Loewe Aconda Direct view 16:9 HDTV monitor Page 2

The first time you plug the Aconda into an AC outlet, it takes you through an initial setup process, starting with the physical connections. You select the types of devices you want to connect, and the TV takes you through the process step by step, complete with animated system-diagram graphics. You also have to set the clock, select the user-interface language, and allow the internal NTSC tuner to autoprogram the available channels (which takes an inordinately long time).

Unfortunately, you can't bypass any part of the initial setup process, even if you don't plan to use the internal tuner or clock. Not only that, if you turn the set off or lose power before finishing the procedure, the user settings revert to their defaults and you have to start over from the beginning. Believe it or not, Loewe calls this Virgin Mode; fortunately, a technician can disable it in the service menu, which is important if you aren't planning to use the set's internal tuners (say, if you plan to use a satellite receiver instead). Once the initial setup is finished, all user settings are saved in EPROM and retained essentially forever if the power goes down.

The connection scheme is very inflexible. Each device is associated with a particular input, which can't be changed, and once you specify a device as being connected, that input takes on the device's name. Input 1 can accept a set-top box or DVD player (component or S-video); the component input can accept DVD at 480i or 480p, or a set-top box at 480p or 1080i. Input 2 is assigned to a VCR, and Input 3 can accept a laserdisc player or satellite receiver. The front input is reserved for a camcorder, and the VGA/RGB input can accept 480p or 1080i. You can connect different devices from those specified, and some inputs can be renamed from a pop-up list. However, this list is not very comprehensive, so it might not help much. For example, none of the inputs can be named "receiver," which many people use to route most of their video signals to the display.

If you have most or all of these devices, you're probably using an A/V receiver or processor to direct different signals to the display; there aren't enough inputs to let the set function as the main signal router, even though this seems to be what Loewe intended. I ended up using Input 1 for the component-video feed from the ATSC tuner (and a DVD player after manually swapping cables and reconfiguring the input); I used Input 2 for everything else from the receiver over S-video.

Once the calibration was finished (see sidebar), it was time to settle down and watch some real material. Before TJN left after calibrating the set, we caught some of Frontier House on the PBS HDTV station in Los Angeles. It looked spectacular; every blade of grass was easily resolved and a perfect color of green. We could see subtle variations in the bark on the walls of the log cabins, as well as every whisker in the men's beards.

Later, I watched some D-VHS tapes I've made of JAG (fully digital recordings, thanks to the 1394 link between the Panasonic TU-DST51A tuner and PV-HD1000 D-VHS VCR), and they looked similarly spectacular. Flesh tones were especially striking, as was the detail in the ocean's surface from the deck of an aircraft carrier. I could very easily get used to this level of picture quality.

I also watched a number of DVDs, which looked uniformly splendid. I was particularly interested in the performance of the internal scaler, so I connected the component output from a Panasonic DVD-RP56 DVD player to the component input of the Aconda. This DVD player includes the Faroudja DCDi chipset, which performs excellent deinterlacing and 3:2 pulldown, and a button on the front panel switches from progressive to interlaced output, which is very convenient for A/B comparisons. (By contrast, switching the Aconda from progressive to interlaced input requires no fewer than six steps through the menu system!)

I started with the 3:2 pulldown version of the Snell & Wilcox Zone Plate test pattern on Video Essentials. It was immediately apparent that the DCDi circuit in the DVD player was superior to the Aconda's scaler at this particular task. The Loewe did a very creditable job, with no cross-color moiré in the bouncing ball, but there was plenty of banding every time the scaler locked on to the ball in a new direction. (This was evident at both settings of the Aconda's 3:2 pulldown parameter, normal and super; in fact, I thought the normal setting did a slightly better job.) By contrast, the DCDi circuit produced virtually no banding after locking on.

Next, I played clips from a new Faroudja demo DVD, which includes some torture tests for 3:2 pulldown. Perhaps the most problematic image is an American flag waving in the breeze; all those boundaries between red and white are a real challenge. Again, the DCDi circuit in the DVD player was clearly better at smoothing out these boundaries, while the Aconda's scaler exhibited some obvious jaggies at either setting.

Finally, I tried the opening scene from Star Trek: Insurrection, which includes slow horizontal and diagonal pans across a quaint village with bridges, walls, and rooftops. In this case, the difference between the scalers was much less pronounced; the DCDi did a better job, but not by much. The Aconda's scaler looked excellent on this and all other interlaced DVD material I watched on it, which is a real benefit to those who have a variety of input sources.

The Loewe Aconda is a superb direct-view HDTV monitor. Its picture quality was surprisingly good right out of the box, (which could save you the added expense of a professional calibration, unlike many other models). Better still, it was absolutely stunning after calibration. The internal scaler worked very well—it wasn't quite as good as Faroudja's DCDi scaler on 3:2 pulldown, but the difference was noticeable only on the most challenging tests.

The set does have a couple of drawbacks. With only one component input, the connection scheme is very inflexible and limited, and the menu system is much too cumbersome for my taste.

I was also going to complain about the Aconda's high price, especially in light of the fact that the only direct competitor I know of, the RCA F38310, lists for $2999. The RCA appears to use the same picture tube as the Aconda, and it also has only one component input. I haven't seen the RCA in action, so I can't compare its performance to the Aconda's. I'm sure that Loewe justifies the high price of their set with the quality of its picture, which is undeniably fabulous. But is it that much better than a set costing a couple thousand less? Only you can make that determination.

There are a number of 34-inch direct-view models ranging in price from $2800 to $5500, some with flat screens and/or two component inputs, but the picture is obviously smaller. And with several of these in the $4000-$5500 range, the price of the Aconda doesn't seem quite so exorbitant.

Nevertheless, Loewe Opta is clearly not interested in encouraging the transition to DTV by building displays for the lowest possible price. Instead, they prefer to offer upscale models at premium prices to those who can pay for the best possible picture. If you're shopping for a 38-inch direct-view, widescreen HDTV monitor with exceptional picture quality—and money is no object—the Loewe Aconda is definitely worth looking at.