With its mix of black surround and silver speakers and swivel stand, there's no doubt that this 26in LCD from Panasonic is good-looking. It's also expensive, at around £1,000, so what does it offer to justify this extra outlay?
Top billing goes to the TX-26LXD52's ability to receive Sky's high-definition broadcasts when they arrive, courtesy of an HDMI input, 1,366 x 768 screen resolution and component video inputs. Other socketry around the back comprises three Scarts (two RGB-enabled), S-video and composite video, and there's a set of connections hidden beneath the front panel flap for hookup to occasional sources, too.
A digital Freeview TV tuner also helps to explain the Panasonic's price tag (the Toshiba is the only other set in this group to boast this), complete with a seven-day electronic programme guide. There's even a Conditional Access Module to top-up Freeview channels with Pay TV channels. The set automatically tunes and stores Freeview channels in the correct order, and the whole process is completed remarkably swiftly.
Then there's Panasonic's Viera picture processing - something unique in this roundup. The TX-26LXD52 is fitted with the brand's acclaimed colour management system - which automatically adjusts the colour and brightness level, pixel-for-pixel, for optimum colour output - as well as picture noise reduction and MPEG noise reduction options.
These latter systems prove very effective, as picture noise was at a non-discernable level when we watched TV programmes from the Panny's Freeview tuner. Studio shots were incredibly impactful, too, and colourful programming was well handled.
Things get even better with DVD. Putting the Panasonic through its paces with our Kingdom of Heaven disc via its component and RGB Scart connections, we found it extremely difficult to spot any weaknesses. Images were terrifically clean, with noise levels virtually at zero, while there was amazing texture and definition in evidence as the camera pans across the movie's rugged landscapes. Only the very finest details caused a slight problem, with the rolling dust and smoke during the battle sequences looking a little flat.
Weathering the storm
Black levels are in good order, too, and we didn't spot a trace of greyness in our movie's stormy night-sky sequences during the journey to the Holy Land. Images don't fall in to a black hole either, and darker pictures convey good levels of shading, with plenty of detail in the shadows.
As to be expected, images via the HDMI input are even more detailed - but this has the side effect of revealing that the factoryset 'normal' colour balance modes for reds and greens lack a little naturalness. This is easily rectified by switching to the 'warm' colour balance mode, however, which achieves more impressive colour results.
The Panasonic's sound is respectable, if not quite reaching the heights of its pictures. It adequately portrayed our test movie's demanding soundtrack, and conveyed dialogue clearly. Bass levels are decent, too, and the set can reach respectable distortion-free volumes without shaking the house. There's an ambience setting, which purports to create a wider soundstage, but it makes soundtracks too vague and thin for our tastes, and is best avoided.
The TX-26LXD52's higher price rewards with outstanding pictures that simply cannot be beaten here. Its digital tuner is the icing on the cake.