LCD TV prices may be falling fast, but the 32-inch and above category is still the domain of the wealthy or hardcore. In the mid-range, LCDs are much more affordable -- the perfect candidates for the bedroom. After all, space is likely to be at much more of a premium there than in the living room, and what better way to show off than hanging a TV on your bedroom wall?
Sony's LCDs have impressed us, and its Wega Engine technology has blown us away. By keeping all content in the digital domain, Wega Engine can produce pictures that are way ahead of the competition, especially from Freeview. And if you have a DVD player with component outputs, it gets even better. The KLV-26HG2 is not quite as physically impressive as thebut it still looks the part, with added features such as Memory Stick photo compatibility.
The KLV-26HG2 is a solid piece of Sony design. The company has been adding plenty of flourishes to its LCDs of late, but it has held back on this mid-range model. The silver body is standard issue for most TVs, but the Wega Engine badge is a nod to those in the know that you respect picture quality over fancy design.
Given the small amount of space round the back of the TV, Sony has managed to offer a decent amount of connectivity. There are even more connections on both sides of the television, some under a flip-out panel, and it has a Memory Stick slot underneath the function buttons.
You should demand at least two Scart inputs on a TV these days, because you probably have a combination of Freeview/Sky boxes and DVD players and games consoles fighting it out underneath. Sony is happy to oblige, although only one of the two inputs is RGB-enabled, which results in a much better picture quality than using regular Scart. Despite this limitation, Scart 2 can also be used as an input or output -- it might be of limited use, but you could output something to be recorded on a VCR or DVD recorder.
The big news on the TV is that it features component inputs, so if you have a relatively new DVD player, you can get a high-quality picture from the TV. It's a shame, then, that there's no PC input, because this would make it ideal for dual use in the office. This limitation also means that the TV isn't fully high-definition compatible -- but hi-def is unusual on a TV this size. All that's left on the rear is stereo audio out, in case you want to run the audio through a separate sound system.
The flip-out side panel is a clever addition, as you can hide everything out of view when you're not using it. With S-video, composite and audio inputs, you don't have to go fiddling around the back to connect a camcorder, and the sockets can be hidden out of view when not in use.
On the other side, there's a Memory Stick slot that supports Sony's portable storage format. Only the full-size variety will fit into the slot -- the smaller Duo variety requires an adaptor. Above this, there are control buttons to change channel, input and volume. They are well located and a nice shape, finishing off a nigh-on faultless design.
Sony's menu system always looks the part, which removes the sting of having to set up the TV to your optimal conditions. All on-screen graphics are located in the bottom corner of the screen so they don't obscure the main picture, and you can even change the colour scheme if you're bored with the standard white. As always, Sony's remote control completes the easy-to-use interface thanks to its solid feel and the clearly labelled buttons.
The Memory Stick feature isn't as fully implemented as it could have been -- in fact, it's pretty limited. Other Sony LCDs let you record programmes to a Memory Stick for playback on the TV itself or in a portable device. This TV, however, doesn't let you record anything -- it just displays photos. The lack of MP3 playback (or Sony's preferred format, ATRAC) is a real missed opportunity. If you take the Memory Stick straight from the camera, then the TV will find the photos automatically, but if you've transferred them from a PC, you have to point to the right folder. The photo options are very limited -- you can set it to do an automatic slideshow, but the only customisation is the display time. Images from ourlooked particularly nice on-screen.
The majority of the TV's picture options are useful, but we can't figure out why anyone would want to drop the backlight level with the Power Saving mode. More relevant is the ability to format any video material to fit the widescreen format. Many programmes (especially on daytime TV) are still in a 4:3 format, and it can be annoying to have them stretched across the screen, making characters look bloated. The KLV-26HG2 will either keep the square format intact, or remove the top and bottom of the picture to make it look more natural. If this sounds complicated, you can leave the TV on Smart mode and it will automatically adjust the picture.
More and more flat screens are incorporating virtual surround sound technology, but this is one of the smallest models we've seen to offer Virtual Dolby Surround. If you're in a small room, you might grow to like the effect, but the Dynamic setting made the speakers sound far more punchy. As the side of the television proudly boasts, the speakers also incorporate BBE technology.
We've said quite a lot about Sony's Wega Engine in other reviews, but it really is one of the best picture processing technologies around. Sony knows that the majority of analogue video sources look poor on a digital screen, so Wega Engine keeps all the picture processing in the digital form instead of having numerous digital-to-analogue conversions diluting the picture quality. The first thing you'll notice is how detailed the picture looks across all sources. Freeview doesn't degenerate into a horrible, blocky mess, which is a common problem on other screens.
The lack of PC input means you can't get the best out of the TV, but component video is still very impressive. The contrast depth is excellent, and if you turn Power Saving off and Dynamic Picture on, the brightness is excellent. The panel doesn't struggle with detail in the darker areas of the picture and colours look natural.
The sound is slightly weak, and unlike the bigger Sony TVs we've had in recently, there's no input to turn the TV speakers into one centre channel (when using a home cinema system). It's fine for everyday use -- vocals are clear -- but you might want to bring out the big speakers if you're watching a movie.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide