It may only have been a matter of months since we reviewed the preceding 26LXD60, but Panasonic's LCD technology is advancing at such an accelerated rate that a new series, the 26LXD600, has already been released.
There have been several advances to the design and the screen's connectivity, which now includes a previously missing PC input and an SD memory card slot that can even be used for limited recording. The new panel features wider viewing angles supported by more sophisticated picture processing -- although the basic fuss-free functionality has been left alone.
We thought it would be difficult to raise performance standards but images appear to carry more detail accompanied by class-leading contrast and colour reproduction. All this is reflected in a comparatively high price (around £1,000) for a small-sized screen, but it's worth it.
Panasonic screens have always been style conscious and a few subtle design changes have only enhanced the appearance of the latest range. The matte-black surround has been broadened to integrate side-mounted speakers, which were previously positioned across the base. This has the effect of opening up a wider sound stage for the audio to perform.
The contrasting silver section below is now used to conceal several primary controls and basic AV inputs beneath a flip-down panel, which keeps the design clean and classy. This section also houses an SD card slot that can be used to access JPEG photos from a digital camera or MPEG4 videos stored on a memory card. You can also record TV programmes or even an external source onto a memory card.
From the front, the design appears sleek and compact but the deep dimensions of the rear panel mean it carries a substantial weight. This extra load is a consequence of enhanced technology and connectivity compared to previous models.
The most obvious new addition is a previously ignored VGA input that allows the screen to be used as a monitor by PC or media centre owners, although there's still no dedicated PC audio input. You can use standard stereo inputs to carry sound and there are also stereo outputs now -- another absentee in earlier models.
A third Scart terminal has also returned, with two of them RGB-enabled for high-quality performance from a conventional connection. These are accompanied by analogue component inputs, which will support progressive scan video for improved performance from a compatible DVD player.
The highest quality performance, however, is reserved for the high-definition compatible digital inputs. The screen will accept 720p and 1080i high-definition signals using two HDMI connections, which means you can connect a pair of HD sources at the same time. This is ideal if you're using Sky's HDTV services and a high-definition or upscaling DVD player -- while other HD sources like the Xbox 360 can also be connected using the component inputs.
Finally, even the remote unit has been afforded a face-lift with a more stylish silver finish and slender dimensions -- but the intelligently arranged, oversized keys have been kept to ease operation.
It's not only the design and connectivity that have been improved, there's been several advances to the underlying technical specification, too.
These include an all-new IPS (In Plane Switching) Alpha front panel, which widens the viewing angle from 90 degrees to 178 degrees. This means you can watch from off-centre positions without affecting image quality -- allowing more flexible placement and seating.
The screen features more sophisticated V-Real picture processing systems including Advanced 3D Colour Management and LCD AI technology, which enhances dynamic contrast using Active Light and Active Contrast Control to create better brightness, deeper blacks and smoother gradations. There's also a new Sub Pixel Controller that's used to eliminate jagged diagonal lines and improve detail.
Both analogue and Freeview TV tuners are integrated with digital programmes accompanied by a colourful and concise 7-day electronic programme guide that lets you view listings and search for programmes under specified types or chosen categories. And a CI card slot at the rear means you can subscribe to additional pay channels from TopUp TV services.
The screen's WXGA (1,366x768-pixel) resolution means it will display high-definition broadcasts and video using either 720p or 1080i formats, although 1080i signals will be slightly downscaled and the latest 1080p format cannot be displayed.
The blocky, outdated menu system looks disappointing and there are comparatively few functions to play with. The picture presets are expertly calibrated and we struggled to improve image quality using the limited custom adjustments, which will please anyone who simply wants to plug and play. Sound menus are similarly basic, although a more advanced pseudo-surround system using SRS TruSurround XT has replaced the earlier basic system.
So far we've mentioned improvements to the design and specification of Panasonic's latest LCD series -- so it's not altogether surprising that the screen's picture performance has improved too.
It's detail that immediately grabs your attention, especially using high-definition sources. You can separate strands of hair and notice the slightest subtleties in tones and textures that make the picture appear almost surreal. Opaque black levels instil images with solidity and three-dimensional contrast while the even colour balance is equally adept at realising natural shades as it is typically vibrant ones. Movement is more cohesive using 720p formats with both fast-paced and slow-panned motion untroubled by smearing or stuttering.
You have to look closely to find any flaws but complex backgrounds occasionally shimmer during distant shots, and fine gradations appear slightly speckled, although the picture is impressively clean otherwise.
The enhanced Smart Sound speaker system creates a more expansive audio performance, especially for a small-sized screen, while the surround effects make a decent attempt at encouraging more ambience.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield