JVC LT-26DX7BJ £950

30th Apr 2006 | 23:00

JVC LT-26DX7BJ

JVC's pre-World Cup LCD assault starts here

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Moments of genius combine with moments of averageness to leave this JVC short of top marks but still worth an audition

Like:

<p>Image solidity; sound; features; detail with HD/static images</p>

Dislike:

<p>Hollow blacks; some motion issues</p>

With the run up to the World Cup in June looking like being a veritable LCD TV bloodbath, there's definitely something to be said for getting out there first. So while JVC hasn't quite beaten Panasonic and Toshiba's new LCDs to the punch, its new LT-26DX7 has certainly stolen a march on the upcoming newbies from key names like Sony, Philips and Samsung. Plus, of course, it's hit its stride alongside the Sagem HD-L26T.

Aesthetically the new JVC - which rests around the middle of the company's new range - is decent rather than spectacular. On the upside, the way the speakers are hidden in a recess under the screen means it takes up far less space than the Sagem wide boy. Plus its black and silver colour scheme is reasonably fl ash. On the downside, the overall design feels fussy, and the finish strikes us as a touch plasticky.

Connections are just about on a par with those of the Sagem. Things start well with the discovery of two HDMIs and component jacks for HD (Ready) duties. Plus there's a VGA PC jack and, unlike the Sagem, a slot for a CI card to add digital terrestrial subscription services to the set's built-in Freeview reception. The two provided Scarts are both RGB capable, too. Having said that, there's no evidence of either the Sagem's digital audio output, or USB connectivity for viewing your digital photos in JPEG form .

When it comes to features, though, the JVC takes the lead. We've already seen that it matches the Sagem in having a digital tuner and HD Ready specification (rounded off by a native resolution of 1,366 x 768). But it also scores over the Sagem with its 7-day electronic programme guide by letting you select programmes that you want to record/watch in the days ahead directly from the EPG listings. OK, yes, the Sagem lets you store 30 events compared to the JVC's 10, but the facility for directly selecting recordings on the JVC is far more important.

The 26DX7 also has a potential ace up its sleeve in the shape of JVC's DynaPix image processing. This cover-all name accommodates a whole host of tricks, including digital and MPEG noise reduction; motion adaptive frame rate conversion; automatic colour management, PAL 3D Y/C separation; a supposedly high performance interlaced-progressive converter and formatter; and last but not least JVC's Digital Image Scaling Technology - or DIST to its friends. DIST's main advantage is that it radically ups the perceived detail levels and pixel count.

We should add briefly here that DynaPix has undergone some tweaking to make it better equipped to handle high definition, resulting in the addition of the ubiquitous initials 'HD' to the end of its name.

Other handy tricks include singletuner picture-in-picture facilities; backlight brightness adjustment; JVC's Super Digipure system for emphasising edges on low-contrast images and de-stressing them on high-contrast images; and a whole host of audio enhancements for getting more out of those tucked away little speakers.

We have to say, though, that accessing all of the TV's features isn't an especially enjoyable experience. The text in the onscreen menus is too small for comfort, especially while using the semi-opaque menu background option, and the remote control is rather sluggish and occasionally uncomfortable.

The 26DX7's pictures are a mix of the really very good and the really only average. And the differences in quality we're talking about aren't solely dependent on the quality of your source.

In the plus column the picture is packed with DIST-inspired fine detail. This is especially evident with high-definition sources, but can also certainly be seen with static standard-definition images, particularly via the digital tuner. We'll return to why we stressed 'static' images back there presently...

The set's contrast range is also good, managing a healthily wide spread from peak whites down to deep(ish) blacks, and in doing so giving the picture an unusually solid, rich, almost luminous appearance. We really can't stress this strength enough, and it's reason enough in itself to audition the set. Colours Ratings within this contrast spectrum for the most part look eye-catchingly vivid and bright, too.

Next there's impressively little in the way of most forms of image noise, be it MPEG blocking, moiring over fine details, digital artefacting via HDMI (a problem with the Sagem) or grain. Edges, too, look generally free of jaggedness or false contouring. This helps the picture forge an agreeably direct relationship with its viewers - as does the fact that the screen is far less reflective of ambient light than that of the Sagem.

Elsewhere there are no problems with backlight spillage, as we experienced with the Sagem.

So what are those 'average' bits we mentioned earlier? Well, first and worst, the picture is surprisingly prone to smearing over motion. This is especially apparent with TV broadcasts, but even high-definition movement can occasionally feel fractionally laggy. And when this happens it certainly detracts from the image's clarity and sharpness.

Next, although black levels can reach get pleasingly deep levels of darkness, like experienced on the Sagem they're not particularly natural, lacking the sort of subtle shadow detailing that's necessary to give them a sense of depth. As a result dark areas look rather empty and dominant.

As a final point the set's colour tone occasionally loses its way slightly, especially with standard definition sources. Although this is seldom to the extent that you're distracted from you're viewing.

You might not be able to see the 26DX7's speakers, but you can sure hear 'em. The soundstage they create is actually quite remarkable, combining outstanding width and depth with an unusually clear, well-rounded mid-range and astonishing amounts of distortion-free power. Meanwhile, the impressive frequency range leaves practically all other 26in rival sets snivelling like the sonically underpowered little wretches they are.

This amazing sound together with the picture's at times spectacular richness suggest that if only JVC can overcome its continuing problems with black level detailing and motion smearing, it might one day deliver a truly classic LCD TV. Here's hoping, anyway.

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