Since bursting onto the AV scene with a spectacular 50in DLP rear projection TV in the summer of 2004, French electronics guru Sagem has gone from strength to strength.
It's consolidated its DLP status with a whole range of ever-better TVs, and officially struck gold in the crucial LCD market when it racked up top marks for its 32in Axium HD-L32T. So surely we can expect nothing but goodness from its latest 26in LCD offering?
It looks a winner, that's for sure. The high-gloss, deep black screen surround is a joy to behold. The only complaint we might raise is that the speakers either side of the screen add to the TV's width considerably, and in doing so seem to make the screen area feel smaller.
Connectivity continues the good fi rst impressions. Particularly outstanding for a 26in TV is the inclusion of not one but two HDMI sockets. And these receive ample support from component video jacks for analogue HD sources, a D-Sub PC interface, a digital audio output that'll prove handy should Freeview ever start broadcasting Dolby Digital 5.1, and even a USB jack for a photocard viewer or USB key containing JPEGs so you can view digital pictures direct on the TV.
The only notable connection absentee is a CI slot, meaning that you can't add Top Up TV to the services available via the set's built-in digital tuner.
This digital tuner does at least come with full support for the Freeview 7- day electronic programme guide (EPG), though, and a 30-event reminder memory. Aggravatingly, however, you can't set events in this memory simply by selecting upcoming programmes from the EPG; instead you have to input all the necessary time/date/channel data manually. Grrr.
While we're having a grouchy moment, we didn't fi nd the L26 T2's operating system very inspiring either. The onscreen menus aren't to blame, though; in fact their use of neat graphics and generally clean presentation is rather good. The problem is the remote, which has an annoyingly narrow band of infrared reception, and buttons that feel rubbery and unresponsive - or which when they do respond end up registering two presses instead of one. The sharp points set into the left/right/up/down rocker knob also make your fi ngers sore. Sniffl e.
Aside from the digital tuner, the next most signifi cant thing about the L26 T2 is the fact that it's fully HD Ready, with its HD friendly connections backed up by a native pixel resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels and compatibility with 720p and 1080i HD sources.
Elsewhere Faroudja's DCDi system is on hand to improve the set's contouring, while Sagem's own Crystal Motion processing is supposedly at work boosting brightness and contrast, making colours more vibrant and natural, and upscaling standard defi nition images to fi t the screen's 1,366 x 768 pixel count.
Picture adjustment options are fairly straightforward; just a small selection of presets and a 'User' mode where the only interesting option is whether you set the backlight to Low, Medium or High.
Letting the L26 loose on a variety of sources, we were surprised to fi nd that while certainly good, for some reason - perhaps simple passage of time - its pictures don't seem quite as aggressively excellent as those of its 32in brother. Let's get the bad news out of the way fi rst. For starters, no matter how much we tinkered around with the brightness and contrast settings, we couldn't quite end up with entirely natural-looking blacks. A lack of greyscale fi nesse means that - as with the JVC 26DX7 featured overleaf on page 82 - dark areas of the picture tend to look more like empty holes torn out of the picture than integrated parts of it. This simile probably makes the situation sound more grievous than it actually is, but it hopefully gives you some way of visualising what we're talking about.
Next on our 'boo' list is the fairly hefty amount of digital artefacting apparent while watching via the HDMI input. You can pretty much get rid of this, but only if you turn the TV's brightness setting down further than you might feel comfortable with.
Also troubling us a little is the screen's unusually high refl ectivity, which can make watching dark scenes on the TV in a bright room a bit of a chore, to be honest. And fi nally on the downside, our test sample suffered with subtle pools of backlight spillage from each of its four corners.
Providing a healthy balance to these negatives is a roster of plus points, kicking off with the fact that while dark areas might not be especially rich in detail, their black levels certainly do get nice and deep. Add this to an impeccably toned, seriously bright peak white level plus vivid, fully saturated colours that maintain their tone more consistently than those of the JVC, and you've got a picture that's capable of delivering real dynamism.
The Sagem's motion handling is pretty much on the money, too, meaning that when pictures get moving the Sagem suffers less with the softening, smearing response time noise occasionally experienced with JVC's 26DX7. This fact plays a big part in helping the Sagem's pictures look more or less noise-free (notwithstanding the HDMI artefacting), as well as generally highly detailed and sharp. JVC's DIST processing arguably gives it a fi ne detail/sharpness edge over this Sagem for some of the time, but the Sagem's superior motion handling means that its action scenes can arguably look clearer - certainly during standard-defi nition viewing.
The set's sound is OK. The soundstage can appear rather muffl ed and contained unless you push it quite loud, but it opens up nicely at high volumes, with only occasional signs of distortion to spoil the show.
We arrived at the L26 T2 all set up to love it, especially after the success of its bigger brother. But in the end, while it certainly has its moments, one or two glaring problems deny it the best buy badge we'd expected it to deserve.