The Germans may be better known for efficiency than design panache,but evidently no one told that to the people at Loewe. The company is renowned for TVs that combine cutting-edge technology with high style and the modestly named Spheros R37 Masterpiece is no exception.
Looking more like a piece of modern sculpture than a TV set,the screen and stand are formed out of a single square of black glass,with the speakers highlighted in silver at the bottom.It's design understatement to the nth degree - we're even surprised to see a power button on the front of there.
While the stand may limit where you can position the screen (no wall mounting,for example),the whole unit moves around electrically at the touch of the button.
Rather uniquely,the whole connection board lifts up into a horizontal position from the back panel,where you proceed to plug in your various electrical devices and lock the unit back into place.
Being a Loewe TV, there's no shortage of connections - the company always includes slots for hard drives, digital tuners, internet boxes etc.The big news,though,is a DVI socket with full HDCP compatibility.This is joined by component inputs,three sets of stereo inputs, two digital audio inputs and an output,plus direct speaker terminals to link up a 5.1 system.The lower quality connections are also represented, including two Scarts (one RGB capable),composite and S-video.
Put simply, this television will handle anything you can throw at it now or in the future.
The remote,unfortunately,has not been quite so well designed.Loewe's designers must think that we've got digits the size of a child,because everyday use is too fiddly.
However,the onscreen instruction manual is a gift from the heavens during the set-up process, and makes you wish that all manufacturers would follow suit.
There are plenty of options and presets to choose from when handling the sound,plus the upgradability means you can use the TV as the centre of your household entertainment.For example if you buy the Multimedia Kit (£395) you can network up to your PC.
Perhaps the biggest feature to get accustomed to on the Spheros R37 is hard-drive recording.PVR veterans should be able to get up and running straight away,taking advantage of the ability to pause and rewind Live TV, schedule recordings and also change the quality settings to store hundreds of hours of recordings.At the highest setting, recordings are indistinguishable from the originals.
When you consider the price of the package and the relative cost of a Freeview PVR (less than £150), Loewe's inclusion of hard-drive recording is hardly a deal-clincher, but it's still a nice feature that separates it from the pack.
Loewe's 'Masterpiece' moniker suggests that the company is more than a little confident about the set's performance. Fortunately, this isn't misplaced as the R37 is certainly one of the best performers on the market.
Whereas most screens have an Achilles' Heel in one area of their performance (usually it's with analogue picture sources),the R37 seems to suffer from no such limitations.The black-level response is out of this world,with no grain or grey misting,while LCD dot crawl is noticeable only by its absence.
While many less capable LCDs turn RGB Freeview feeds into a blocky, artefact-heavy mess,the R37 makes them look terrific.The response time on the R37 is superb and you really get a feel for detail,even in darker scenes,which are usually the downfall for many LCD screens.
The colours are also superbly natural, thanks largely to the excellent contrast level.Loewe's quoted ratio seems too low in this respect at 800:1.The picture depth is comparable to that of CRT even.
Of course, the jump in quality with high definition was still huge, and this screen was born to service the very best video available.We ran some HD Windows Media clips from a laptop to the screen's VGA input (although this is a £65 upgrade, which is a bit steep).The results were impressive to say the least.
Audio performance is also spectacular,both in terms of power and control.It's preposterous to think that someone might not combine this awesome screen with a multithousand pound speaker system,but the treble detail and depth of bass means you could adequately enjoy every type of viewing experience with the built-in speakers.
If there is any room for criticism, it's that the detail isn't quite up there with the latest Sharp technology.But that's really a reproach that has to be outweighed by a completely noiseless picture.
If you're looking to compare this screen with anything else then there's only the equally lovely B&O BeoVision 7 LCD in this price bracket.
However, the Spheros R37 Masterpiece is Audrey Hepburn to the BeoVision 7's Pamela Anderson - it has the looks, but more importantly it's got enough there to keep you interested. Sure, relatively few of us will be able to afford to join the club and appreciate this fine art, but then again the same could be said for most of the world's masterpieces.