While there are certainly plenty of lovely-looking TVs available, it's still difficult to find one that ticks all of your taste boxes. But I suspect that's about to change with the launch of Loewe's new 'Individual' LCD TVs.
You see, while at the Individual range's heart there are only two core models, a 26in version and the 32in version we've featured here, the options available in terms of design and features between different sets are unprecedentedly numerous. You can pick and mix features and design elements to such a degree - Loewe claims more than 400 possible design variations - that your TV almost feels made to order.
There's a choice of five different fascia colours, and a good selection of stand/mounting options.
You can also insert an array of different, easy-fit side-inlay panels, with finishes encompassing everything from real wood (ebony, rosewood, light oak) to colour synthetics (black, ruby, orange or apple green).
When it comes to features, this really depends on which core Individual television you opt for.
The basic individual screen design comes in two flavours. There's a standard Freeview set with the following features: DVB-C reception (which has only limited use in the UK); MHEG 5 (Freeview interactivity and digital text); a CI slot for Pay TV upgrade; and a 'now-and-next' EPG (to be updated to an 8-day EPG by broadcast firmware early 2006).
Alternatively, you can opt for a 'stepup' version with a TV with a built-in 80GB 'DR ' hard disk recorder, a second digital tuner for recording one digital channel while watching another, and 8-day EPG support. There's also DVB-C reception, and a CI slot.
To be honest it's debatable whether some of this 'flexibility' actually feels like unnecessary over-complication caused by Loewe's European rather than dedicated UK focus. But provided you know exactly what you want before you head off to buy one, your dealer should be able to steer you towards the right option.
Connectivity includes an HDMI input and component video jacks. It's a pity there are only two Scarts, but then its digital tuner flexibility perhaps provides some explanation for this stinginess. There are also PC and centre channel line inputs.
Yet more innovation can be found beneath the hood of the Individual sets in the form of Loewe's very latest picture processing technology. Dubbed Image , it's by far Loewe's most sophisticated effort yet.
Other tricks of interest include a groovy interactive instructions manual, and the ability to set timer events on the TV for recording.
I ought to say in passing, though, that accessing all of the 32 S's features - and even just setting up its connections - is an insanely complicated procedure that will have most people banging their heads against the wall in frustration before everything's finally working correctly.
Finally settling down to watch the Individual 32 S, it's quickly apparent that Image does lift Loewe's pictures to a higher level than we've seen from the brand before.
Especially striking is the extra sharpness. Across the board, from digital tuner to HD DVHS, pictures seem clearer, more detailed and more textured.
Colours also seem marginally improved. Where previous Loewe sets have tended to introduce a gentle green or blue undertone during dark scenes, especially where skin is involved, the Individual holds on to its colour authenticity more successfully. This is achieved without sacrificing the blistering colour intensity that's long been a Loewe LCD trademark.
Many rival LCDs struggle to deliver a convincing colour temperature, veering to the over-warm (a consequence of the backlight used). But this model can be coaxed to 6600k, very close to the EBU broadcast standard of 6500K. This means that skintones in particular will look natural rather than over-cooked.
Considering the level of complex image processing going on, the Individual suffers impressively little with video noise and artefacting from high quality sources, be they an HD input, a good DVD, or a well-encoded DVB feed from a Sky Digital box. There are no major issues with grain or dot crawl either, and even LCD's common smearing issue with motion has been convincingly suppressed.
Also worthy of praise is the TV's greyscaling, which reveals subtle patches of shadow detail in backgrounds that lend large-scale images plenty of depth and credibility.
Bear in mind though, that like all LCD screens, contrast is weakened when the image is viewed in a darkened room. This is when the backlight becomes visually far more intrusive.
While Image certainly helps make the Individual picture excellent, though, it doesn't make it perfect. A bit more sheer blackness to dark picture areas would have been appreciated.
That said, its contrast came out well in our objective tests. We measured the set, after calibration, at 520:1. This can be considered well above average.
With weaker sources - including the blockier efforts from the terrestrial digital broadcasters - the picture can look a touch processed with Image on. Particularly dark movies like Alien also raise questions about some elements of the colour processing contained in Image , as fleshtones occasionally appear pallid.
Overall though, as with Philips' Pixel Plus 2 HD system, while there's still room for improvement in future generations of the technology, even with this first go Image 's plus points comfortably outweigh its negatives.
Sonically the Individual set is excellent. Loewe's proprietary 'CRX' ported speaker system pumps out huge amounts of bass-laden volume, delivering a soundstage that outdoes 99 per cent of LCD rivals in terms of width, accuracy and dynamism.
With this Individual range Loewe has once again proven that it's not afraid to go more extra miles than anyone else to satisfy the uncompromising demands of its premium customer base. What's more, its almost endless flexibility in design and features is achieved without compromising Loewe's customary AV standards in the slightest.
So provided you're willing to brave the complex set of buying choices and wrestle with a brainnumbing operating system, the Individual 32 S turns out to be that most unusual of things: a true 'statement' product that you can actually (just about) afford. John Archer