When you buy a Loewe TV, you're usually buying so much more than just a TV. The German brand (pronounced Lerver) has slowly but surely built itself a unique and successful reputation for making TVs that are as much works of art and showcases for cutting edge technology, as they are mere goggleboxes. But even by Loewe's standards, the Spheros R 37 seems pretty special.
The Spheros range sits at the very top of Loewe's current TV range -- and as such it's the most expensive. The 37-inch R 37 model starts from a substantial £2,999. But for your money you should hopefully be getting the best-featured, best-designed and best-performing set in Loewe's current TV arsenal.
We've yet to see an ugly Loewe TV -- and the Spheros R 37 is most certainly not going to break that tradition. On the contrary, it's just about as refined as an LCD TV can get. And while this photo proves that the TV looks pretty, it fails to give you a sense of the lavishness of the build quality.
The Platinum version featured is actually the less attractive version of the Spheros R 37 -- the High Gloss Basalt version (which costs £200 more) is an even greater spectacle. Loewe also provides a healthy selection of different stands and mounting options for the Spheros R 37 that should allow the set to cater for practically anyone's tastes.
But has Loewe's quest for aesthetic glories meant it has forgotten a connector or two? For instance, there's only one HDMI socket -- not ideal on such a premium TV given how many cheaper sets are now starting to appear bearing two. There are also only two Scart sockets and we'd expect a flagship TV to carry at least three. At least you get a PC input and a set of component video inputs for analogue high definition/progressive scan signals.
The R 37's operating system is troublesome. The onscreen menus are squashed into bottom fifth of the screen, making them very fiddly to use. What's more, to navigate these menus you have to use a horribly finicky rocker button on the remote control.
As is expected on a flagship LCD TV these days, the Spheros R 37 is fully HD Ready, with its key HDMI and component video sockets being joined by a sufficiently high native resolution of 1366x768 and compatibility with the key 720p and 1080i high-definition formats.
As for screen specifications, Loewe claims a brightness output of 450cd/m2 for the screen, and a contrast ratio of 800:1. The brightness figure is just about acceptable, but the contrast definitely reads lower than we hoped. Still, these contrast ratio measurements tend to be spurious at the best of times, so we'll reserve judgement until we actually see the R 37 in action.
With the analogue switch-off looming, it's a relief to find the Spheros R 37 boasting a built-in digital tuner -- especially as that tuner is supported by a 7-day electronic programme guide (EPG) and a slot you can use for adding a conditional access card to receive the Top Up TV subscription channels. The only gripe is that navigating the EPG is also restricted by the horrible rocker controller on the remote.
The next significant finding among the Spheros R37's features list is something called Image+. This is the name Loewe gives to a new, proprietary picture-processing engine, designed to enhance contrast, colour tone, colour saturations and overall image sharpness, among other things.
Although we've been rather down on the Loewe's operating system so far, we should say that it does at least have one ace up its sleeve -- its interactive instructions manual. This ingenious device allows you to call up onscreen explanations of features listed in the onscreen menus at the press of a single button.
There are other features on our test version of the Spheros R 37, but our time is better spent talking about the fact that, in typical Loewe style, there's more than one version of the Spheros R 37. As well as providing an unusual degree of design flexibility, Loewe also offers a more expensive version of the TV that comes with a second digital tuner and a built-in 80GB HDD PVR recording system.
The Spheros R 37 gets many things spectacularly right with its performance, but also hits a couple of potholes along the way.
With certain kinds of footage -- mainly bright, colourful, high quality broadcasts or DVDs -- its pictures can look pretty sensational. Image+ is clearly being proactive, ramping up colours to exceptional levels of solidity and richness, and serving up levels of fine detailing and sharpness that do even the most pristine of our high-definition movies proud.
Yet more positive Image+ energy can be seen in the unusually smooth, clear way moving objects pass across the screen, avoiding the slightly flickery and ill-defined look motion tends to have on most LCD TVs.
Our biggest problem with the Spheros R 37 emerges while watching dark scenes, as the screen fails to deliver the sort of deep, detail-filled black levels now being delivered by its strongest rivals.
Another glitch concerns video noise, which can become quite prevalent unless you're careful not to leave the TV's sharpness settings too high.
Happily there's nothing bad to say about the Spheros R 37's sound. The bass rumble, vocal clarity and treble finesse it produces practically redefines what we consider a flat TV to be capable of, setting a new audio benchmark for others to be judged against.
Though we're performance-obsessed fans, the flaws in the R37's image just do enough to deter us from wanting to buy one -- especially given its hefty price. But we have little doubt there are plenty of well-heeled folk who will happily ignore the odd performance foible in return for the set's awesome, status-symbol design.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield