Although you can now buy superb big-screen TVs for under a grand, there are still plenty for whom cost isn't an issue.
For these buyers, only the most stylish designs will do. Loewe has long fulfilled this need with its dealer-installed flatscreens, but while keen to offer bespoke options, the German company has been slow to offer partnering equipment.
As a result, fans have turned to the likes of B&O and Bose for sources and speakers.
Loewe could simply have introduced its own line of Blu-ray players and speaker packages – and those are now available – but far more impressive is its new Individual Mediacenter: a DVD-playing, CD-ripping, iPod-docking, internet radio-streaming box of tricks.
Actually, ‘box' isn't an appropriate word, because this is a stunningly stylish device, just 7cm deep with glossy black screen and brushed-metal housing. You can either wall-mount it or attach it to the pedestal or floorstand, both of which have channels to hide cables.
The Mediacentre is designed to be used in conjunction with a TV to navigate menus. If that sounds a bother, you're rewarded with bright, clear menus, simple settings, and a vibrant, iPod-style coverflow.
Surprisingly, though, the unit doesn't respond to the remote control straight away, which robs the coverflow system of fluidity.
Simple operation with musical flair
After your dealer's installed the unit, operation is simple. Slide a CD into the slot-loader and it downloads cover art and album info automatically. Then, depending on your selection, it plays or rips and spits out the disc.
The Loewe relies on just one database, Gracenote, and it's not always perfect, often failing to find cover art.
However, while there are a couple of niggles in operation, performance is superb. Play a WAV of Crystal Castles' Empathy and it demonstrates grip and punch, ensuring each electronic noise is snappy and precise.
It digs deep for the ultra-low bass, but keeps things tight and balanced, enhancing the overall soundstage.
Switch to a rip of The Real Thing from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack for The Road, and the Loewe proves as insightful as it is agile, digging up all the texture.
Each instrument is given space to breathe, but the presentation is unified. True, the Loewe lacks the dynamic flexibility of a separates setup, but for a hard-disk system it's impressive.
Another minor complaint
Talking of the hard disk, we should bring up another minor complaint. We appreciate the inclusion of two disks (one backs up the other), but 160GB each seems stingy.
True, it'll store around 50,000 128kbps MP3s, but that sort of compression is a waste of the Loewe's talents. FLAC or WAV files are more appropriate, but some may find it easy to fill the 160GB with these.
You can, however, add a USB hard disk or stream from a NAS device if that happens, and the Mediacenter is available without any built-in storage for those who already have a music library.
Dock your iPod and, with uncompressed tunes, performance is as impressive as with locally stored music. Tune to BBC 6 Music on internet radio and it delivers clear voices and punchy tracks.
The Mediacenter offers DVD instead of Blu-ray. The upscaled pictures it produces are decent, with reasonable detail, colour balance and control – but in our opinion, if you're going to offer movies in 2010, you really ought to stretch to HD.