Panasonic's LCDs have always dazzled us with superior picture quality, but the company has taken its time creating a package that combines preformance with our long list of feature requirements. The TX26LXD50 nearly got it right, combining an integrated Freeview tuner when many others hadn't even got their iDTV range past the design stage. But with Freeview already seeming old hat due to the announcement of Sky HD, the TX26LXD50's lack of an 'HD Ready' badge made us strongly warn off potential buyers. It also disappointed on connectivity, with no HDMI or computer terminal.
The follow-up LCD is only one digit different in its name, but it finally boasts the 'HD Ready' badge as well as the Freeview tuner and picture quality of the previous model. Sure, there are still problems -- there's no PC input (why, Panasonic, why?) but they're outweighed by nice touches that include a slot for TopUp TV upgrades. That flawless picture quality is the biggest selling point though, coming a close second to Sharp's famous LCD panels.
Panasonic's range of LCD TVs may not be as stylised as Samsung's recent efforts, but it does offer an understatedly cool allure. The simple black frame hovers above two silver speakers, with a folding panel in the centre hiding basic connectivity. Too many flat screens neglect front connections, forgetting that many people have camcorders and games consoles that they like to connect up only occasionally. The Panasonic includes composite and S-video terminals under this smooth-opening panel, as well as basic operating buttons.
Round the back of the TV and behind a removable panel, the rest of the ample connectivity reveals itself. There are three Scart sockets, two of which are RGB-compatible for improved picture quality from modern equipment (digiboxes, DVD players and games consoles, for example). There are also component video inputs -- perfect for a DVD player that supports progressive scan. The red, green and blue phono connectors provide a much better picture quality than RGB Scart, and while the Panasonic is a strong all-round picture performer, the jump in quality warrants the expense of a progressive-scan DVD player.
The new addition to the TV, and the one that necessitates the upgrade, is the HDMI socket. HDMI is a completely digital standard that carries video and audio down a single cable. It means you can send a standard or high-definition picture and a Dolby Digital/DTS soundtrack directly to the TV, with little to no degredation. There are DVD players that support HDMI, although to be honest, the difference between component video isn't as marked as the difference between component and Scart. It would be best to keep this socket reserved for Sky HD (which it will require because of HDMI's built-in copy protection) or a Blu-ray player. For more information on the high-definition revolution, have a look at our Television Buying Guide here.
We're very annoyed that the television doesn't feature a VGA input. We thought that we would be able to use a DVI-HDMI adaptor to run our Dell XPS into the TV, but the Panasonic was happy to turn a blind eye to our high-definition test platform. This will be annoying to media-centre owners, but it will likely be more annoying to the many more Xbox 360 owners, who can use a VGA cable for hi-def gaming on their flat screen. They'll have to opt for component instead, and then buy a splitter so they can use a DVD player at the same time.
Panasonic's remote control is simple to use and looks great. The buttons are well laid out and most are in a solid, rectangular format. If you're a Panasonic junkie you can also use the remote to control one of the company's DVD players. Panasonic is not selling an HDMI-equipped DVD player as yet though, but it would make sense to accompany this new TV. The company is playing catch-up to Samsung and Toshiba in this respect.