German manufacturer Loewe can always be relied upon to produce something a little different. The brand name is synonymous with luxury, offering uncompromising designs, top-notch build quality and innovative features.
This 42in plasma is no different, with a plethora of unusual tweaks, but its biggest claim to novelty TV fame is that an additional £400 buys the 'DR ' version of the screen, which boasts a built-in 80GB hard-disk recorder. This has all the features of a standalone HDD recorder, such as an electronic programme guide (EPG), multiple recording quality levels and the ability to pause live TV.
And if that's not enough in the way of extras for you, the Spheros 42HD can also be retro-fitted as needs and/or funds allow, with modules offering the likes of Dolby Digital sound, VGA, internet browsing, PC interactivity and even Wireless Home Automation control.
As with all Loewe TVs, the 42HD looks the very definition of luxury. What's more, its looks can be customised thanks to the availability of two finishes - platinum or high-gloss basalt - and a number of stand and mount options, all of which are similarly gorgeous.
At this price, we expect a screen's connections to be top-drawer, and happily the Loewe didn't disappoint. Top of the list is a DVI input that makes the screen fully ready for the high-definition future, as well being able to accept all-digital signals from a suitably equipped DVD player.
There are also component video inputs for analogue high-def and progressive scan, three Scarts, a PC input and a Loewe System Link for hooking up the whole system.
Clean bill of health
In action the Spheros 42 is likeable, but not as imperious as some of the plasmas we've seen from Loewe. Its biggest advantage is the cleanliness of its pictures from analogue TV and Sky digital/Freeview feeds. The level of picture noise, be it grain, dot crawl or picture flutter, is negligible - something many flatscreens simply can't manage with such low-grade sources.
Moreover, we found the screen to be excellent at handling motion when we gave it a run-through with our Donnie Darko test DVD. Digital Natural Motion (DNM) smoothed out the picture and eliminated smearing or dotty noise, as evidenced during cycling scenes and the shots of Donnie's father driving to the sounds of The Church's 'Under the Milky Way'.
Finally, colours from our test disc's classroom and school scenes were natural, and there was no sign of that old plasma problem of colour banding.
However, when we watched Donnie and Gretchen discussing the merits of Watership Down in class, the picture did look a bit soft, and lacked detail and depth of field. Slightly disappointing contrast levels were also evident during Donnie's race to Grandma Death's house at night.
The 42HD's audio performance is more consistent, and typical of a Loewe TV. It gave a great performance with our test disc in terms of power, dynamics, frequency response, soundstage size and clarity. That said, however, we imagine that anyone spending this much on a TV will probably want to partner it with a separate surround sound setup.
The 42HD isn't Loewe's best-ever screen - but then that would be high praise indeed. In terms of novelty value, it scores well, with advanced features and looks that give it a feeling of luxury to be expected at this price. Pictures have minor flaws, but not enough to put you off if you have the cash and want this level of style and upgradeability.