Sugg. Retail: PLA530 Table Model: $6100 (CAN);
PLC530 Consolette: $7000 (CAN)
Distributor: Evolution Group, A.C. Simmonds & Sons, 580 Granite
Court, Pickering, Ont. L1W 3Z4
(905) 839-8041 FAX 839-2667
Reprinted From the Summer 99 Issue
Loewe (pronounced “Looveh”, not “Low”, “Louie” or “Loovee”) is a German company that has been in business since 1923, when it was founded by Dr. Sigmund Loewe, and within 10 years was in regular production of TV sets. They also claim to have produced the world’s first “cassette tape player/recorder in 1951″. No other achievements are listed between 1933 and 1951, which makes one wonder what they did during the war years. Radar?
However, we are concerned with the here and now, and that’s most certainly digital. The first Loewe digital chassis TV was introduced in 1987, called the Art. The Planus is their latest digital TV.
What’s better about a digital TV? In their 1999 Specifications Guide, Loewe provides the following explanation: “In analog televisions, processing of the video image degrades the original studio image in a variety of ways, including deflection, scanning and beam focusing of the tube, inadequate separation of color from black and white, loss of apparent sharpness due to changes in the composition of scenes, creation of interlaced artifacts, and a host of other problems.”
The key to getting rid of these NTSC artifacts is a process called Digital Progressive Scan: “To display a picture, conventional televisions use a process called interlaced scanning, which requires two passes of the electron beam to create a single image. The first pass scans the odd lines of the picture, and the second pass scans the even lines. This interlaced method produces picture defects, including horizontal lines and flickering of static images, such as on-screen text or the lines on a sports field. With digital progressive scan, the entire picture is processed and displayed in one pass, 60 times per second-twice the speed of interlaced scanning. This is often referred to as line doubling. Though other televisions use line doubling technology, Loewe’s digital progressive scan represents the state of the art, delivering superior, flicker-free images. The result is a picture that has an appearance similar in sharpness and clarity to a high-quality film image, with greater detail, better color renderings and truer skin tones. In addition, text and graphics are displayed with the same level of quality as that found in high end computer monitors.”
Other digital operations in Loewe TVs include digital scan velocity modulation, which ensures fine picture detail in transitions from light to dark and vice versa; digital line interpolation, which creates extra lines to retain resolution in zoom and other widescreen modes which enlarge or widen the picture; there are also digital comb filters, video noise reduction, and motion detection, the latter comparing previous and next frames and averaging the data to minimize blurring.
While this TV is a 16:9 type, the screen actually measures 24″ wide by 14″ high in its viewing area, and 29 1/2″ diagonally. There is about a 1/2″ border beyond these dimensions visible inside the frame around the tube. Because of the screen shape, a standard 4:3 off-air picture actually measures only 24″ diagonally, making for a smaller picture than that of my 27″ Panasonic GAOO TV. For this purpose,and to accommodate various kinds of DVD letterboxes, there are several picture formats with different aspect ratios and amounts of picture stretch or crop:
Allows 4:3 broadcasts to be stretched to virtually fill the 16:9 screen.
Proportionally enlarges the the 4:3 television picture to fill the 16:9 screen. This is also designed to allow letterbox movies to fill the 16:9 screen.
External 16:9-Anamorphic Mode
With the advent of digital video discs (DVDs), movies are becoming available in their original, widescreen aspect ratios, such as 2:1, 1.8:1, etc. In the external 16:9 mode Loewe televisions are able to take advantage of these new formats and display them using the full screen width.
Results in maximum enlargement of the 4:3 television picture on the 16:9 screen. Depending on the film format, the black bars at the top and bottom of the picture are either removed or minimized to ensure the proportionally correct reproduction of widescreen films.”
Letterbox Movie Detection
Automatically detects when a movie is being played in the letterbox format and ensures that the proportionally correct screen size is selected for the television.
I thought the first thing to do after setting up the picture to something approaching ISF standards, was to check out the various aspect ratios beyond the standard 4:3. 16:9 is neat to watch as it changes, everything simply stretching to fill the screen laterally: people get fat, they “anamorph”, so to speak. Panorama stretches things a little, but does not fully fill the screen laterally, and mostly crops top and bottom; I found this the most suitable setting for off-air viewing. Cinema and Zoom are pretty well described by their names, both useful for non-anamorphic letterboxes, but Zoom for off-air viewing is preferred only if you want to partially behead news anchors (Is Peter going bald? Don’t know, I never see the top of his head!).
The tuner of the Planus was hooked up to our outdoor rotorized yagi antenna, and proved to be very sensitive, able to better make weak signals watchable, especially UHF ones, than our GAOO upstairs, even though there is about 40 feet more of coax to the Loewe TV. I could even get a marginally watchable picture on 2 and 7, which are normally blocked out by powerful signals from channels 3 and 5.
Really good signals showed more detail than I’ve seen from any other tube TV, a smaller version of the resolution seen on our big 51″ rear projection. This is a result of the Planus’ higher resolution CRT with its finer dot structure. This feature also gives a better resolution to the picture-in-picture, the TV’s 2 separate tuners allowing sports lovers to follow 2 games or sports at once.
After becoming familiar with these and other features, I retrieved my Video Essentials DVD from Aaron, who had been using it on the three 32″ sets he’s reviewed. Running through its battery of test patterns, the first thing noticed was the very bright white that the Planus automatically maintains. On the pattern with a white box inside a black screen with vertical white lines on either side, I could not reduce brightness or contrast enough to avoid this “blooming” effect without turning everything dull grey. However, in picture situations that were less extreme the picture was much more naturally rendered. The intense white did geometrically distort the white lines, bending them outward. This digital correction circuit cannot be defeated.
On the other hand, colour bars were essentially perfect, the colour very accurate in hue and pure, while grey scale gradations were excellent. The overscan pattern revealed a bit of cropping on picture top even in 4:3 setting, this obviously done to keep the standard picture from looking too small relative to the widescreen modes.
On the resolution pattern about 400 lines could be seen vertically, pretty much in keeping with the resolution of the Panasonic DVD-L10 portable player. The Planus was particularly good with the Snell & Wilcox test pattern with its moire-prone bouncing ball, notably freer of this spurious colour than the small LCD screen of the Panasonic. This should translate into an unusual freedom from the twinkly patterns we see on many TVs on moving grphics and type, and in particular on diagonal edges in pans and zoom shots. This is one of the major benefits of both line doubling and progressive scan.
Looking at the crosshatch test pattern it could be seen that aside from the blooming seen with contrasty black and white pictures, the geometric presentation of this TV is almost perfect, very good for a non-flat screen.
After all that test pattern stuff, it was time for the fun part: watching DVDs and off-air TV shows.
While setting up the Planus and playing with some of its features, it occured to me that there should be more than just a good monitor for 6 grand, and more than even all the digital goodies. One of these should certainly be good sound, and if you go for the dedicated stand (another grand), which can house VCR, cable box, and so on (though behind infrared unfriendly black or white sliding doors), you get a built-in supplemental woofer system. I supplemented this further by plugging one of the line outputs into a Sunfire Mk II subwoofer, and I’ll say more about this below.
What I’ve neglected to note so far is the complement of inputs and outputs provided by Loewe on this console. Being a line doubled 31 kHz progressive scan TV, the Planus should and does have both component (RCA) and VGA inputs, as well as 2 S and 2 composite ones. There are Tuner and Video A/V outs (S and Composite RCA), so the Planus tuner can feed a larger screen with its 480P signal, a good feature that can make this TV the heart of a front projection system; unfortunately, component outs are not provided to this end. There are a pair of antenna inputs, and a loop out for VCR from Antenna A.
There is also a front-panel Camcorder input with S and composite connectors in addition to audio. these were used to hook up our handy dandy DVD-L10 to the set for tests and DVD watching, using S for video. Here, a feature of the Panasonic player came into play in a big way: its virtual surround modes. Playing with theses, I discovered that the sound system of the Planus could be made to sound very engaging, and with the subwoofer adding bottom impact, this became a really good sounding home theatre system.
I found I could hear the surround effects in films like Happy Gilmore and Das Boot very effectively, though the surround effects seemed to be more to the sides than the rear, and there was a definite sweet spot at couch centre. Stereo separation is surprisingly good from the speakers on this system, and their position on either side of the screen makes for perfect correlation with the picture. But it’s the virtual surround that ices the cake. In a relatively small room with a good DVD player with virtual surround, you can have quite astonishing sound with just this TV, and, perhaps, a small subwoofer.
Getting back to the video side of things, I had an opportunity to see high definition programming on the Planus at their Canadian dealer show recently, and was suitably impressed. Because of the screen size and limits to phosphor density on the screen, this monitor will not display the highest resolution digital HD formats. But, then, the screen size itself fools the eye into thinking that 480P is actually 720P, the detail on the screen truly remarkable compared to ordinary interlaced pictures of the same size, and the colour is bold and natural, with a very film-like look.
The Loewe Planus is a very stylish television display system with a lot of sophistication built into it, hence its elevated price. It is a product that will not be bought on the basis of price, like some of the other TVs reviewed here, but for its technology, sophistication, and beauty.