Dell is one of the PC world's biggest names, and with the LCD TV market growing ever larger, it's going for a piece of the action. This 26-inch model, the biggest in its range, boasts over 12 AV inputs, full high-definition compatibility and a widescreen 16:9 panel. This makes it an extremely attractive proposition for the price, because you can be guaranteed that the television will be compatible with all major video standards over the next five years.
However, while the technical specification of the television is something that Dell should be extremely proud of, the picture and audio quality reflect its budget roots. It struggles when displaying an RGB Scart source such as FreeView, and results across all sources are let down by a poor response time and low contrast. The situation is improved by connecting it to a Media Center PC, but you will find that these flaws are the price you pay for buying budget.
The number of connections on the W2600 is extraordinary. Usually when we unpack a flatscreen TV, we're disappointed to find only one Scart input, one set of component inputs, and if we're lucky, a PC connector. With the W2600, everything we could imagine has been included. For some connections, Dell has crammed in two. They are not all located on the back -- some composite and S-video inputs have been situated on the left side of the television. There's even a slot for a card reader if you fancy upgrading in the future. Once upgraded, your television will play back your photos from a memory card.
Two sets of progressive scan compatible inputs allow you to send a beautifully smooth signal to the TV from a compatible DVD player or games console (both of which are below £100 now). The one solitary RGB Scart is likely to be occupied by your digital TV receiver, be it FreeView or Sky, but we'd recommend taking advantage of the higher quality component standard for your DVD viewing. The rear also features both DVI and VGA inputs for connecting a PC, which stretches to including a PC audio input as well. It's all rather impressive. And a removable back panel allows you to keep these computer connections tucked away.
This amazingly good first impression is further confirmed by the aesthetic of the TV itself. It is plasticky to the touch but looks classier than its budget price tag. The TV itself sits on a very nice stand that means you can turn the screen with ease. From the front, it looks like a fairly generic LCD television with no distinguishing features, but the black surround and speaker grilles enhance the perceived contrast of the screen itself. The silver frame gives it a nice finish and overall it has a journeyman, understated appeal.
The remote control is rather tacky and liable to collect a great number of fingerprints thanks to its shiny surface. However, the main buttons light up when touched, meaning you can operate it in a home-cinema environment.
It's a case of all style and no substance when it comes to the features list on the television. The majority of serious LCD manufacturers employ their own picture processing system to iron out the inherent problems of analogue video sources when displayed on a digital screen, but no such luxuries are apparent on the Dell W2600. Instead, you get a collection of rather useless features, most of which are accessible from the remote control. Picture in Picture, Picture-Outside-Picture and Picture-By-Picture are all fancy ways of saying that you can watch two sources at once. It looks cool being able to check the football score while you're watching a movie, for example, but the real-world use of such features is fairly limited. However, there are some nice touches to be found -- you can access Teletext (which features FastText capability) while in other sources, you can set a sleep timer if it's late at night and even turn on a 'midnight' mode which reduces the bass produced in the audio for the same reason.
Further evidence of Dell's attention to detail on the connection front is the DVI input, which is fully HDCP compatible. When Sky announced that it was going to be broadcasting in high definition in 2006, it stipulated that any display had to be HDCP compatible in order to receive the new super-detailed format. Many manufacturers are still not implementing this on their displays, so fair play to Dell -- which is entirely new to this market -- for getting this right straight out of the gate.
The panel resolution is 1,280x768, meaning you fully benefit from the 720 lines of high definition content, and the higher quality 1080i format can be scaled down to retain its detail and clarity.
DVI is set to be the digital equivalent of Scart within a few years. It offers virtually no degradation in video quality from the source to the display, and in fact the only time that the information enters the analogue form is when it's received by the human eye. All Media Centers come with this connection as standard, and expect more and more DVD players to follow suit, in addition to next-generation games consoles.
The speakers boast SRS TruSurround XT capability, which gives them a faux-surround sound effect. At least that's the theory, because in practice it's incredibly distracting. Indeed, the 15W speakers are terribly underpowered. They don't provide much bass and the treble can sound quite muffled, meaning they're only just passable for regular television viewing. You'll certainly want to invest in the real 5.1 channel setup when watching movies.
While the design of the W2600 punches above its weight, the video performance is more indicative of its budget roots. The torture test for any LCD is giving it a plain old analogue TV signal and then finishing it off with some Freeview programming, and with these odds Dell's effort didn't fare too well. The 25ms response time just isn't fast enough to deal with swift camera pans and moving images, and the 500:1 contrast ratio can't reproduce any detail when you're viewing a dimly lit movie. These sort of problems will affect the viewing pleasure of even the most undemanding viewer, so if you've got your heart set on an LCD, you'll have to spend up to £1,000 more to bag something comparable to a CRT from low-quality sources. However, there are ways to get round this, albeit expensive ones. If you use a Media Center PC with a Freeview card, the results are much more polished, with less of that horrible MPEG artefacting that results from the analogue conversion process.
It's ironic that after it nailed AV connectivity so well, we have to advise you to use a PC with the Dell W2600 to get the best out of it. However, the W2600 is still a solid starting point for the company. It impresses in design but delivers exactly what you should expect for the price on performance.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Tom Espiner