Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LG BD390 Network Blu-Ray Player Review

The Product of the Year: The LG BD390 Network Blu-Ray Player

I have just bought what I feel is the Product of the Year. The reason why I say this is because all year I have been looking for a Blu-Ray player that does everything and plays everything. None have come close until this one. LG makes other Blu-Ray players, but this is the one with a Wi-Fi connection, and that is what makes all the difference.

The Features
So far I have not even tried using this Blu-Ray player to play Blu-Ray DVDs.  I have read many reviews that say this is one of the faster players around, loading and displaying DVDs quicker than almost any other player available.  But what I bought it for are the other features, which I have tested and can verify:
  •  It has a built-in USB port on the front right side that allows you to plug in an external hard drive and play your DivX movies, MP3 music files, digital photos and a variety of other formats.  
  • These media formats include file extensions that many other media players cannot play, such as .mkv, .avi, .mpg, .wma and .mp4 files.  It also displays CD artwork - if it is included in the original folder on the drive.  I tested a Westernal Digital MyPassport 640 GB drive, and it read all of the media files and played them directly on the TV screen without a problem, displaying the directory structure and allowing me to display title info in three different display sizes.  I also tested a 500 GB USB-powered hard drive loaded with MP3 files and had no problem playing them either.  
  • The networking features are quite simple and pretty amazing.  I share my music, video and pictures folders on each of my PCs, and by clicking the "My Media" button on the Home page of the LG interface, it automatically brought up the Music, Video and Pictures folders from my computers and allowed me to play them through my Home Theater System.  Although it comes with a Nero Media Essentials CD, it is not necessary to install if you already know how to share your folders in Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7.  If you do not know the process for sharing folders, you can install the Nero Media Essentials CD and it walks you through the steps of setting up your computer as a streaming media server. 
  •  Wi-Fi connectivity is the real reason why I bought this $300 gadget.  Many households already have a wireless router providing wireless Internet to one or more laptops, but with a quick setup in the "Settings" section of the Home page, I typed in my Key/Password with the on-screen keyboard and it found my network name (SSID) and quickly connected to it.  Once connected, the door is open to a world of great features, including the ability to stream YouTube videos to your TV in varying degrees of streaming quality.  Some YouTube videos are available in higher than typical .flv quality, including some in HD.  Watching a clip from a Loreena McKennitt concert in HD quality was truly a treat.
  • The DVD player itself does play video from DVD+R discs, unlike one of the new Samsung players I researched.
  • It does upscale your older non-Blu-Ray DVDs.  I can verify this to be true.  I even played a backup copy of a DVD that I own, and it played with a clearer picture than it did on my older DVD player.  So, depending on your settings (I obviously recommend the 1080p setting), it will upscale regular DVDs and make them look even sharper.
  • I'm not a fan of CinemaNow, but with a simple firmware update (just click Update in the Settings) I see that the Vudu video service is now available.  I like Vudu much more than CinemaNow, and you even get one free HD movie from their pretty extensive collection, featuring many HD titles and a pretty good foreign and indie film collection (even a large Criterion section of films).  Many trailers are in HD and you can choose what quality you want.  Prices of SD (Standard Definition) for most movies is $1.99 to $2.99, while HD quality is usually $3.99.  Currently missing from the list of available streaming services is Pandora Radio.  
  • One of the biggest draws for purchasers of the BD390 is its ability to stream very high quality "Watch Instantly" movies from Netflix.  It takes no more than a minute to set up your entire "Watch Instantly" queue from Netflix to your TV screen using the BD390.  Just go to the Web link provided while on your computer, and within a few seconds your instant queue shows up on the TV.  Then, pick the movies or shows you want to watch and the video quality is amazingly clear.
  • My Panasonic Home Theater System was great in its day, but that day has long since come and gone.  It is now in its 9th year, and only has analog audio inputs, but not to worry.  It works perfectly with the BD390.  There are enough audio jacks for up to 7-channel surround sound, or as low as 2-channel stereo.  HDMI is also an option, as is component video.  I used component cables, but even with a component audio/video connection, you can choose 1080p or 1080i and notice a clear picture quality difference.  I chose 1080p and the picture still looks great.  Choosing 720p shows a noticeable reduction in quality but still looks decent on an older standard definition TV.
  • An Ethernet jack is also included.  This is pretty standard on network Blu-Ray players.  It allows you to stream faster from YouTube and your networked computers, but it does require an Ethernet cable, which may not reach easily from your router to the living room.  That's why most people who buy the BD390 will choose the Wi-Fi connection option.  Those with their cable or DSL modem close by will benefit from a faster-than-wireless broadband connection for viewing those addictive YouTube videos.
  • The front LCD display panel is about the best I have seen for displaying the running time of a DVD movie.  Some players I have had in the past display the time so small that you needed to walk up to the player to see how much time was left on the DVD.  Other players I've had (a Phillips player comes to mind) would not even show the running time of a DVD on the TV, but instead would only display what chapter I was on (such as chapter 10 of 28).  This has a nice Display control panel that allows you to change settings on-screen for subtitle, audio, chapter, title menu, etc. all from a display that appears vertically at the left side of the screen.  Again, the front time display on the machine is very large and easy to see even from 10 feet away and I like that a lot.
Tips & Discoveries

After using it for a few nights pretty heavily, there are some tips I have discovered about this player that I would like to share.
  • After you have stopped a DVD at a certain point in the movie and ejected it from the machine and later insert the same disc back into the player, it does pick up right where you left off.  This might not seem like a big deal, but if you've ever forgotten the place you were at in a movie and had to eject so that the kids or your spouse could watch a different movie, causing you to lose your place when the disc is re-inserted, trust me - it's a great feature.  Most players keep your place if the machine is turned off, but not when the disc is ejected and then re-inserted.  This one does.
  • You will have to use the on-screen keyboard to search for the YouTube videos you want to see.  But, that is a small price for viewing online content in the comfort of your living room chair.  One streaming tip for YouTube content: Let the YouTube video load and buffer.  Press the Pause button and go get a drink, then come back.  Once the buttering progress bar has gotten about half-way, click on the Jump to Beginning button and view the video without having to wait for it to stop and buffer.  With an Ethernet cable this is less of an issue, but the convenience of Wi-Fi is worth the wait.
  • There are two 16x9 aspect ratio settings you can choose from.  16x9 Full (which is full-screen) where the image is zoomed in.  In other words, no black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.  Full-screen DVDs (as opposed to wide-screen DVDs) could appear with black bars at the right and left side though.  I found this to be true on a few DVDs and video clips that I watched at this setting.  The other 16x9 setting is for Wide-Screen movies, and it shows DVDs in true wide-screen  or anamorphic format, and does not Zoom in on the picture.  I would recommend this setting for most video and DVD content, particularly if you have a wide-screen TV.






Complaints
Of course there are always complaints and no product is perfect.  I was at the CNet site and read some of the reviews and complaints about this player.  Here is a link to the CNet review, which is extremely positive.  I think it was one of the most glowing reviews I've ever seen CNet give of a product.  However, some users were not so favorable of it.  I don't understand that.  Rarely have I seen a more amazing and feature-rich device than this one.  The only truly annoying aspects of the LG BD390 are the need for buffering of the YouTube videos (see my tip above for a work-around) and the occasional dropped wireless connection (twice it has dropped in a few days of Netflix use).  An error message received was that "another device was using the same IP address" on my network.  I rebooted the computer and it resolved the problem, but I also had to re-configure the wireless settings on the blu-ray player once to fix the connection problem.  For the most part, online connectivity has been good though.  The nitpicky complaints I read on CNet seemed rather unjustified in my opinion.  Here is a link to the CNet review.  


Summary
If you want your first Blu-Ray player to be an all-in-one do-everything type of machine, this is the one.  It has a Wi-Fi connection, which is a huge plus.  The Netflix streaming quality is excellent.  The YouTube quality varies, depending on the video, but you can also use Ethernet if you want a faster connection.  A USB port to your DivX movie and MP3 music collections (if you have them) from an external hard drive is a wonderful feature that works well (plug and play).  And if you have a home network already, you can stream those files until your heart's content from all over your house to your HDTV.  Who could ask for more?  The LG BD390 for these reasons is my pick for Product of the Year.

5 comments:

  1. Do you know if this upscales the streamed content off of your home network to 1080P or does it only upscale DVDs?

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  2. it's a ver useful device for me and it's easy to access it.

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  3. Can not share files using windows 7.Vista and xp are OK

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  4. I'm afraid that Anonymous is absolutely right. So far, I cannot share anything with this device using Windows 7. I will have to keep my old Windows XP desktop with all of my music on it until a firmware upgrade solves this dilemma. Also, there is a folder limitation that I just found. The BD390 will only show about the first 1,500 folders and then it cuts off. This isn't a problem for most people, but for those of us with a huge music or picture collection, not all shared folders will be displayed, even from XP.

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  5. Hi. I am still unable to share using Windows 7 . Was there ever a work around for this found?

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