By Lincoln Spector, MacworldDEC 30, 2009 7:00 pm PST
At a Glance
Very fast startup
Fantastic Blu-ray image quality
CinemaNow, Netflix, YouTube, and DLNA streaming
Disappointing DVD image quality
Difficult-to-use remote control
When you pop a Blu-ray disc into LG’s
BD390, prepare to be impressed. The images it delivered to an HDTV were among the best we’ve ever seen. And with support for BD-Live, CinemaNow, DLNA, Netflix On Demand, Wi-Fi, and YouTube, the BD390 provides top-flight networking capabilities.
Every Blu-ray disc we tried looked better (superb colors and dimensionality) on the BD390 than on our Sony PlayStation 3 reference player. The difference in our black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck test was astounding, with sharp, clear whites that made the PS3 presentation look yellowish by comparison. When we examined a scene from Cars,the PS3 image looked flat next to the BD390 image’s seeming depth.
But like the LG
BD370 (), the BD390 didn’t upconvert DVDs at anything approaching the same quality. Our judges rated its DVD quality lower than the PS3’s, by margins ranging from slight to substantial.
Besides playing Blu-ray discs and DVDs, the BD390 can route Internet video and even multimedia content on your computers into your HDTV and home-theater sound system. If you have a CinemaNow or Netflix On Demand account, LG’s player can stream movies directly to your TV. The Netflix interface requires you to select movies on a computer, but you can browse, select, and rent your CinemaNow entertainment directly from your TV (you’ll still need to start your account on a computer).
If you don’t have an account, you can still watch YouTube videos on your TV via the BD390. LG uses its own user interface for YouTube; it’s a bit clumsy, but usable.
Though the quality of Internet-streamed video varies greatly, we found the BD390’s to be acceptable with an ethernet connection. For both services, standard-definition video looked a bit worse than DVD, with occasional compression problems. Hi-def video didn’t match Blu-ray, or even 720p, but it looked better than DVD. LG intelligently puts YouTube videos in a smallish window (with a full-screen option), helping to mask their poor quality.
Speaking of poor video quality, the BD390 is one of two Blu-ray players we’ve seen with built-in Wi-Fi (the other is the Sony BDP-S560). This is a convenience for viewing BD-Live and YouTube content, but unless you have an exceptionally strong signal, we would advise against using Wi-Fi for CinemaNow or Netflix. When we tried it, we noticed a serious drop in image quality.
If you have a computer with DLNA server software on the network, the BD390 can present videos, photos, and music from that, as well. It supports Divx, JPG, and PNG for photos, and both MP3 and WMA for music. You can also view photos and play movies and music off a USB storage device such as a flash drive. The photo slideshow option lets you transfer background music from the USB drive, as well.
The BD390 is much better designed than the less-expensive BD370. The most obvious improvement: The Power and Eject buttons on the BD390’s front panel are well situated near the top of the machine and easy to hit.
Unfortunately, it has the same, disappointing remote control as the BD370. The Pop-Up Menu button and some other commonly used buttons are small and poorly placed. And the slide-away panel that hides the number buttons opened grudgingly. Though the remote is programmable, it isn’t backlit.
Aside from the clumsy remote, the BD390 is reasonably easy to use. The on-screen menus are clear and intuitive, but they lack explanations, so you have to turn to the manual to understand what you’re doing.
One menu option allows you to output all audio as DTS. This is a great choice if you have an older surround amplifier that supports SPDIF (coaxial or optical) connections, but not HDMI—especially for playing a Blu-ray disc’s linear PCM soundtrack. Most Blu-ray Disc players convert these to two-track stereo PCM, but the DTS option lets you retain the 5.1 mix and get the best audio your amplifiers can handle.
You won’t have to wait long to watch a disc once you pop it into the BD390. The player loaded and started playing our Independence Day Blu-ray disc in 36 seconds—only slightly slower than the BD370’s record of 34 seconds. Most players take more than a minute to load a disc.
Press the remote’s Display button while watching a disc, and you can experience both admiration and disappointment. Instead of just information, you get a menu; and you can go to a particular chapter, or change the audio or subtitle. On the other hand, though the remote shows you the elapsed time, it doesn’t display the time remaining.
Macworld’s buying advice
The LG BD390 is a powerful Blu-ray Disc player. It offers great images, and it plugs the Internet and your home network into your TV. Despite its quirks, it’s worth the price.
[Lincoln Spector is a contributing editor to PC World.]