What did you spend your $900 "Ruddy money" on? Coincidently, plenty of flat panel LCD TVs appeared at exactly this price point and proved just the stimulus for many to go and spend some free cash. For this money you'd be able to buy a 37- or so inch screen from a brand you'd never heard of before, but as the old saying goes "you get what you pay for". So what if you fancy spending a bit more on a 42-inch LCD — say five or six grand? At this size and price, you'd expect something a bit special.
Hailing from Germany, the land of engineering excellence, Loewe's not a brand that has ever done things by halves. This shows in the design of the Art SL, which aesthetically, as well as technically, has obviously been thought through. Modern, but understated, is the look and is available in either chrome silver or high gloss black. There are two screen sizes, 42 and 47 inches, plus the option of on-board twin tuners and a 250GB hard disk for recording HD or analog TV content. The version we looked at included the on-board recorder.
The panels employ 100Hz motion technology (like it or not) and can also handle a 24p signal from the likes of most Blu-ray player sources. Maximum screen resolution, is naturally, 1920x1080p, making this a Full HD display. HDMI inputs are a little light at three; we'd like to have seen more, plus there are single USB, Component Video, RGB and PC inputs. Controlling everything, the remote is a nice and weighty metallic device with a simple layout that proved easy to use.
The Loewe's been designed with the environment in mind and claims to be one of the "greenest" flat panels around. An "Eco-Standard" mode lets you control how much power it uses and an automatic light-dimming function uses up to 20 per cent less electrical power than when running normally. Power consumption drops to just 0.7 Watts when in standby as well.
After a fairly lengthy initial set-up (far more long-winded than most) the screen's ready to view. It picked up all available digital TV stations in the test area north of Sydney and we fed a couple of external sources into the Loewe, namely a Foxtel iQ2 and Blu-ray player. Choosing the default picture settings for its "Premium" mode, the result was a perfectly watchable image with excellent black depth and high levels of contrast. This is helped by even backlighting which makes very dark, as well as very bright images, look consistent and smooth. Switching to "Eco" mode and the brightness and contrast levels drop noticeably, but are still perfectly acceptable. Colours are also handled extremely well; it's hard to fault the Loewe in this regard and with HD broadcast as well as 1080/24p Blu-ray material the balance is spot-on. The animated visual delights of Wall-E show this to full effect with bold, vibrant colours and so much detail it appears almost three dimensional. This is something that's noticeable with most HD content and certainly compared to a resident aging plasma of the same size, the Loewe left it for dead in every respect.
Operationally, the Loewe works well, especially the on-board recorder which is a doddle to use. You won't pick whether it's a real-time broadcast or recording, such is the replay quality of HD content. Some lip syncing problems popped up during our time with the Art SL, but only when viewing satellite Foxtel. Fortunately, our AV receiver was equipped with adjustment for this common problem and it was soon remedied.
Keeping up with fast-moving action such as horizontal camera panning and sports broadcasts have long been a problem for most LCDs, but they are getting better and it really didn't ever appear to be an issue with the Loewe. It handled motion confidently and to our eyes always produced convincing textures without any blur or judder.
The Loewe sounds really good too — the combination of ample on-board power and decent speakers create TV sound of genuine substance. There are a number of audio enhancement options as well, including Loewe's own surround sound mode and internal Dolby Digital and DTS decoding.
As nice as it is, let's face it — few of us are going to buy this TV. You need plenty of money, plus you can buy the same quality of LCD panel for a lot less outlay, but this isn't what Loewe's all about. It appeals to the well-heeled who want a fantastic looking and designed product regardless of the cost. In this day and age, flat panel competition is fierce, but Loewe isn't exactly a brand that's concerned with market share and moving boxes.