£1,800 is an awful lot of cash to spend on a small LCD television, but then Bang & Olufsen has never been concerned with catering to the entry-level market. The Danish company prides itself on producing exclusive, achingly stylish AV products, and its latest model, a 26-inch HDTV, certainly fits the bill.
While the BeoVision 8 is well equipped to show high-definition movies, games and television shows, its compact size suggests it's probably intended for use in a bedroom or study rather than as the centrepiece of a top-class home cinema setup. It comes supplied with a desktop stand, so you could even use it as a large widescreen monitor for a PC or Mac.
The BeoVision 8 is a well-built, highly impressive piece of design. There's a beautifully clean and uncluttered look to it, with no buttons or protruding logos to spoil the smooth lines -- a B&O logo is vaguely visible on the speaker grille and there's a single power indicator LED, but nothing else. Take a closer look and you'll find that the entire thing has a slightly bizarre rubberised coating, which we really liked -- it certainly makes a welcome change from the dust-attracting glossy black finish that 90 per cent of flat TVs have these days.
The one strange note to the styling is the speakers, which jut out as a ledge a few inches from the front. It's not exactly ugly, but seems an odd choice until you realise that B&O has done it to improve sound quality (more on that below).
Connectivity covers all the usual bases. At the back there's a single HDMI port, plus component video and VGA (so you have a few options for your HD kit) as well as a couple of Scart inputs. Once you've hooked your kit up, you can hide the mess behind a cable management panel. A removable side panel contains basic AV inputs for a camcorder.
Setting up a B&O television is never a particularly easy experience, mainly because they are so different from anything else around. For starters, you have to plough through multiple menu screens in order to assign your external devices -- DVD player, games console, PC and so on -- to the connections at the back, otherwise it's almost impossible to flip between them using the remote control.
Also, we discovered that there is only one audio input for the component and VGA connections, so you can't connect up, say, a PC and an Xbox 360 to the BeoVision 8 at the same time and get sound from both of them -- one will have to be hooked directly up to an external amplifier and speakers. You wouldn't expect this kind of flaw on a £400 LCD television, so seeing it on one that costs more than four times that amount is a tad rich (no pun intended).
This is one of the first models we've reviewed in a while that isn't supplied with a built-in digital tuner. While a little surprising, it's not a huge drawback -- if you're shelling out this much money you're likely to either have a satellite/cable service already or not mind spending a bit extra on a Freeview box.
There isn't much in the way of image-tweaking tools. You can adjust the basics, like brightness, colour and contrast, but most of the work is done automatically depending on the lighting conditions in your room. There's also a low reflection coating on the screen, which helps prevent light hampering your viewing during the day.
A Beo4 remote control is supplied with the TV, and it's quite pleasant to use once you get used to the weight and idiosyncratic button layout. It has its own LCD screen (not colour, sadly), which comes in handy at times, and can be used to control pretty much any B&O product ever made -- so it's invaluable for anyone lucky enough to have a house stocked with the company's kit.
While its 26-inch screen isn't really big enough to show off high-definition's true capabilities, the BeoVision 8 does a great job with an HD source. BBC HD's Planet Earth looks gorgeous here: the extra detail doesn't hit you like it would on a bigger screen, but it's still noticeable, and the colours in the sea, sky and penguins' plumage look beautifully rich and deep.
It has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, so 1080p is out of the question, but 720p and 1080i are both supported. One thing the screen really lends itself to is gaming: B&O claims the response time is a mere 6ms, and its performance during the fast-moving likes of Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on Xbox 360 would appear to support this. Despite lots of rapid lateral motion, there is almost no ghosting or smearing visible at all.
Standard-definition material like Sky TV and DVD looks fine as well. The screen isn't large enough to highlight the flaws that can affect these formats (compression artefacts and other digital noise), so you're getting a reasonably clean, crisp image with almost any source. We found the built-in analogue tuner to be the exception to this rule -- it looked washed out and fuzzy in our test -- but much of this could depend on your aerial and the quality of the signal you receive.
As with almost all LCDs, the contrast ratio isn't enormous and as a result you don't get the super-strong blacks you'd expect from a plasma screen. Still, the B&O manages to create dark scenes reasonably well, without making blacks look too grey.
The BeoVision 8's designers are also keen to highlight its audio performance, and it does stand out from the average small high-definition TV. There's a great deal of bass on show, while movie and TV dialogue is crisp and easy to pick out, and according to B&O, it's all down to the speaker design. That jutting out speaker looks that way so that the bass can fire down towards the floor, so as not to hamper the mid- and high-end sound.
All things considered, this does perform better than the average 26-inch LCD -- but then you'd expect something a bit special for the premium you're paying.
The BeoVision 8 combines the beautiful high concept design you'd expect from a B&O product with strong all-round audiovisual performance, but it strikes a couple of off-key notes with its confusing setup menus, lack of a digital tuner and limited connectivity. When you're paying such a huge amount for a television, you'd like to think such things have been properly thought through.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield