You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the appeal of Panasonic's TX-28DTX1. Just take in the fact that it's 28in in size and has a built-in digital tuner, then look at the £550 price.
Panasonic has also made sure that it looks much nicer than most of its bargain-basement brethren, courtesy of a slick deep-grey screen frame that boldly stands proud of the main light-silver TV chassis.
Things get more down to earth on the connections front. Our efforts only uncovered a duo of Scarts, the RF input, a stereo audio output, a slot for a CAM card (more on this in a moment) and a full set of front AV jacks. Still, while this hardly sets the pulse racing, it's par for the budget TV course.
Features are dominated by the built-in digital tuner, backed up by full interactivity and teletext compatibility, plus an Electronic Programme Guide. The set can also be upgraded for payTV services via the aforementioned CAM slot.
The EPG is disappointing in that, although it works with Freeview's new seven-day information system, it's very slow at compiling data and fails to keep a small version of the picture running while you look for programmes to watch.
Nor does it offer much genre searching flexibility. The one piece of good news here is that you can use it to set timer recordings in conjunction with a suitably sophisticated (ie, compatible with Panasonic's Q-Link system) VCR.
Now that the EPG has drawn our attention, it's also worth saying that the TX-28DTX1 is hardly Speedy Gonzales when accessing digital teletext, either.
Other features are predictably thin on the ground. This is a 50Hz TV with only fairly basic noise reduction and automatic contrast control to enhance it. On the audio side, meanwhile, there's just Dolby Virtual worth mentioning.
Happily, the TX-28DTX1 moves up a gear with its picture. Its most likeable facet is its extreme cleanliness. The TV does a terrific job - seemingly without the aid of special processing - of suppressing the blockiness and shimmering that afflicts many Freeview broadcasts. Also, there's none of the basic graininess that many budget TVs suffer with.
Another common budget trait the TX-28DTX1 effortlessly sidesteps is a lack of contrast. Its black level is comfortably profound enough to give pictures bags of field depth, lots of background, and formidable solidity (with digital tuner pictures at any rate).
The good contrast performance knocks on into the set's colours, which emerge richly, vibrantly and with authenticity, thanks to the absence of the grey mistiness associated with poor contrast.
It's in the details
If the 28DTX1 does have a weakness, it's with fine details. The picture doesn't look quite as pin-sharp as one or two rivals, even at the lower-priced end of the market. That said, we're actually quite happy to trade a little fine detail for the TX-28DTX1's smoothness.
The TX-28DTX1's price is more clearly apparent in its sonics. Although it serves up a surprisingly wide soundstage, this width is accompanied by precious little depth. A shortage of either treble detail or bass expansion leaves action scenes sounding compressed, harsh and muddy - especially if you make the mistake of choosing the TV's Speech mode over the more open Music one.
While not able to live with a sturdy film soundtrack, though, the TX-28DTX1's speakers do okay with TV viewing - which is acceptable for £550.
The TX-28DTX1 is hardly a classic. But then, it's not built to be. It's built to hit a price and if that price is about what you had in mind for your next TV, the TX-28DTX1 delivers plenty of bang for your buck. John Archer