Loewe Xelos A42 £3400

31st May 2005 | 23:00

Can flat TV trailblazers Loewe come up with another winner?

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Good with Freeview and Scart, but higher-quality sources look noisy

Like:

<p>Stylish</p><p>Great audio</p>

Dislike:

<p>Not the best picture</p><p>High noise levels</p>

German manufacturer Loewe has long been associated with producing luxury plasmas that not only look the part, but also come loaded with fancy features not found on many TVs.

That doesn't appear to be the case here, however, because despite having a HDMI input, this particular model has just an analogue tuner inside. A Freeview-enabled model is available now for an extra £100, but can't handle MPEG5, thus rendering that hallowed 'red button' and Freeview's seven-day programme guide useless. Until the planned new chassis makes Freeview interactive, we recommend steering clear of that 'upgrade'.

Make no mistake, though, this is an expensive-looking TV. Sculpted and curvy, the 3D-effect tear-drop design speaker grille is a masterly touch of class. Our sample came with a tabletop stand (TS62) as well as cable ties and a rather funky, but cheap-looking fabric 'hose' for bundling cables together if wall-hanging is required.

Bear in mind, though, that this LCD is heavier than most, and a likely wall will have to be stronger than Germany's back four.

Connections are ample, with the rear panel boasting that HDMI input, two Scarts (one RGB), component video, aerial, stereo audio and, unusually and impressively, coaxial digital audio inputs. There are also audio outputs for stereo and coaxial digital audio. A side panel provides an additional set of composite video and stereo audio inputs, presumably intended to be used with a camcorder.

Letting down the sense of style that oozes from this set, the remote control is plasticky and the TV's menus are slow. And with subtle thumb movements needed to navigate the user-unfriendly on-screen menus, this set takes a while to get to know.

Loewe-ly stuff?

Armed with a high resolution, ALiS panel and a claimed 1,000:1 contrast, we expected the A42 to reveal another glimpse of Loewe perfection with our Elektra disc. However, the first thing that struck us about the picture (and this applies to DVD via HDMI and component video) was the noise.

Even during stable, well-lit Elektra scenes beside the lake, fizzing over horizontal motion was a problem. There was also a 'black hole' approach to dark areas of the image, as well as dot crawl. Similarly, despite a reasonably detailed showing of high-def, there are other plasmas that can better handle it.

That said, the A42's ALiS panel takes pictures from the analogue tuner and from a Freeview box via Scart rather better, presenting clean, stable pictures, with little colour banding. Colours were vibrant, although skin tones were a touch ripe. Such a solid performance with low-quality picture sources puts the A42 almost in a class of its own: many a pricey, HD-ready plasma has been tripped up by such images.

Audio, meanwhile, is exceptional from all sources - typical Loewe - and hard to fault.

The A42 certainly won't challenge the Pioneers and Hitachis of this world with its performance with high-quality sources, but its TV tuner and Scart pictures make it a good bet for day-to-day use. At the very least, it's one of the prettiest plasmas around

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