Loewe will have some of the UK's better-known brands scurrying for cover
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You get what you pay for. It's an old adage, but true when you're talking about Loewe. Ever the style setter, this 32in LCD is no different from virtually everything else it the German manufacturer's range. It's sleekly designed, but there is one difference: it's not any more expensive than the competition at this size.
So Loewe has cut corners, right? Wrong. After the sleekness of the screen, the rather cumbersome appearance of the AV switching/tuner box comes as something of a shock. But the bulk is forgiven when you see that connections include a DVI jack compatible with HDCP (for pristine digital video feeds from a suitably-equipped DVD player and, crucially, Sky's imminent highdefinition broadcasts), a PC jack, and component video jacks compatible with progressive scan signals.
In spite of its relatively affordable price, the Xelos 32 can also, in common with all of Loewe's TVs, be upgraded as your needs and budget allow thanks to a number of extra feature modules. While you can't use as full a collection of upgrade options as you can on Loewe's other higher-end LCD televisions, being able to add such goodies as Dolby Digital sound and wireless home automation still brought a smile to our face.
But that's not the end of the SL32's flexibility. If you're prepared to splash out an additional £400, you can get the SL32 HD/DR . For the uninitiated, DR refers to a built-in 80GB hard-disk recorder, complete with essential features like live TV pausing and multiple recording quality modes. This makes Loewe the only brand in the UK currently offering LCDs with built-in PVRs.
Inevitably, Loewe has had to make the occasional compromise to the Xelos SL32's specs in order to keep it more affordable than its higher-end sister models like the Spheros range. But this pleasingly appears to have upset picture quality much less than we might have at first expected...
What was especially striking about the Xelos SL32 when we saw it in action with our Bubba Ho-tep test disc was just how amazingly clean and direct its pictures are. A good example of this is the scene where Elvis sets the Mummy on fire; the Xelos copes admirably well with the bright flames juxtaposed with the surrounding darkness, managing to show a great amount of detail in Elvis' face, without overdoing the colour.
What's more, with all but analogue tuner pictures - and especially with highdefinition footage - there's practically no smearing, digital blocking or shimmering, grain and grey misting to indicate iffy contrast. In short, nothing stands between you and the full force of the picture's impressive colour saturations, pixel-perfect fine detail presentation and first-rate depth of field.
Picture quality extends to the optional DR HDD. We found it to be as accomplished as any standalone recorder we've had the pleasure of seeing. The top two recording settings are indistinguishable from original broadcasts, and while the bottom two cause the screen to struggle, with 80GB of memory this shouldn't be a problem.
The SL32 isn't in the same audio league as some of Loewe's more costly screens, but it still has more bass, power, range and detail than most.
We had our doubts that Loewe could compete at such a mainstream LCD price, but with its combination of impressive, no-nonsense performance and unique upgradeability, it will have some of the UK's better-known brands scurrying for cover. Only a slight concern about its complexity denies it the top spot in this group test.
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