Regular readers with long memories may remember that we tested a Loewe Connect TV -- the Connect 37 Media Full-HD+ DR+ -- last year. But we're taking a look at another TV in the range for a very good reason. While most TV makers keep introducing wholly new models, this premium German brand instead continually updates and upgrades its existing TV lines. Today's 42-inch, 1080p Connect 42 Media Full-HD+ 100 DR+ LCD TV is a very different beast to the Connect 37 of 2008. It's available for about £2,950.
As with all Loewe TVs, the Connect 42 is a truly gorgeous piece of kit, with subtle curves in all the right places, supreme build quality and lovely details. Glossy black, glossy white and silver versions are available.
The Connect 42's standard desktop stand now has a glimmering, chrome, 'X' shape that's much superior to the slightly dull effort shipped last year. The desktop stand is, as ever with Loewe, just one of a number of mounting options. All the options are detailed on Loewe's Web site if you want to check them out for yourself. Suffice it to say, though, that every option looks stunning.
The Connect 42's bespoke charm goes beyond its design. You can also extend the TV's functionality beyond its basic feature set in a number of different ways, via upgrade modules. These include single- or twin-tuner satellite inputs (these aren't currently Sky- or freesat-compatible), a Dolby Digital/DTS module and a motorised control module.
Some of these optional extras reflect the fact that Loewe doesn't just make TVs. It also makes designer AV furniture, multi-room systems and high-spec surround-sound audio products, all presented in finishes that match or are sympathetic to the designs of the company's TVs.
Add all this to the fact that the Connect 42 will be professionally installed for you by whichever Loewe specialist dealer you buy one from, and it starts to become clear why this set isn't as cheap as your average 42-inch TV.
But we're not even close to being done with the Connect 42's features yet. For a start, the new Connect chassis has three HDMI ports, rather than last year's two, which is a major improvement. Plus there are two USB sockets and an Ethernet port, reflecting the Connect 42's extraordinary multimedia capability.
For instance, the TV can connect -- via Wi-Fi or cables -- to your PC and stream video, audio or photo files onto the screen. It can also play a wide variety of file formats via its USB ports, even playing material from both ports simultaneously so that, for example, you can play a slideshow from one USB stick accompanied by music played from another.
The new Connect TV chassis can also play Internet radio channels, and supports a significantly increased number of multimedia file formats, including FLAC, WAV, WMA, MP3, AAC (compressed and lossless) and AIFF audio files, and WMV, DivX, Xvid, AVI and H.264 video files. The only significant missing links on the compatibility front remain QuickTime movies and MPEG-4, although you can usually get around this problem via easy-to-obtain conversion software.
We also noticed that Loewe has hugely improved the network-media-player interface, making it clearer, more logically organised, and far abler to cope with the stupidly large collection of multimedia many people have now amassed. We particularly appreciated the new ability to search for files by their first letter, rather than having to scroll down through every file to get to something tucked away at the bottom of the list.
The Connect 42 also comes with a free licence for the TwonkyMedia media-server software, and, unlike previous Connect TVs, the network media player can be updated over the Internet, rather than requiring a service visit.
All this, and we haven't even mentioned the Connect 42's optional, built-in 'DR+' hard-disk recorder with full Freeview+ specification. The capacity of this has gone up from 160GB to 250GB for 2009, and the Freeview recordings you can make via DR+ are of a very high quality.
The last nifty feature introduced on the latest Connect TVs is an iPhone app. It effectively lets you take any Internet radio 'favourite' lists you've set up on your Connect TV and listen to them on your phone.
With the Connect 42 sporting a genuinely imperious feature set, it would be a real shame if the set fell at the AV-quality hurdle. But it clears it beautifully.
The Connect 42 delivers positively Olympian sound, making pretty much every other flat TV sound quite pathetic in comparison. The set's pictures aren't quite as awesome, relative to the competition. But they're still very good, and, in some ways, excellent. Colours, for instance, generally look richly saturated and impressively natural, notwithstanding the occasional peaky skin tone, as well as enjoying excellent, subtle tonal transitions.
Even more eye-catching is the set's motion-compensation processing. The Connect 42 features 100Hz processing and an Image+ Active engine that's an improvement on last year's system. The motion-compensation processing does an excellent job of removing judder and image blur from the Connect 42's pictures. The system is particularly effective with 1080p/24p Blu-ray playback.
The Image+ Active processing also does a good job of upscaling standard-definition pictures to the screen's 1080p resolution. But the screen really comes into its own with high-definition material, which it presents with unusual crispness.
The Connect 42 is prevented from achieving class-leading picture quality by a couple of flaws, though. Really dark scenes have a slightly cloudy look, and there's occasionally some noticeable shimmering noise around moving objects with the otherwise excellent motion-processing system engaged.
Not everyone will want or be able to cough up nearly £3,000 for a 42-inch TV. But we think the Connect 42 Media Full-HD+ 100 DR+ is talented enough to justify its steep price, particularly if you're also tempted by Loewe's other AV offerings.
Edited by Charles Kloet