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A Plasma Owner Demos The Loewe Aconda and Compares....


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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   Rich H

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Posted April 25 2003 - 03:17 AM

Hi folks, I actually did this comparison on "another forum," but thought some here might appreciate it too...

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I had extensive time today demoing the Loewe 38" Aconda direct-view set. (My excuse is I'm looking at CRTs for my father's upgrade - true). I own a Pansonic 4UY 42" ED (Enhanced Definition) PLASMA display, so I thought I'd write about the Loewe from my perspective: what do you get when you spend all this dough on a Loewe or a plasma? Especialy given that the Loewe Aconda is edging into plasma price territory. How do the latest technology from plasma and CRT direct-views compare for picture quality? Here's one AV geek's experience comparing the two.

My background: AV enthusiast and film professional (post production). Have demoed a large number of brands and display types in the consumer market. I have friends who are AV writers and dealers, so I'm fortunate to be given some free reign comparing some top-of-the-line equipment, under controlled conditions.

Motivation: I love my Panny plasma, but I continually encounter the mantra that the best image is still to be found among the CRTs. Loewe is consistently ranked around number one for consumer CRT direct-views by critics and consumers, and as such I've been drawn to check out Loewe TVs whenever I encounter them...which is constantly - my pals sell the whole Loewe line. Today, as I have several times before in various settings, I auditioned the Loewe 38" Aconda using many of my reference DVDs. These were controlled conditions...which means a dedicated component feed - no splitters - from a high-end Arcam DVD player; lights out in the room, which is how I watch movies and which should show the Loewe at it's best; and full control over picture settings to achieve the best image I can get. I will be concentrating on DVD, as "home theater" is my main motivation. Also, I'm attempting to be as objective as possible: I have no problem whatsoever acknowledging a superior picture when I see one - after all, it gives something to shoot for when upgrade time calls :-)

THE AUDITION:

I adjusted the picture settings to get the type of image I like: as realistic-looking as possible...deep but detailed blacks, good contrast, natural-looking, detailed high-lights, unexaggerated color, and a "natural" life-like sharpness (which should come across as "clarity," not sharpness of image).

THE GOOD: The Loewe looks wonderful with HI-DEF. No surprise. It's one of the sharpest direct-views I've seen with HI-DEF. It also has a very rich, detailed and fairly natural color pallet - I notice more and finer color detail within the image than virtually any other CRT Direct view. Now, my plasma is not a true Hi-Def resolution (852 x 480 pixel count), but it nonetheless is renowned for an incredible HD image...so good some cannot readily tell it form the HD models. However, I believe I saw a little more color detail on HD content from the Loewe, which was really cool. The Loewe was very sharp, but fell short of the "damn-I'm-looking-through-a-window" clarity of the best plasmas (e.g. Pioneer Elite, Panasonic, Fujistsu 50" plasma). The Loewe had a wonderful list of attributes (black level, color detail, precise image for a CRT), yet as good as it was, I never forgot I was watching TV, as opposed to the I -am - thereness of the plasmas. Even after ridding the Loewe of the factory "torch" modes, there is still something in the "electric" or "day-glow" quality of CRTs that says "TV" to my brain. Perhaps it's life-long conditioning to CRTs as being "TV."
Still, HD was W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L on the Aconda...eye-candy with a bullet!

VIEWING DVDS:

THE GOOD: That amazing Loewe gray-scale and color detail. The depth, solidity and detail of the Loewe blacks really do give the picture a dimensionality that puts it ahead even of most other CRTs I've seen. It's the one direct-view I've experienced that attains a plasma-like three-dimensionality. On Jurassic Park III... >ack<.... the jungle foliage reached out of the screen, and far into the back ground. The characters walking through the jungle really seemed to be negotiating solid, 3D trees. The dinosaurs craggy skin and sheer presence was brought home with visual "weight," mostly through the depth accrued from the amazing contrast and gray scale detail (shading) of which this display is capable.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD: Frankly, as has been the case each time I've auditioned the Loewe, overall I was disappointed with it's performance on DVDs. It simply had a softer, less precise look than I would like. The first clue was always the opening credits of any film. On my plasma they are perfectly, crisply delineated - like they are painted across my screen. On the Loewe they were softened....setting the stage for the image with live action.
The picture lost the clarity and solidity that the HD images had, and that these DVDs display on my plasma. It's like the Loewe's picture processing, or scaling, just isn't as refined as it could be, giving that slightly smudged effect one get's with less precise scaling. One might say it is "film-like," but having seen how clear the source material really is, I don't appreciate the degradation of the image, even if it's in a filmic direction. JAWS, for instance, which has film quality that varies between grainy and stunningly clean, looked uniformly like an older, cruder film print. Whereas on my plasma it can be like I'm looking through the film camera at the real set.

As well, this Aconda displayed what I perceived as a slightly "dirtied" look to the picture over-all on DVD... like colors with a slightly "yucky" quality. I attribute this to the granular quality the Loewe processor adds when "scaling" DVDs to the screen. This has been the case with every Loewe playing DVDs I've ever seen, and only a few other people have made the same observation, so who knows? It's a slightly gritty look. (BTW, we played both progressive and interlaced signals into the Loewe). The Loewe sharpness control greatly exacerbates this granular quality to sometimes hideous levels, and unfortunately salesmen have the habit of cranking that control upward. Watch a Loewe with the sharpness control up and actor's skin looks like it's composed of the measles, or age spots.
Be wary of the sharpness control level if you are auditioning a Loewe!

I played with the sharpness settings and...this is a big beef...they were ridiculously crude for such a high-end display. There were only five steps: "0" were the image looked disappointingly soft to me, and "1" or "2" where the sharpness effect is already more than I care for. Total bummer (I'd hope there is a finer control hidden within a service menu, at least). Perhaps here I'm running up against the limits of CRT beam precision vs plasma fixed pixel - I don't know. But my plasma has a "natural" clarity that rarely needs help from a sharpness control. In contrast, the Loewe either offered me a slightly - but unrealistically - soft image, or a sharpened image with added, ugly artifacts. (BTW, LOEWE OWNERS: I did everything I could using the picture controls from the remote. If there are any "secret" controls, say within a service menu, that would seriously improve the picture quality I'd like to hear about it). This sharpness control issue is mostly a problem with NTSC and DVD images, not HD signals - the Loewe needs no sharpness control fiddling for that.

Having said that, I think many, or most people would not be so picky about this "softness" to the image, and probably would find the DVD performance looks quite good given it's other attributes. I suppose my plasma's fixed pixel precision has spoiled me that way. I noticed that as I got used to the Loewe's image, I became less critical, comparison left my mind, and it began to look "better."

I returned home and played the same scenes on the Panny plasma - lights out like the Loewe room. When the first image came on I was actually shocked at the clarity....I'd spent so much time with the Loewe....
These DVDs on the Panny plasma were just in another league all together:
the clarity is flat-out "real" on choice DVD scenes. I can look at a "real" object in my room, and then cast my eyes on the plasma image without experiencing any discontinuity in clarity. Previous to my encountering a well-set-up plasma, this type of clarity was unprecedented in the consumer displays of my acquaintance, which is one reason I bought the plasma.
The Loewe DVD images didn't come close to matching the clarity and solidity of objects on the plasma screen.

The Panny has good blacks...not as super-deep as the Loewe, but black enough to produce a very satisfying image with night and day scenes. The Loewe was very dimensional, but with DVDs the Panny's added clarity, larger size and perfectly flat screen brought another level of reality to the image.
Also, there is some sort of sorcery that goes on with this Panny plasma; the light quality looks so uncannily smooth and realistic...like natural light cast on real objects, vs the "object-as-reinterpreted-by-CRT-phosphors" impression I get with direct-views, including the Loewe. For me, there are just too many advantages that add up to a suspension of disbelief in favor of the plasma in this comparison.

So, there you have it. My experience, for what it's worth. The Loewe is a superb CRT, with about the best CRT HD images I've seen. But on all other counts, my eyes tell me the Panny plasma takes the "suspension of dis-belief" to another level, with it's clarity, natural look and over-all realism. It goes against much of what I'd read (aside from reports similar to mine from other plasma owners), but I've gone with what my eyes say, not specs or other people's authority.

(Side note: I've seen NTSC cable and satellite channels on the Loewe TVs quite a few times, and it has never looked as sharp and pleasing as on my plasma or on my Panny 27" Tau tv. BUT...I would not make a final judgment on that, as it's possible the store feeds were uniformly bad each time I encountered the Loewe...I'd have to have one in my home for direct comparison).

BTW, I don't consider my opinion on these displays "objective proof" of anything, nor do I wish to step on the toes of Loewe owners or elevate what I prefer to "best" status. All displays have their place and preference is king. I just wished to write an honest tale of my shopping experience, in the hopes it might make interesting reading for some folks....

PPS, I also watched my DVDs on the big Hitachi RPTV everyone loves, and it was a wonderful image! Much more satisfying than the Loewe, IMHO.

Cheers,

#2 of 8 OFFLINE   Rich H

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Posted April 25 2003 - 05:18 PM

Hmmm...people are reading, but no replies. I was hoping some people with experience with the Loewes might chime in.

One thing I'd ask Loewe owners: Are there any "secret" picture controls beyond those easily accessed by the remote control, that might significantly increase the picture quality? I.e. something I might have missed (I went through every control I could find, experimenting with the noise reduction on/off etc.).

I would hope that some sort of service menu or something would offer finer gradations of sharpness control, as I'd expect the current steeply stepped sharpness control would frustrate someone trying to calibrate the display with precision.

? ? ?

#3 of 8 OFFLINE   David J. White

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Posted May 02 2003 - 01:53 PM

Rich,

Thanks for the review. I've owned a 38" Aconda for a while now and can't say I have fully experienced the same results as you explain seeing. I get DVD images that are pretty hard to distinguish from a full HDTV signal.

Can I ask what method you used to connect the dvd player you used and what type of cables etc (Component, S-vid, etc) And how did yoy have the 3:2 pulldown set? It has 3 settings: None, Normal, & Super...

and to answer your question: Yes, of course there is a service menu that allows further tweaking. You have to push the menu button on the set and then the one on the remote w/i 2 seconds.

Personally, I think the palce where the aconda excells far beyond any plasma I've sat with is in very dark scenes...the fine details in the darks are amazing. I see thinks I never new existed. Especially when the scenes go darl to light and back again, etc...the blacks go right back to black w/o being brightened by the light scene's effects.

Also you have to consider that you are comparing the aconda at $4k to top end plasmas costing many times more.

-Dave w


#4 of 8 OFFLINE   David Lorenzo

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Posted May 02 2003 - 09:57 PM

Dave,

He is comparing a 42" Panny ED plasma. They can be found cheaper than the Aconda.

#5 of 8 OFFLINE   Rich H

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Posted May 03 2003 - 04:22 AM

Hi Dave.

First, I don't want to be seen as "dissing" the Loewe, which is a terrific CRT.

1. The Aconda was hooked up the to high-end Arcam DVD player (often reviewed as producing about the sharpest picture you can get), via component cables. We used the Arcam's progressive scan signal. I do not know how the Aconda was set for pull-down, but given the progressive scan signal from the Arcam, I wouldn't *think* it would be a big deal with picture sharpness either way. Perhaps you can comment.

The review is also, in a way, a consolidation of all the times I've auditioned the Aconda, which is casually around 40 times (e.g. the number of times I've encountered the Loewe and watched a few different signals on it...actually it would be a lot more, since we have the Aconda occasionally doing service in the post production facilities where I work...we watched the HD Olympics on it too). I've auditioned it intensively four times (i.e. with my own DVDs, and control over all parameters).

I'm happy you find the DVD quality to be on par with the HD signal, and I don't doubt your experience. It's just weird to me that, given all my experience with the Aconda, I've never seen a DVD image on it that blew me away. So, either I've been incredibly unlucky, and every set-up I've ever seen with the Aconda had some hidden problem, or I just don't fully take to DVD's on the Aconda.

2. Can you tell me: are there sharpness controls in the service menu that offer finer control than what is offered via the standard user menus?

3. I agree with you on the black levels. They are spectacular on the Loewe. My Panasonic plasma definitely does not go quite as dark, and it also looses a bit of detail within the very darkest end of the gray scale. That said...I'm a stickler for black levels and would not have bought a plasma that did not satisfy on that count. My Plasma's black levels are quite black..close to my Panny CRT, and are sufficient to allow all scenes, no matter how dark, great depth and richness. On the majority of DVD images, the over-all depth of the plasma image exceeds what I find from the Aconda (the size and perfect flatness of the plasma no doubt helps as well).

Since I find the plasma's black level, if not perfect, quite satisfying, the only picture strength of the Loewe - the deeper blacks and slightly better black detail - are not that significant. Whereas the over-all strengths of the plasma image - clarity, sharpness, smoothness of detail, solidity of image, realism of color and light quality, perfect geometry and flatness, bigger size - all sum up to a more realistic and compelling image over-all.

I also find HD to be more compelling on the plasma too: it looks as sharp as the Loewe, but is also larger and flatter for a more looking-through-a-window effect.

But, again, you are right on about the Loewe's black levels, which are spectacular and if you want 'em you gotta go Loewe.

4. The Panny ED model I am comparing to the Leowe can be found for below $4,000 (Dell, for instance sells this plasma, and it's most often floats around $3,700 - $3,800 for e-tailers).

Thanks for responding to my post. Nice to know someone was listening after all that typing Posted Image

#6 of 8 OFFLINE   Gabriel_Lam

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Posted May 03 2003 - 09:39 AM

The ED model Panny is very inexpensive. Heck, the 1024x768 model can be found for $4125 shipped.
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#7 of 8 OFFLINE   David J. White

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Posted May 03 2003 - 11:23 AM

Rich,

I didn't read your post as dissing anything, the loewe included. I just read it as your honest opinion of what you experienced 1st hand...a well written and informed one at that. thanks.

When I 1st brought the loewe home, I hooked my low budget pani rp62 up to it via s-vid and found the tvs scaling to be less than satisfactory. It was full of jaggies and similiar artifacts. As you descibe, it was like the pulldown was just not fast enough. But once I moved to 1080i the image improved increadibly. I have since added comcast cable hdtv with a zector switchbox for the component connections, and toggling between dvd and hdtv I now have trouble telling them apart, usually...depending on the content.

I think that the scallers biggest weakness is distinguishing video source from film source materials. Often when I watch less than perfectly engineered dvd's I can distintly tell when the chip is swapping between video and film modes. This was far more appearent at 480p than at 1080i. In 480p I've observed scenes in video mode where the artifacts were simply overwhelming. One scene that comes to mind is in Far from Heaven where Dennis Haysbert is riding in a truck and the frame is focused on his face while the background whipps by but his face is not moving at all. The background areas around the edges of his face were completely distorted. I took all my energy to bite my tounge and keep from jumping up and turning the movie off, while the non-hometheater-nuts in the room quitely enjoyed the plot as if nothing had happened. Posted Image

Its my understanding that the deinterlacer in the loewe is (field) motion-adaptive which probably has a lot to do with why this particular scene was so troublesome. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about the engineering of the dvd to be able to comment on the source or cadence for the particular scene, however. maybe others can comment on this. Isn't the deinterlacer in the Arcam motion-compensated? This would yeild significanly better results in this regard.

Sorry, I also cannot say much more about the service menu controls either, as I have never had need to mess with them. I did look through them once just for fun, but saw little that made much sense to me. It was all a little beyond my skill level so I walked away quietly. But I will agree that I was frustrated by the sharpness settings when I was 1st dialing it in, but now I don't seem to even notice. Either I just got used to it, or the sharpness settles in after the tube burned in. I don't know which, but it seems just fine now with everything I watch.

I wnet through a similar comparison period when I was looking to purchase. Because I live in a 3rd flr condo I was trying to find reasons to buy a much smaller and lighter plasma over the CRT....but after a few months of demos and visiting friends with various systems for extended views i just could not find a plasma that made me as happy unless it was over $10k or more. So I lugged the beheomoth up the stairs w/ 4 friends...

-davew


#8 of 8 OFFLINE   Rich H

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Posted May 03 2003 - 11:30 AM

Well Dave, I have to say you ended up with the most lust-worthy CRT I've ever seen. It's beautiful and I'd be proud to have the Loewe grace my place. (Unfortunately had I gone direct-view, like the Loewe, I would have had to reconstruct our space to accommodate it, whereas the plasma fit in without much fuss).

Cheers,