Review: LG BD390 Blu-ray Player

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LG’s BD390 Blu-ray player

LG’s new flagship player gives you a dose of Blu-ray high performance, plus Netflix streaming and other networked media surprises.


Aug. 28, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

My media room setup, with its late-90s receiver, isn’t exactly inviting for any ol’ Blu-ray player. That’s why when LG asked me to check out its BD390 networked Blu-ray player, I had a feeling it would be the ideal solution for my system. Plus, “Blu-ray player” only scratches the surface of what this multimedia machine delivers.

Onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, plus 7.1-channel analog outputs to play well with my legacy Sony A/V receiver? Check. Built-in Wi-Fi so I could try out BD-Live and update the player’s firmware wirelessly from my router downstairs? Check.

And while we’re at it, how about wirelessly tapping into Netflix’s on-demand video collection or surfing YouTube?! Needless to say, the BD390 (MSRP $399) had my current system written all over it as a perfect suit.

Setup
I added the BD390 with a quick swap out of my Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player. The HDMI was easy to transfer, as was the optical audio connection. The hardest part was hooking in analog RCA connectors for my front, surround and center speakers and subwoofer. That way I could use the 5.1 multichannel inputs on my Sony receiver to play the lossless audio formats.

The system setup once the BD390 is up and running is just as easy, with an intuitive interface and navigation that I could follow no problem.

First go was checking the video, which I set to 1080i for resolution, and “16:9 widescreen” for aspect ratio – that became almost a “set it and forget it,” but I was reminded of when I popped in a standard-def 4:3 aspect ratio DVD stretched out (it looked fine in that mode). My Hitachi plasma isn’t 1080p, so that’s why I went with 1080i to start; I later switched to “auto” and found the image quality more consistent.

Next up was audio, also simple to figure out with some added fun. I turned the optical connection to passthrough surround out of my standard DVDs; for the analog outputs I chose 5.1 over stereo and 7.1, as I’d be using these primarily while watching Blu-ray discs that included Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (I don’t have the extra speaker pair to go full 7.1). A nice touch LG includes is the speaker setup for the analog outputs, by which you can set speaker size and levels, and then perform a static test (or rumble test when you get to the sub) to audibly know everything’s working.

Time to get the wireless network connection going. This is where I hit my only snag, as for whatever reason it took a few swings and misses before my Linksys router username/password were recognized and running. Once it clicked there was smooth sailing ahead, and I dove straight into YouTube.

Features and Performance
Yup, before I tried out a Blu-ray disc I surfed lower-quality video. I’ve been skeptical of having YouTube feature on my TV, which is 50 diagonal inches, or any large screen for that matter. Videos on the computer screen can be choppy enough, and blowing them up to big screen was a visual disaster waiting to happen, right?

As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. The interface presents a main YouTube screen somewhat akin to that of the website, with a video box on the left, information on the right, and related videos also in the right column after the selection has played until its end.

Hitting the DISPLAY button brings you a full-screen view, which is a good or bad thing depending on the video quality itself. Some videos taken from network broadcasts and ripped from movies looked pretty decent at full size. I watched a bunch of summer 2009 concert footage that was obviously captured with an HD camcorder because images appeared stellar. Not quite HD, but closer to standard-def channels.

Now there’s no keyboard on the included remote control – that would be overkill I think for a Blu-ray player – so searching for videos by clicking on letters via up/down arrows isn’t the speediest. However, a nice feature is that as soon as you start selecting letters, some search suggestions (by popularity, I presume) pop up and you can simply scroll up and curtail your virtual typing by picking one. Also, a ‘history’ tab keeps track of your last 25 videos viewed for easy re-selection.

For higher quality streaming video, the other main sources included on the BD390 are Netflix and CinemaNow. The latter service had just been announced when I received the player, but proved a good test for the wireless firmware updating (the player kindly lets you know when an update is available). After a successful update, the CinemaNow icon showed up in the “Home” menu after I powered the player back on.

CinemaNow, as an a la carte movie rental option, didn’t strike my interest quite the way Netflix did. I like the variety it offers, and as an alternative to cable on-demand movie services it’s just as convenient, and even more fun to scroll through the cover art and different genres for selection.

The ever-growing Netflix “Watch Instantly” feature was my target, however. LG was the first to present this option on a Blu-ray player, with last year’s well-received release of the BD300. But that was then, and this is now, and now means that Netflix has added high-def options in the interim that make the option even more appealing.

The service is extraordinarily easy to use – add movies on your PC, and they virtually immediately show up as selections on your TV screen via the BD390. The one knock may be that you can’t add directly from the Blu-ray player, but that’s no bother if you’ve already plucked dozens into your queue. Boot-up time is quick, too. Netflix says it takes about 30 seconds for a movie to load, but I found that standard-def choices were closer to a zippy 12-13 seconds, and high-def only a few seconds longer.

Overall I was impressed by the Netflix video quality on the BD390. Standard-def was about on par with DVD, with slight pixilation mostly noticeable in dark areas, as I tested with films such as Wall-E, Ghostbusters and From Here to Eternity. I was more pleasantly surprised by the HD; having already watched the first two seasons of Lost on Blu-ray, I was ready for a letdown upon streaming season 3 from Netflix “HD” but found it nearly as stunning – not quite identical, but much more sharp and detailed than I’d expected. I also checked out Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and it looked virtually flawless as well.

Blu-ray, Too
Did I mention that the BD390 does in fact play Blu-ray discs, too? Quite well, in fact. And unlike older-generation players, Blu-ray discs load and boot-up much closer to traditional DVD player speed, a major improvement from my HD DVD player.

I viewed a range of Blu-ray material that included the nearly 30-year-old original Friday the 13th, The Sprit, Lost, and concerts by The Police, Rush and Chris Botti – video quality did not disappoint, even though I wasn’t viewing at full 1080p. I was surprised at how detailed and lush the daytime scenes of Friday the 13th appeared, really breathing life into that classic horror film. Lost looked extremely crisp and vivid, especially the sharpness and definition on the male characters’ unshaven, sweaty faces or the colors of the female characters eyes, and of course the brilliant-looking jungle and island vistas.

Audio quality proved rock solid, as the concert Blu-rays I tested using uncompressed audio formats were really enveloping through my satellite-subwoofer 5.1 system. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio seemed to deliver greater dynamic range and power to things like cymbal crashes and bass grooves.

I’ve never been drawn to disc extras, and BD-Live really isn’t going to change that, but I did check out the extras on The Spirit for kicks. The demo of the disc’s MoLog feature looked like adding photos, captions and more during film scenes could be entertaining. Though not my cup of tea, I can see how others may enjoy interactive BD-Live features, and it’s a must-have Blu-ray feature that the BD390 takes care of.

The player also upscales standard DVDs crisply, which I noted on content viewed ranging early-1970s movies to my daughter’s Dora the Explorer and Thomas and Friends videos. The BD390 can keep your current DVD collection freshly in rotation.

… And There’s More
You’ll also find Photos, Music and My Media buttons on the Home menu, and a USB input on the front panel to make for convenient portable media pickings. The My Media button accesses the player’s DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) capability, which lets you stream files from your home network.

For me, this is a nifty feature but proved to be hit or miss. The player manual says that not all the WMA and AAC audio formats are compatible, and I found that I couldn’t access some music in my iTunes folder that had been ripped AAC. Fortunately, though, it was only my early days of ripping CDs to iTunes that I used that format – since then I’ve gone mainly with higher-bitrate MP3, and the BD390 played those just fine, quite a convenience. Plenty of audio and video file formats are supported, but unfortunately WAV and FLAC files are not, which do comprise a lot of my PC-stored tunes.

Overall the DLNA aspect just enhances what is already an extremely full-featured player. It’s easy to forget that the BD390’s primary function is Blu-ray playback. So whether you want to hold on to your large DVD collection, start buying or renting Blu-rays, stream all sorts of movies and TV, the BD390 can answer all of your viewing dreams.


AT A GLANCE
Specs:
Playback: Blu-ray, DVD-Video, DVD+/-R/RW, CD, CD-R/RW
File extensions: .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .avi, .divx, .mpg, .mpeg, .tp, .m2ts, .mp3, .wma, .pcm
1080p upscaling; 1080p/24 or 60 fps
NetCast Entertainment to access Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow
DLNA-certified MyMedia access to networked photos, videos, music
1GB built-in memory
Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity
Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio decoding
7.1 analog outputs
Digital audio output (optical and coaxial)
HDMI port
USB 2.0 Media Plus port
17 x 2.2 x 10.9 inches
$399

Pros:
So, so many video possibilities at your fingertips.
Solid Blu-ray video and audio performance.
Built-in Wi-Fi so web access doesn’t have to be hard-wired.

Cons:
Disc tray a bit flimsy.
Ejected discs can feel pretty hot.
Some formats unsupported, such as FLAC.



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