We've always felt that the gap in functionality and price between the two prongs of Panasonic's LCD TV range (LXD500 and LXD50) was a bit large.And it seems that perhaps Panny shares our concerns,as it has just unleashed a new 'middle'way: the LXD52 range - represented by the 26in TX-26LXD52.

From the outside,the 26LXD52 has more in common with its cheaper LXD50 sibling.It looks identical, differing from the top-range LXD500 via its slimmer black screen frame and chunkier silver subsection.

Thankfully,from here on in the 26LXD52 shifts much closer to the LXD500.This impression begins with its connectivity,which includes an HDMI jack alongside a set of component video inputs - raising hopes that this TV will be HD Ready. It's nice,too,to find three Scarts. There's no PC input or SD photocard slot like on the LXD500,though.

The 26LXD52 follows through on its connections'HD Readiness with a sufficiently high native resolution of 1366 x 768,and compatibility with all the necessary HD formats.

Its biggest feature is probably its digital tuner.This is backed up by support for the 7-day Freeview EPG that includes genre filtering and direct timer event setting.Other tricks include colour management for automatically optimising colour saturations and tone,plus both 'normal'and MPEG noise reduction (handy for reducing blockiness in lower-quality digital broadcasts). The LXD52 does,however,lack the LXD500's picture-in-picture options.

The LXD52 matches the excellent LXD500 for picture quality,though. This means pictures are remarkably flexible,looking great with all sources, from the analogue tuner right through to pristine digitally-fed high definition.In fact,it's an all-rounder of positively Flintoffian proportions.

Getting more specific,the TV boasts terrifically bright and well saturated colours that also score over those of many rivals by being 100 per cent natural at all times - even during dark scenes.

More good news comes with the TV's fine detail response,which picks out tremendous amounts of texture during HD viewing,but also delivers sharpness with notoriously soft digital TV broadcasts.

There's an almost complete dearth of picture noise with all sources too, and only the rarest trace of the smearing that can accompany motion on LCD TVs.

This TV also enjoys very good black levels by 26in LCD standards, giving dark scenes exceptional scale and plenty of easily visible background detailing.In fact,now we think about it,there really isn't anything bad to say about the 26LXD52's pictures at all.

All this is backed up by a terrific audio performance,too.The TV's unassuming looking speakers will blow your socks off with their deep, rounded bass,massively wide but controlled soundstage,rich vocal tones,and high but never harsh trebles.If there's a 26in LCD TV that sounds better,we ain't heard it.

Panasonic has pitched its new mid-range set perfectly.The only problem might be just how heavily this cracking newcomer could eat into sales of its other two ranges!