The Loewe name is synonymous with adventurous design, so it comes as no surprise that its debut Blu-ray player, the Blutech Vision, focuses heavily on the aesthetic.
Available in anthracite or chrome silver, the BluTech Vision is minimalist in design and sports a front panel devoid of any features other than a central porthole.
This spartan approach helps the player become one of the most stylish HD decks around and it also blends in nicely with the company’s existing range of TVs and audio components. The only minor disappointment is that the front panel isn’t motorised like it is on Sony’s BDP-S500.
Profile 1.0 Blu-ray
The BluTech Vision was launched in October 2007 before Profile 1.1 was mandated, which meant that Loewe was under no obligation to make provision for its features. So what we have is a Profile 1.0 deck that can’t play PiP (Picture in Picture), and its inability to be upgraded to 1.1 means it’ll stay that way, too.
On the rear panel is a healthy set of connections, including an HDMI v1.3 socket that can output 1080p pictures at 24fps, as well as Dolby True HD, DTS HD and Dolby Digital Plus bitstreams.
However, the latter sound formats cannot be output from the analogue outputs, which means you can only enjoy them if you own an HDMI-equipped receiver with the relevant decoding.
Sadly the Loewe doesn’t support DTS HD Master Audio at all, but there’s always the chance its firmware could be upgraded in the future using the USB service socket on the rear.
Format compatibility is poor, as it refused to play any of our homeburned discs containing MP3, WMA or DiVX files.
It will, however, play BD-R/-RE, most recordable DVD formats and CD-R/-RW. The deck upscales to 720p, 1080i and 1080p, which gives a definite boost to the quality of a DVD collection.
In our experience, Loewe products can be tricky to use and, in places, the BluTech Vision displays these traits.
The menu system is well laid out but sluggish to navigate, and the Loewe Assist remote control is littered with puzzling buttons. It is, however, one of the most elegant zappers we’ve encountered, made from aluminium and with keys that give a satisfying click.
With Quick Start activated, discs take roughly 35 seconds to start playing, compared with almost two minutes in normal mode. This facility is also found on the Sharp BD-HP20H player, which also sports an uncannily similar menu system and feature list. Could it be they are one and the same?
During our test we encountered a few glitches. The deck struggled with the Java-heavy menus on our Spider-Man 3 disc, making the animation look jerky, and it froze up on more than one occasion.
Stunning picture quality
Despite its shortcomings, the Loewe gets it right in the high-definition picture department, delivering images that will blow you away.
It handles the abundant detail contained in the Spider-Man 3 disc with aplomb, bringing the CG effects and busy New York cityscapes to life. Even the most minute patterns and textures are clearly visible, ramming home hi-def’s picture superiority over DVD, and there’s no edge noise or dot crawl to spoil the party.
Colour reproduction is also powerful and natural-looking, giving Sam Raimi’s warm, comic-book visuals the depth and vibrancy they deserve, particularly during bright outdoor scenes.
With the 24fps mode engaged the frenetic action is smoothly handled, with fast moving objects remaining focused, and horizontal camera pans reproduced without any judder. However, there is some slight flickering on vertically scrolling objects such as end credits.
The player also delivers some commendably deep and punchy blacks to your display and it doesn’t lose any shadow detail during dark scenes, a virtue that’s demonstrated perfectly by Spidey and Sandman’s scrap in the subway.
While its HD performance is superb, its treatment of DVDs is less impressive. The deck’s reproduction of detail in The Fellowship of the Ring, when upscaled to 1080p, lacks the sharpness and crisp edge definition we’ve come to expect from DVD upscalers, and this comes as something of a disappointment.
Clean and crisp audio
Sound quality is excellent. Spider- Man 3’s Dolby Digital track sounds clean and energetic through the 5.1-channel outputs, while True HD playback on a compatible amp is spellbinding.
The deck’s inability to handle DVD-A and SACD is a minor disappointment (no-one has included it on a Blu-ray player yet), but CD playback is enjoyable, with a fluid balance of bass, midrange and treble with no distortion.
There’s no question that the Loewe is a decent Blu-ray player that offers fantastic HD picture quality.
But when you compare its limited feature list with players such as the Panasonic DMP-BD30 or the Sony BDP-S500, we can only conclude that the BluTech Vision is hugely overpriced.
For this sort of cash, we’d have expected DTS HD Master Audio support, compressed media playback and better DVD upscaling – although we can just about forgive the Profile 1.0 spec, given its original launch date.
However, in the unlikely situation that your buying decision is based purely on looks, then the Loewe’s undeniably classy and distinctive design will make an eye-catching addition to your system, particularly if it’s made up of other Loewe kit.