Unlike most companies, Loewe doesn't just introduce new TV ranges; it also regularly upgrades models already out there in the marketplace. This is precisely what has happened with an old favourite, the Spheros R 37. A 37in slice of premium LCD TV luxury that wowed us when we fi rst saw it last year, it's now back at half the original price and with two key additions: a built-in digital tuner, and Loewe's new Image processing engine.
The deep black, glass-fronted fi nish of our High Gloss Basalt test sample is particularly exquisite, regardless of which of the various accompanying stand options you choose.
Elsewhere, the hefty external connections box of the previous version is ditched in favour of connections built into the TV's rear panel. This approach makes it a tidier solution for most buyers, but it might not suit people wanting to wall-hang it.
The actual confi guration of connections has changed too. The old DVI socket is replaced by an HDMI input, but three Scarts have been knocked down to two. And only one of those is RGB-enabled.
Other stuff remains the same, with highlights being a set of component video inputs, Loewe System Link options, and a D-Sub jack for hooking up a PC.
And so to the digital tuner. The addition of this to such a luxurious TV is really only fi tting, and it's happily backed up by a CAM slot and support for the Freeview 8-day electronic guide. This is the fi rst time we've seen the EPG up and running on a Loewe IDTV. It's very nicely presented, with the TV picture continuing to play in reduced form on the left of the screen.
Do note that Loewe now offers a stepup version of the R 37 (the Masterpiece) that adds a second digital tuner to the mix as well as a built-in HDD PVR system.
The Image processing system added to the latest Spheros R 37 arrives with a strong wind in its sails after first impressing us on Loewe's innovative Individual LCD range. It offers a suite of improvements targeted at boosting contrast, colours (both richness and tone), and sharpness.
However, my feelings towards the R 37's pictures are actually more mixed than I'd expected, veering between hugely impressed and slightly disappointed.
Where the picture looks good is when the image content is bright and richly coloured, such as during studio-based footage on Sky News. Here the impact of Image is clearly evident, souping up bright saturations to terrifi cally eye-catching levels, and generating eminently natural tones, especially when it comes to skin.
Pictures look sharp and well-detailed too, with Image lending an almost HD level of clarity to standard-def sources, while sensibly seeming to step back and let pure HD sources proclaim their detail.
Horizontal motion looks smoother than usual, although the processing used to achieve this can cause the odd shimmery artefact around moving objects., but overall I'd say the benefi ts comfortably outweigh the negatives.
Now I've mentioned negatives, though, there are one or two others to report. Firstly, Image can make the picture look a touch grainy unless you keep the set's sharpness setting no higher than Level 2. Strangely this problem is especially evident while viewing digital sources via HDMI.
A tougher problem, though, in that I couldn't fi nd a way round it, is that black level is a bit average by today's standards. I stress 'by today's standards' because when I fi rst saw this set's black level, they were ahead of the rest of the LCD pack. But now other manufacturers have improved things more than the latest Spheros R 37, even with Image on board to help out. The result is that it's harder to forgive the greyish blue colour that affects the blackest parts of an image, fl attening dark fi lms like Alien, and making low-lit videogames really quite diffi cult to play, even with contrast and brightness settings pumped right up.
Of course, in relation to LCD standards as a whole, the Spheros R 37's black level is slightly above average. But given the premium price it commands, I couldn't help feel I should be seeing a groundbreaking performance.
In terms of audio, the Spheros R 37 raises absolutely no complaints. I've seldom heard so much bass from a fl at TV - achieved without any cramping of the set's vocal range, and accompanied by a rich treble dimension packed with detail.
The Spheros R 37 is a supremely desirable TV. It's got the design flair and performance attributes that regularly make Loewe TVs something special. But all the same, Loewe needs to improve its black level performance next time round if it wants to maintain its superior edge. John Archer