The Panasonic TX26LXD52 is fully high-definition compatible, a first for a 26-inch TV from the company. It will support 720p and 1080i resolution video through both component and HDMI video sockets, although you'll be forced to use the latter for Sky HD. While an extra set of component inputs or another HDMI socket wouldn't have gone amiss, this is a mid-range set and its full support for HD means you can be certain it will be compatible with all upcoming video standards. The native resolution of the panel (1,366x768 pixels) means that there's little to be gained from using 1080i video feeds, as the internal scaler will only bring it back down. Much better to use 720p -- it's more suited to the LCD panel and rock solid when thrown up on the screen.
It's also a good idea to budget in a progressive-scan DVD player when you buy the TV. Progressive-scan video is supported via component and HDMI video, and it means that video is much smoother than the normal interlaced format. Such players cost as little as £60 these days, but invest more and you can get an upscaling DVD player with HDMI for the best picture quality, such as the superb Denon DVD-2910.
The TX26LXD52's integration of Freeview is as good as we've seen from any manufacturer. The electronic programme guide is fully supportive of 7-day programme information, so you can skip forward day by day without much need for a traditional guide. There's also a Common Interface slot on the rear, meaning you can purchase a TopUp TV card and subscribe to the extra TV channels on offer. We wouldn't say that the extra channels are to die for, but it's a nice offering, as many other manufacturers still aren't including Freeview as standard, let alone TopUp TV.
Panasonic's TVs include picture-processing technology, but it's less prominently advertised than, say, the Viera badge. The Colour Management System is the catch-all term for the various processes going on inside the TV when you feed it a video signal. Contrast is boosted, fine detail recalculated -- even the sound is boosted. This technology is absolutely required when you're using digital television and DVDs -- their resolution is much lower than the Panasonic's resolution, so something has to be done in-between. Upscaling DVD players will convert movies to high-definition resolutions before they're pumped out of the player, but digital TV certainly benefits from the Colour Management System.
We were seriously impressed with the picture quality from the TX26LXD52. Sure, we were disappointed with the difficulty of testing HD content, but as the majority of films and TV will be watched at standard definition for most of us, Panasonic's picture quality for standard def is a close second to Sharp's LC-32P50E. And that has a native PAL panel -- it's intended to be the best for digital TV and DVD movies.
The picture from interlaced pictures (everything except progressive-scan component video and HDMI) is remarkably solid. Fighting games demand a TV that can keep up with lots of movement and action on screen, and playing Soul Calibur 3 on Sony's PS2 was glorious, even using the Scart output. There was very little smearing, colours were natural and dynamic, and the contrast depth made the picture seem realistically three-dimensional. The detail from the in-built Freeview tuner was also hugely impressive, standing up to scrutiny even from close-up viewing. There's no doubt that Panasonic's TV costs a little more than Toshiba's and Samsung's sets, but if picture quality is your priority then it's worth the investment. Even the 20W speakers are much better than what's usually offered on 26-inch screens, and they're bassy enough to handle movie playback.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide