August 28, 2009
| by Arlen Schweiger
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.
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.
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.