuner shares top billing with full HD Ready specification but that's not to say the 26LXD500 doesn't have one or two other tricks up its sleeve.
The digital tuner is fully supported by the Freeview sevenday EPG, which you can filter by programme category or type, and use to set timer events simply by selecting programmes directly from the EPG listing.
There are also both standard and MPEG blocking noise reduction routines, a Colour Management option that automatically and continually works out the best colour tones based on an assessment of an incoming source, and a variety of audio enhancements.
The 26LXD500's performance is every inch a flagship effort, continuing Panasonic's near-flawless recent run of form. What's particularly striking is the sheer naturalism of the pictures, which comes from a number of different factors. First there are the colours, with wonderfully vibrant saturations (check out the superb colour temperature reading) and among the most naturally tones we've seen in the LCD world.
Next up there's the pictures' impeccable freedom from traditional LCD problems like dot crawl and smearing over motion. This helps the viewing experience feel unusually direct, and creates a genuinely cinematic sheen.
Contributing still further to the picture's sheer authenticity is a seriously impressive black level response, which reaches levels of depth-enhancing darkness most rivals don't even get close to - and a strong contrast reading of 520:1 in our lab is a good indication why.
The picture also looks as sharp as the real world, thanks to immaculate fine detailing - backed up by an 'Excellent' frequency response test rating - and texturing with little trace of colour moiring interference.
Finally, the Panasonic's picture talents stretch across all source types, from standard digital tuner broadcasts up to pristine true HD.
At this point we'd normally talk about picture problems - but the 26LXD500 hasn't got any. So onto its audio performance, which, don't you know it, is also very good. There's more bass extension and power than expected, which helps the soundstage appear clean, distortion-free and involving.
All told, with the 26LXD500, Panasonic continues its dominance of the LCD TV scene. John Archer