It's been reported that style is the overriding factor in most buying decisions and the easily led won't find a screen that's more innovative and attractive TV than Loewe's latest design.
Aptly named the Individual, this television has a customisable design that allows you to select your own contrasting colour schemes, mounting options and even the screen's technical specification. All this accessorising comes with an ever-increasing price tag, though. The standard model arrives at an already expensive £2,295, rising to £2,595 if you want an integrated digital tuner and 80GB HDD recorder, and increasing again if you want to pimp your screen further. There's even a limited edition model encrusted with Swarovski crystals...
If paying over the odds for exclusive aesthetics and the convenience of a single system doesn't deter you, then start matching colour swatches with your living room. But, before you're blinded by its beauty, note that what lies beneath is average connectivity, frustrating usability and picture quality that can be equalled for half the price.
It's almost impossible not to be attracted by Loewe's screen designs -- and if this were a beauty contest, the Individual 32 would already be wrapped in a sash and crowned as the prettiest panel of them all.
What's most unique about the distinctive design is that you can completely customise it to suit your own taste. The screen is available in seven different-coloured fronts, which can be combined with a similar choice of contrasting side panels using varied materials like metal and real wood. Although the screen arrives with a pedestal stand, there are several other setup options that even include a spectacular floor-to-ceiling mounting pole. Take a look at Loewe's Web site to see the full range of alternatives.
Of course, this so-called 'individuality' doesn't come for free, and the price can spiral to well over £3,000, depending how expensive your tastes are. What you are guaranteed for your money is jaw-dropping design and immaculate build quality.
Less inspiring is the standard choice of connectivity that's concealed beneath rear panels. All bases are covered, including HDMI, component and Scart video connections along with standard and digital audio options, but given the price, you could expect more than just a single RGB Scart and HDMI input -- especially as models like Toshiba's 32WLT66 can claim better connectivity for a lot less.
Still, with devices like a digital tuner and hard drive recorder already integrated, you should find enough connections spare to cater for most accompanying equipment. Useful extras like easy access AV inputs for camcorders or consoles and a VGA terminal (but no PC audio input) also deserve a mention.
As expected, the tall, trowel-like remote is suitably stylish but you'll find it more frustrating than friendly. Primary functions are supported by a pair of central cursors -- one for controlling channels and volume and the other for navigating menus. But the overlaid closeness of each means you can easily confuse the two and changing channel in the middle of adjusting menu settings is a common gripe.
Like the customising options with the design you can also decide the scope of the screen's technical specification -- but, again, these are optional extras that'll cost you. You can choose to have the standard screen fitted with a digital Freeview tuner and an integrated 80GB hard drive recorder. As an elegant single solution these options are undoubtedly convenient but you can save a considerable amount by simply investing in a separate receiver or recording device.
The screen's native 1366x768-pixel resolution means it's compatible with high-definition 720p and 1080i formats -- although as with most LCDs 1080i signals will be slightly downscaled. As Sky has now chosen to use 1080i for all its HDTV broadcasts you can lose a little detail but the effect is minimal with this screen size. Pictures are supported by Loewe's new Digital+ platform and Image+ picture processing, which monitors all incoming signals and optimises the picture for sharpness, colour, contrast and movement.
Loewe's unique approach to design and technology extends to the distinctive menu system. The unusual scrolling schematic looks great but, at least until you get used to it, it's a pain to use. There's enough information on screen to assist you but the navigation process is always over elaborate and often confusing.
This is especially apparent with the digital EPG, which is supposed to allow you to scan programme schedules and set recordings. Schedules are randomly presented, though, and don't always seem to cover all channels. Presuming you can find the programme, selecting recordings is fairly simple using the EPG but you can also initiate recordings using a manual timer or one-touch options.
There's a choice of four recording modes with the hard drive, which trade off image quality against recording time. The lowest quality mode lets you record for around 100 hours. The hard drive also constantly records the current programme so you can use time slip functions like pausing or rewinding live TV. But, as there's only a single digital tuner, you can't watch one programme while recording another.
Overall, the unfriendly functionality is a sticking point compared to more slicker conventional models.
The design is undeniably attractive but is there any substance behind the style?
Pictures, especially using high-definition sources, appear immediately striking using exceptionally rich and vibrant colours to grab attention, and bold black levels instil images with noticeably solid definition while exposing sharp detail and depth of field. Image traits like these excel with bright, colourful pictures and special effects but can leave ordinary material like daytime TV looking unrealistic.
Movement also appears occasionally unnatural with slow-panned motion stuttering, especially during digital programmes, while fast paced action can seem strangely fluid and slightly surreal at times.
Recordings using the two highest quality modes are inseparable from the original with virtually no loss of detail or colour vitality. Edges begin to fray and picture noise escalates from a drizzle to a downpour using the lowest quality mode but as a last resort for making extended recordings it's fine. The sound quality from the oversized CRX four-speaker system is more substantial than most slim screens.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield