Loewe Connect 37 Media television review

Loewe’s latest luxury isn’t cheap at £1950, but it’s a one-of-a-kind TV. As well as its huge price, this 37-inch LCD TV has with big ambitions for your home – it can fetch music, photos and even video files from your computer. It’s also a fine hi-fi and Full HD TV that’s up to handling high-def from a Blu-ray player or games console.

But it’s the Wi-Fi streaming that catches the eye. No more burning files from a PC to a DVD or CD, then finding a DVD player that’s compatible, or buying a dedicated streamer to act as a "bridge" between your computer and your home entertainment system. It’s also got a couple of USB ports for playing content from a memory stick, but with both wired Ethernet and a Wi-Fi antennae on-board, you won’t need them.

Slotting effortlessly into a wireless home network, the white (or black) Connect 37 Media can play material stored on either a PC (running Windows Media Player 11) or Intel-based Mac (after downloading the £20 TwonkyMedia). In practice it takes a minute or so for the TV to assign itself an IP address, with a small rubber tag on the TV’s side lighting-up blue when it’s connected.

Your videos, photos and music are then presented on this TV’s excellent Assist+ onscreen menu system. Think of an iPod or the latest Sony Bravia TVs and you’ve got the idea of the look and feel of Assist+ – logical, easy to use and beautifully presented.

It’s not exactly plug‘n’play. For music this Loewe deals in MP3, WAV and WMA files, which should cover most of the bases. Video file compatibility is slightly less impressive. Most DiVX and XViD-encoded AVI files are played without any problems, but the Connect 37 Media did refuse to play the occasional one or two during our test, although it had no problems with WMV and MPEG files. The appearance of thumbnails for both MOV and MP4 video files does suggest complete Mac compatibility, but in practice these files don’t play – and can even cause the Assist+ menu system to crash. There is also a slight issue with Assist+, which at times can be slow.

The video quality is excellent from all file types, with even poor-quality files smoothed-over and presented with plenty of detail and little picture noise or instability. Impressive.

Photos can be displayed in a similar fashion, either streaming or from a USB stick (the TV’s USB port doesn’t support video or music) in JPEG, BMP or PNG formats, though slideshows are slow with long picture loading times.

Away from the TV’s streaming skills, it proves an excellent unit for standard TV duties. All the necessary connectivity is included for a bang-up-to-date home cinema. Two HDMI inputs should suffice, while there’s also a PC input and a Common Interface slot (for adding subscription channels to its integrated Freeview tuner).

Another dazzling extra is a built-in 160GB hard drive that works like a Sky+ box. Around 200hrs of TV can be recorded easily from the Connect 37 Media’s excellent (if occasionally slow) electronic programme guide.

Picture quality is generally excellent. Watching digital TV can be frustrating, with a lot of picture noise apparent and some muted colours. That’s largely the fault of the high-resolution 1920 x 1080 pixel screen, with is an unforgiving setting for these (relatively) low quality broadcasts.

Much better is high definition video. Attach a Blu-ray player and the results are stunning: intricately detailed, much more vivid colouring and a stability to pictures that’s rare on a big screen LCD TV. It’s largely down to Loewe’s Image+ picture processing, which successfully removes most of the picture noise in backgrounds and almost totally removes judder and blur. Almost, because there is still a touch of judder on camera pans, but you’ll find this much more of a problem on cheaper LCD TVs.

The remote is simple yet operates all of the TV’s functions, with the added bonus of being able to control a Blu-ray attached to one of its HDMI slots. All of these features do have a downside: the Connect 37 Media is a chunky fellow that comes with a "trapeze" stand to hide its bulk.

And there’s another reason for it staying firmly out of the new “slim” generation of TVs – the best speakers you’ll find in a modern telly. Managing 40W power (around three times more than most TVs), both music and movies are treated to hi-fi quality sound that’s a revelation compared to its competitors. Add a 3D Surround mode that’s so impressive it’s almost worth packing away your home cinema – here’s the complete package that will save you space, if not money.

Verdict

It’s almost worth packing away your home cinema – here’s a space saving package that offers stunning pictures and sound along with Wi-Fi streaming and Sky+ style recording. It’s tempting to say that this is a first-generation "media" TV and that all TVs will soon match the Connect 37 Media’s novel features, but with the trend towards ultra-slim we’re not so sure. With TVs getting cheaper and slimmer, high quality TVs with genuinely unique features are very rare – and while the Connect 37 Media isn’t perfect, that’s why we love this Loewe.