Loewe Connect Media 32 £2295
27th Aug 2008 | 10:47
A multifunctional TV that offers style and convenience
The Loewe Connect Media 32 is not only the most advanced TV we've ever reviewed, but it's also one of the easiest to use.
There is nevertheless some confusion about what the set's built-in twin satellite TV tuners can do. This bafﬂement is caused less by Loewe, though, as ITV must take most responsibility.
Our review sample had a combination of one terrestrial digital and two satellite tuners, a combination that has been available for a few years.
Crucially, neither the Freeview nor the Freesat-capable tuners work with interactive services. So the glorious 'red button' won't work on this Connect, and neither will the interactive services on Freesat. Sadly, that means that hi-def simulcasts from ITV HD are off the menu.
It does, however, have MPEG4 decoding, so it can receive and record BBC HD to the built-in hard-disk drive, which is an improvement on many Freesat boxes.
With channels Four and Five rumoured to be launching unscrambled free-to-air HD channels this autumn, the Connect could be an exciting proposition for HD fans. But this set has got an additional secret weapon.
Loewe's streaming talents
And that's an ability to stream videos, music and photos wirelessly from a computer. But this full HD resolution TV is neither aimed at the mass market nor at gamers. It lacks a dedicated picture preset for games, although 'personal values' can be assigned to each individual input and digital TV.
The media streaming works with both PC (natively via WMP9) and Mac (using a free-to-trial and cheap external TwonkyMedia software web download) computers. You just enter your network's WEP code.
Those with a wired broadband network at home can operate the same system using the Ethernet port on the set's rear, where you'll also ﬁnd a couple of HDMI inputs.
Meanwhile, the combination of Loewe's Image+ processing and 24fps playback ensures total compatibility with Blu-ray.
Plenty of storage
File compatibility covers MP3, WAV or WMA music ﬁles and digital pictures stored as JPEG, BMP or PNG ﬁles. The same ﬁles work with WiFi streaming, as well as video ﬁles such as DiVX, XViD, MPEG and WMV.
A built-in (yet optional) DR+ 160GB hard disk can store around 200hr of TV programmes taped from its integral tuners. For DR+ models a twin satellite receiver kit (to enable simultaneous recordings) costs £145, while a single satellite upgrade is £75.
The ﬁnal clutter-busting feature is the Connect's high-power speakers.
Idiot proof TV
Kudos must go to Loewe for developing Assist+, which consists of a drop-down menu that's not just pretty to look at, but also almost completely idiot-proof.
The remote is equally well designed and can control all TV tuners, the hard disk recordings, media browsing and even the basic controls of a Blu-ray player.
Finding a WiFi network can take a few minutes and occasional blips in the signal and long loading times for ﬁles are the main problem. While ﬁle compatibility is the biggest issue, you're unlikely to have video ﬁles other than DiVX, XViD, MPEG and WMV.
During our test the set stalled when streaming video and had to be restarted, the inevitable ﬂipside of introducing PC hardware into a TV.
Mixed picture quality
Freeview pictures are just about watchable, but do suffer from considerable noise artefacting. The same applies to streamed video ﬁles, which are of variable quality.
We did have problems fast-forwarding and reversing streamed video, though pictures are clean and represented in their native shape. The same goes for DVDs, which are free of noise and enjoy solid edges.
Footage from Batman Begins on Blu-ray is played at 24fps to reduce judder from discs and images are incredibly smooth, although a modicum of motion blur is due to its lack of 100Hz processing.
Image+ processing removes most noise and generally lifts the picture, with colour high on realism and lots of detail on show. Although peak whites are strong, contrast does seem forced, with ﬁne details tending to get lost in 'black hole' areas of the picture.
A blast of Xbox 360 reveals jagged edges and lots of picture noise. A gaming TV this is not.
Able to render useless external digital recorders, a satellite receiver or a Freeview set-top box, a media streamer and to some extent a home cinema, the Loewe Connect Media 32 suddenly doesn't look quite so expensive as it originally appeared.
A decent Blu-ray companion in terms of picture and sound, its lack of versatility with digital TV and games makes it a set that's more about style and convenience.