Loewe’s back. Loewe is, of course, the German TV maker much beloved of Australian video cognoscenti of the early 2000s. You could have your Japanese and Korean TVs back in those days, or you could go for quality German stuff. Indeed, I did just that. For several years my own reference TV was a Loewe Xelos 32-inch model. (I mention that for a reason to which I’ll return.)

Under the local management of Indi Imports, the brand is being reinvigorated in Australia, once the company’s largest non-European market. Here’s the first model from its new wave on which we’ve laid eyes: the Loewe Bild 3.55 OLED TV.

Equipment
‘Bild’ is German for image, or picture, or photo, scene, sight... that’s what my elementary Google skills tell me. OLED means what it says. The ‘3.55’ tells us that this is part of the 3 series, which also features a number of LCD panels in the lesser models, and that it has a 55-inch panel.

It’s priced at $4499. Expensive? In fact, it costs only 10% more than the entry-level OLED from the brand famed for the technology, LG. And it costs $500 less than the mid-level 55-inch OLED model from that brand. (Although to be fair, you’re more likely to find some retail discounts on those.)

I measure the panel at 4.8mm thick at the top. There’s nothing like a thin panel to make a TV look great. It’s thicker at the bottom so as to fit in electronics and connections. It sits on a swivel stand, although there are various other mounting options available.

Slung underneath the panel is a soundbar powered by 2 × 40W ‘music’ or 2 × 20W ‘sine’. I guess the latter is closer to a traditional continuous power rating. The speakers fire forwards, although it isn’t clear what drivers are contained in the bar.

For external sound systems, one of the four HDMI inputs supports the Audio Return Channel. If you’re using an older home theatre receiver without ARC, the digital audio output from the TV is coaxial rather than optical. That’s often better if you’re got a longish distance between TV and receiver because long optical cables can be quite expensive. There is also both a headphone output socket and an analogue line-level socket, both on 3.5mm minijack sockets.

There are also the usual extras, such as three USB sockets. One of those is USB 3.0 and supports recording and time-shifting if you plug in a hard-disk drive (not a stick). The TV can also act as a DLNA server, so that you can play back the recordings on any DLNA-compatible video device.

If you have old SCART sources, then you can purchase an optional SCART adaptor.
The remote uses infra-red. For smart functions an on-screen arrow appears, which you can move around using arrow keys. It had a ‘punch through’ capability with connected equipment. I could bring up the menu of a connected Denon receiver and navigate that using the TV’s remote. (It switched to this mode automatically, and I would have been lost as to how to get back control of the TV itself, except that a pop-up message on the TV told me how. Loewe is very good at adding such useful hints just when you need them.)

Finally, the TV has dual-tuner PIP, a rare feature these days. You can watch one station while monitoring another in a window.

Setting up
To confess: I was a little frightened of setting up and learning to use this TV. In days gone by I came to quite the mastery of my Loewe Xelos over time, but that was with everyday practice. Sometimes we’ve found Loewe’s menu systems and TV operational controls quite counterintuitive. Well, that’s no longer the case. If you wish to translate your old-timey Loewe TV skills to this model, you’re out of luck. But if you want to move to Loewe from just about any TV of the past decade, you’re good. You’ll find only minor changes, and a remarkably clear interface.

A set-up wizard guides you through. At one point you select country, and Australia is listed there along with many European countries. This suggests that the TV is the same as the one in Germany. And it reflects that Indi has been working intensively with Loewe to make sure it works well in the Australian context. For example, the FreeviewPlus function works perfectly.
The wizard takes you through network set-up — this worked quickly and surely for my Wi-Fi connection and TV tuning. When you get to that part, I’d suggest you set ‘Accept Logical Channel Number’ to ‘Yes’ (it defaults to ‘No’). I did it wrong the first time through and the channels were numbered sequentially. Select ‘Yes’ and you’ll get the standard channel numbers for your area: 20 for ABC HD, 3 for SBS and so on.

Once the wizard finishes, you’ve still got a little work to do. Actually, quite a lot. Out of the box this TV processes the hell out of the picture, I’d say disappointingly so. The very first new TV I bought (decades ago now) was a Philips, simply because Euro-TVs seemed to deliver a much more natural picture. The distributor tells us that the settings were a result of extensive customer consultations, with ‘regular’ people apparently preferring this to natural settings. Well, I suppose the company’s first priority is, rightly, to make sure people choose its TVs.

Anyway, first, fix the aspect ratio. Weirdly, the TV overscans all inputs, regardless of the signal. Even Ultra-HD inputs are scaled up by a few percent, purportedly to push any edge irregularities out of sight off the screen. But it has been a long time since we’ve suffered the vagaries of analogue TV, where this is most likely to be a problem. So dig down into the menus; it’s a few layers down into the settings. There are several routes by which one may get to it, but look for ‘Picture format’. You’ll likely find it set to ‘16:9 TV’. If your instincts are anything like mine, you won’t like choosing ‘16:9 PC’, but you should. That setting has nothing to do with computers, and it appears to change nothing except allow proper 1:1 pixel mapping.

Next, find the ‘Sharpness’ control. This is also way down in the menu settings. (You’ll probably have to go through a ‘More ...’ to get to it.) The sharpness is on a 0 to 5 scale, defaulting to 3. ‘0’ is the appropriate setting. Particularly on things like ABC HD, faces seemed quite posterised (that is, broken up into largish slabs of ungraduated colour) with the default setting, and that was to a lesser but still visible extent true even with Ultra-HD Blu-ray, even a new release like Ready Player One. The default setting also emphasised — made visible, even, what had been invisible — film grain in that UHD movie. Getting rid of the sharpness enhancement made the picture much more natural and lifelike.

When you’ve finished with that, move on to the motion smoothing settings. These are under ‘Film quality improvement’ (itself accessible via ‘More ...’). The default is ‘intensive’. This makes super-smooth motion, but also a somewhat glossy image and obvious heat-haze distortion around moving objects. Again, that included Ultra-HD. Turning it down to ‘Middle’ and ‘Soft’ successively reduced the number of interpolated frames, reducing the distortion. But the heat-haze halos seemed to remain regardless. The only way to get rid of it completely was to turn off ‘Film quality improvement’.

Picture performance
Well, we’ve already covered much of this. The important thing is to get rid of those processes which detract from what is a truly excellent picture quality. Black levels are, of course, perfect, given the front-emissive nature of OLED, where black is just ‘off’.This means superb dark scenes and blacks. Using the grey-scale HDR test patterns on a Sony UltraHD Blu-ray (press 7669 on your remote at the main menu) it was clear that the TV dynamically scales its brightness range according to the material on-screen. But it does so kind of slowly. When I jumped from the 100-1000 nits page to the 1000-2000 nits page, it was at first difficult to distinguish between 1000 and 1100 nits — then that end of the scale darkened over a second or so. Perhaps this was to protect the OLED panel. That kind of thing is often a quirk of modern TV processing interacting with test patterns, since the processing is designed to optimise real-life program material, not patterns.

Anyway, putting aside the test patterns, I thought Loewe’s judgement on grey-scale mapping across the physical screen capabilities (it is specified to max out at 750 nits) was very good. Again, Ready Player One had its dark elements delivered beautifully, with plenty of detail in the dark scenes. Remember, this is a Dolby Vision disc, and this TV supports Dolby Vision, so the dynamic range delivery is potentially better than the norm.

Colour was spot on and rich. The gorgeousness of the high-frame-rate cinematography in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was conveyed magnificently.

The only weakness was that the auto deinterlacing on 576i/50 and 1080i/50 content was more likely than that on most current TVs to accidentally slip into video-style processing when film-style was appropriate. It may have just been a bit slow. For example, at the start of the credits on the 1080i/50 ‘Miss Potter’ Blu-ray, it was clearly doing it video style until the credits got a third of the way up the screen, then it switched to film style.

Smarts
The TV acts as a DLNA renderer and player. It played my FLAC music with sampling up to 192kHz, and showed photos very well.

My test pattern suggests that scaling will be direct to UHD, giving maximum resolution.
But colour handling of pictures looked to use a 4:4:0 resolution rather than 4:4:4. That is, the vertical colour resolution was half that of the luminance resolution (for a primer on chroma subsampling see S+I Vol 31#03 p12).

It was hit or miss in playing my assorted Ultra-HD test video clips, with no clear way to determine what was causing some to play fine, while others were reported as ‘File Error’. The 100Mbps clip I use on all TVs to check out the speed of their network connection was one that didn’t work. The wired network is specified as 100Mbps, though, so I suspect it would have stuttered if played that way.

A different set of picture processing settings seemed to be employed for video played from the network. In particular, my 576i/50 test clips were all played in a locked video mode, producing moire patterns and so on.

Available are a wide range of apps, including for Netflix and YouTube. There’s a web browser. You can plug in a USB keyboard and mouse to make all that stuff more usable.

Some models of Loewe TVs have their own built-in hard-disk drives for time shifting and recording. This one doesn’t, but you can enjoy the same abilities by plugging in an external hard drive. For some reason the first we tried, formatted to FAT32, wouldn’t work. I reformatted it to NTFS, and it recorded properly. Rather to my surprise, when I later plugged the HDD into my computer, not only had the drive not been reformatted to anything weird and unusable, but I could even play back the recordings by dragging them into VLC. Useful.

Conclusion
That Loewe Xelos TV I mentioned earlier sold for around $3500 — about the same price as this TV with inflation. But it was a 32-inch. We can luxuriate in the wonders of modernity — the Loewe Bild 3.55 OLED is bigger, better, more capable in every way. Yet it costs the same.
Modern purchasers of Loewe will certainly not be disappointed with the Loewe Bild 3.55. It is a fine TV, reasonably priced, and beautifully stylish. 

Loewe Bild 3.55 OLED
Price: $4499

+ Classy German design; Fine picture; Competitive pricing
- Auto deinterlacer could be improved

Tested with firmware: V4.3.66.0
Display Technology: Flat OLED panel
Screen size: 140cm
Native aspect ratio: 16:9
Native resolution: 3840 x 2160
Brightness: 750cd/square metre
Contrast ratio: Not stated
Inputs: 4 x HDMI, 1 x composite video, 1 x component video/D-SUB15/SCART plus stereo audio with optional adaptor, 3 x USB, 1 x Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 1 x aerial
Outputs: 1 x coaxial digital audio, 1 x 3.5mm headphone, 1 x 3.5mm analogue audio
Audio: Forwards firing soundbar, 80W total power
Included accessories: Stand, remote control
Energy rating: 2.5 stars, 573kWh per year
Dimensions without/with stand (whd):
1230 x 742 x 56mm / 1230 x 792 x 270mm
Weight without/with stand: 20.6kg / 25.4kg
Warranty: Two years on site (Indi tells us that Loewe TVs have a 0.1% failure rate globally. Almost all issues are software related, and Loewe can service those remotely via the internet.)