The LG BD590 contains an internal 256GB hard drive—a unique feature for a Blu-ray player and one that does much to explain the player's $300 street price. But how useful is an internal hard drive to a Blu-ray player?
Certainly it allows you to load music, photos, and home videos for easy viewing (more on the unit's excellent multimedia capabilities below), but you can use an inexpensive external hard drive for the same purpose and plug it into the BD590's USB port. Though the player offers a better user interface when you play media off of the hard drive, that advantage alone doesn't offset the higher price.
On the other hand, if you use Vudu's on-demand video service a lot, and if you prefer buying movies from that service to renting them, the hard drive becomes much more valuable. You can download the movies you buy to the drive, resulting in more-dependable playback and better rewind and fast-forwarding. Vudu's DRM policies prevent you from doing the same things with an external drive. In addition to Vudu, the BD590 brings CinemaNow, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and other Internet offerings via an ethernet or Wi-Fi connection to your home network.
The same network connection allows you to watch and listen to videos, photos, and music on local computers that are running a DLNA server program. Whether you play media over the network, use a USB storage device such as a flash drive, or rely on the internal hard drive, the BD590 supports .mp3 and .wma music files, .jpg image files, and a good selection of video codecs. You can also play a slideshow with music and transition effects.
But people generally don't buy Blu-ray players to watch Internet video and home movies on. They buy it for viewing DVD and Blu-ray disc content.
The BD590 did very well in our image quality tests, especially with Blu-ray discs. In our Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray test (chapter 3), it roundly outperformed our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3. Blurs on the PlayStation became details here.
Oddly, its image quality was most disappointing in the DVD version of the very same scene. Looking closely, I could detect only a slight improvement on the PlayStation 3's middling output. Though the BD590 is very good and occasionally superb at handling Blu-ray discs, it's merely good at upconverting standard DVDs.
Even with Blu-ray discs, the BD590 occasionally had problems. Two scenes from The Searchers (chapters 4 and 20) showed excessive contrast and unnatural, oversaturated colors.
This big, heavy player measures nearly 17 by 11 inches and weighs 7 pounds. The Power and Eject buttons sit on the top near the front, making them easy to hit as long as you don't stack another device on top of the player. The bright, pretty lights on the front panel can be distracting when you're trying to watch a movie, especially an online movie, which inspires the player to light up both red and blue. You can't dim these lights.
The BD590's home menu sports a floating motif, with icons seemingly bobbing just below a watery surface and bubbles coming up from below. This whimsical touch doesn't add to the player's functionality, but it makes the unit a little more fun to use.
Once you get past the opening screen and into the Settings menu, the style gets straightforward and conventional. The menu screens describe the various options, but the explanations aren't always helpful. For instance, the description for 'TV Aspect Ratio' says merely that "It sets the TV Screen ratio." (The manual offers a more practical and detailed explanation.)
The audio options on the remote include one for converting everything to DTS. This is especially useful if you have a DVD-era receiver that doesn't support newer audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD and LPCM, since in that case DTS may well be the best-sounding format your system can handle. Like almost all other Blu-ray players, the BD590 can convert the audio to PCM or pass it on unchanged.
When you press the remote's Info/Display button, you get more than information. You get a menu that allows you to change the audio, the subtitles, and even the TV's aspect ratio. You can even bring up movie and music information pulled off the Internet. But if you want to know how much time is left in the movie you're watching, you'll have to check the time elapsed and the total time, then do the math in your head.
When I popped in the Independence Day Blu-ray, the FBI warning was up in just 34 seconds, making this the fourth-fasted player we've tested. It also responded promptly when I pressed the remote's 'Pause' and 'Skip Chapter' buttons.
The thin, lightweight remote control is comfortable to hold. The play control buttons (Play, Pause, and so on) sit on a raised crest, which simplifies finding them with your thumb, even without looking at the remote. Programming the BD590's remote to control your television is easy, but the TV control buttons are difficult to reach. The volume control (one you're likely to use a lot in the dark) is particularly badly placed, and the remote isn't backlit.
If you're a hardcore Vudu addict, the LG BD590 makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, it's a very good but overpriced Blu-ray player with one questionable gimmick.