With its 32-inch sibling having made a good impression recently , Panasonic's 26-inch TX-26LXD70 arrives as a clear favourite - despite having a pretty high price tag.
It sets about confirming this favourite status right away by combining a light silver trim with a matt black screen frame to dramatic and imposing effect. Plus it ticks all the right connection boxes with highlights including twin HDMI support, component video input, and a PC jack.
In terms of features, the TX-26LXD70 is streets ahead of its rivals. There's an IPS Alpha LCD panel, newly developed to deliver a wider viewing angle, richer colours and an improved response time; the latest generation of Panasonic's Viera V-Real processing; 100Hz Motion Picture Pro, (which doubles the image's scanning rate to smooth and sharpen motion reproduction); not to mention a phenomenal claimed contrast ratio of 8500:1, delivered by an 'intelligent scene controller' that reduces backlight output when dark scenes are detected to improve black levels.
For the most part, all these features work in harmony to deliver a truly outstanding picture. Particularly impressive is how sharp pictures look, as it's possible to make out every pore and bead of sweat on Hunt's face as he's interrogated in the intense opening sequence of our Mission: Impossible III HD DVD (watched in 1080p from a Toshiba HD-XE1).
The 100Hz system, meanwhile, delivers arguably the most convincing solution yet to LCD's motion handling issues. There's still a slight loss of resolution as Hunt charges around the bridge in the Florida Keys, but it's far less than usual - and significantly the improvements are delivered without the sort of unwanted side effects seen with practically all similar motion-improving attempts seen from other brands.
The same Florida Keys sequence basks in some superbly vibrant, rich and noiseless colours that retain their richness even if viewed from quite extreme angles, while darker sequences like the Berlin warehouse assault show the TX-26LXD70 to have a great touch with skin tones.
The weakest link
With some perfectly solid audio to round things out, if the TX-26LXD70 has any form of weakness it's black levels. They're certainly not bad but dark scenes suffer slightly more blue/grey toning than we experienced from the best in this class. The brightness adjustments of the Intelligent Scene Controller are sometimes a touch unsubtle too.
Still, while this leaves Panasonic with something to work on for its next LCD generation, the strengths elsewhere of the TX-26LXD70 are enough to make it the finest 26-inch TV we've seen to date, and well worthy of its higher price.