As part of Loewe's 'art' range, as opposed to its even higher-end 'reference' products ,this 42in plasma is a step-down from its Spheros 42in model. Oddly, the A42 is part of the company's Xelos range, which until now has been the reserve of LCDs - and top-draw ones at that.
The German company has not yet produced a plasma truly worthy of the Loewe badge, but this model has the same opulent style of its predecessors and also offers interplay with other Loewe home cinema products. Thankfully, the A42 comes replete with an HDMI socket, enabling it to claim the HD Ready badge with ease.
Loewe describes its Xelos range of flatpanel TVs as 'upper-class elegance and design', something that's evident here in the Xelos A42's gorgeous platinum frame. The screen, framed in black, sits atop a truly unique 'teardrop' spotted grille over the integrated bottom-mounted speakers, with a classy circular infrared receiver in the centre as a final flourish.
Inside our sample is an analogue tuner, although for an extra £100,a digital tuner can be fitted to allow access to Freeview channels. However, before you go down the digital road, bear in mind that Loewe is not pushing that particular 'upgrade' in the UK at present, for a variety of reasons.
Currently, the A42 is not compatible with MHEG5, meaning Freeview's seven-day electronic programme guide is out of bounds, as is the famed 'red button' interactive function - largely because these two features of DVB are not an issue in Germany and Europe. Those after a digital tuner should wait until July, when a new UK-specific chassis becomes available.
Talking of hardware, this very heavy plasma comes with a table-top stand (TS62),although a Xelos rack - which allows rotation of the screen - is available for an additional £450,as is a (presumably very strong) wallmounting kit, including bracket, which will set you back £60.
With an Alternate Lighting of Surfaces (ALiS) panel measuring 1,024 x 1,024 pixels, the rear socket count includes an HDMI input, making all-digital pictures from a similarly equipped DVD player possible, as well as HDTV.
Other rear connections include two Scarts,(one RGB) and component video to cater for progressive scan and analogue HD pictures. There's also a coaxial digital audio in and out, and a common interface slot for upgrading to Top Up TV.A side panel gives camcorder users access to composite connections.
Heavy on inputs, the A42 is light on picture processing, with only the Diagonal Contour Control and Luminance Transition Improvement technologies present. There's also a Digital Refresh Mode to counteract screenburn and the ability to set timer recordings when the tuner is paired with a DVD recorder or VCR.
That's done via the onscreen menus, which, dressed in shades of blue and grey, feature menus that drop down - and pop up - onto the screen and have obviously been carefully designed in terms of their looks. Sadly, the system is rather slow and unresponsive.
The remote that controls those menus is deeply flawed. Besides looking plasticky and cheap - completely unlike its mother ship - its 'clickwheel'is also rather tricky to get to know. What's more, you can't do much to the picture besides the usual contrast/sharpness/brightness/colour adjustments - and even then it takes a good few clicks to get there. Still, this remote can also take control of Loewe DVD recorders or VCRs.
Tuning in pictures from the analogue tuner proves troublesome, because it assigns the 'big five' to the wrong channel numbers and it proves tricky to manually adjust them.
Pictures from the analogue tuner are as tightly presented as on any big screen plasma. Similarly, fed via the RGB Scart, pictures from a Freeview box are clean, with colours well saturated and digital blocking kept to a minimum.
Not bad for a 42in screen, although the logos from BBC News 24, for example, do reveal a noticeable problem with screenburn. A ghosted impression of that logo is left on the screen even after only a couple of minutes viewing. Thankfully, the DRM feature - which when activated via the onscreen menus flashes a variety of colours across the screen - does refresh the panel. Still, the fact that a plasma TV needs daily care and attention like this is concerning.
TV tuner and Scart pictures may look better than expected on such a big screen, but the same doesn't apply when we run a progressive scan picture from a DVD player into the component video inputs.
The first aspect that strikes from The House of Flying Daggers is an empty approach to the reproduction of blacks - there's a distinct lack of detail apparent in dark areas of the image, with dot crawl apparent. This problem persists at the other end of the spectrum: whites don't look particularly pure either. There's also a lot more picture noise than expected, something that's particularly noticeable over out-of-focus backgrounds. Horizontal motion causes a noise and jumpiness to the picture. Colour reproduction is good and blocks of colour are well saturated, but skin tones suffer from an unrealistic tint.
As for picture adjustments, this Loewe offers up a choice between 'intensive', 'normal' and 'soft' picture modes. The former tinges the picture blue and the latter yellow, so in our eyes it's best to stick with 'normal'.
Alarmingly, these slight, but persistent problems also apply to pictures via the HDMI input and high-definition images. The level of detail, especially in close-ups, is excellent, but the picture is too noisy and inconsistent for us to recommend it.
The Loewe gets back on message with its audio performance, which is exceptional. Both meaty and detailed, there's more than enough here to do a movie soundtrack justice.
A work of art that sounds fantastic and makes a great plasma for daily TV watching may sound like a good bet, but it's with high-quality sources where this Loewe screen fails to make the cut. While colourful, bright and detailed, its problems with picture noise, contrast and dot crawl from high quality sources make this a plasma that simply fails to live up to its high billing.
That said, the properly UK Freeview-enabled model due this summer should at least be worth a look. Jamie Carter