Loewe makes no secret about who its target audience is -- people who have plenty of money and want a TV that has everything they need in one stylish box. When it comes to producing this sort of device, Loewe really can't be beaten.
The 42-inch, 1080p Art SL 42 Full-HD+ 100 DR+ package reviewed here, with the TV, built-in digital video recorder and stand, comes to around £3,130. That's expensive, but it's one of the more sensibly-priced Loewe TVs. The question is: does this set live up to the expectations we have for such a pricey LCD TV?
The most noticeable thing about the Art SL 42 Full-HD+ 100 DR+ is its ludicrous name. The second most noticeable thing is its slimline styling. At just 90mm thick, it's a very svelte LCD TV, although it's not a patch on the new LED edge-lit models we've seen from Samsung and Sony -- the UE40B7000WW and Bravia ZX1 respectively. Even so, it's an attractive TV and, when on one of the optional floor stands, it looks really stunning.
Mounting options, as with all Loewe TVs, are numerous. We opted for the floor stand, but there are also options for wall mounting and pole mounting, and there's even a motorised stand available. Which you chose will depend on what style you like, but also what speaker option you go for, as some speaker and stand combinations won't work together.
The remote control is decent. It's the same as all the other Loewe TV remotes, because the TVs are all designed to have the same controller. That's a good idea, especially if you're a loyal Loewe owner.
Inputs are good, but not massively multitudinous. There are three HDMIs -- one on the side and two on the back. You also get component, VGA Scart and S-Video inputs -- all pretty standard fare really. We were slightly disappointed that there aren't more HDMI inputs -- it's cheap to add them, and it can make a real difference.
As with all Loewe TVs, there are more configuration options than you can shake a stick at. Because buying these TVs is more about a getting a package than a lone TV, you can get a serious amount of extras with this set. There are surround-sound speaker packs available, options for internal AC3 and DTS decoding, satellite tuners and even a very cool infrared system that allows you to control all your existing hardware via the TV's remote sensor.
The model we reviewed came with the Loewe DR+ system, which, in this case, is a 250GB hard drive capable of using the set's twin TV tuners to record your choice of programming from Freeview. It's worth noting that the model with a satellite tuner included can also record shows in high definition from that source. We've always really liked DR+ -- it's a simple, well-integrated system that's a joy to use. Playing back content is as simple as three button presses via the Assist+ button.
There are more traditional features, like 100Hz picture support, and processing modes designed to smooth motion in movies -- something that some people love and others hate. Personally, we prefer an image to be as natural as possible, and motion blur in films is just one of those things that makes that medium what it is.
Overall, we like this set. The picture quality from LCD TVs is certainly decent enough. Do we think they're streets ahead of the competition? No, not really, because LCD technology has certain weaknesses.
For example, backlight bleed is always an issue. On this TV, it's reasonably controlled, and most video looks deep and well balanced. It could be that Loewe has sacrificed slightly on brightness to achieve this -- the company quotes a lower cd/m2 brightness than most LCD TVs have. That's no bad thing, though -- no-one needs a super-bright LCD anyway, as it ruins the picture, kills the planet and makes your power bill massive.
Our usual movie selections looked good on the TV. Although it's unlikely to win any awards for the acting skills on display, xXx: State of the Union usually allows us to get the measure of how a TV handles saturated colours and occasional film grain. The good news is that this set produced a likeable image, and there was plenty of detail in the picture too.
For the most part, Freeview was watchable. We didn't really feel that the TV was busting its chops to clean up the image brilliantly, and we've certainly seen plasma TVs handle Freeview much better. That said, at a sensible distance and with the backlight set to a moderate level, digital TV signals were perfectly fine. Obviously, if you can get HD from Sky or freesat, that's always going to produce far better images.