LG BD690 Blu-ray 3D Player

Price: $350 At A Glance: Fast loading of Blu-ray Discs • 802.11n Wi-Fi • Vudu HDX streaming • Spiffy new Netflix interface

History has a way of repeating itself, and we’re beginning to see similarities between Blu-ray and DVD. While Blu-ray’s penetration rate will probably never equal DVD’s, the prices of hardware and software are now dropping to levels that don’t turn off the average consumer. But is this necessarily a good thing? With DVD, you bought the player, and it pretty much worked until it dropped. With a Blu-ray player, you need to update the firmware the moment you unbox it, and this event repeats itself quarterly to accommodate quirky BD+ copy protection on new disc releases. Then there are the firmware updates gone awry—the occasional “fix” that introduces more problems than it solves. When that happens, a company’s ability to respond to trouble becomes critical. But if the manufacturers don’t make enough money selling players, they can’t easily justify the timely updates and prompt service their customers deserve. While I love a great bargain as much as the next guy, it’s also important to consider the manufacturer’s record of after-purchase support.

Based in South Korea, LG Electronics continues to be one of the world’s most innovative manufacturers of Blu-ray players. Last year’s BD590 (Home Theater, July 2010) was the first Blu-ray player to include a built-in 250gigabyte hard drive. This let consumers rip their CD collection onto the player for easy access.

It included Wi-Fi when many players didn’t, and users could stream music and video from a USB drive or over their home network, another feature that was still uncommon at the time. Furthermore, the player boasted a bevy of streaming options such as Netflix, Vudu, and CinemaNow, along with instant access to Gracenote’s vast database of movies and music, plus a button on the remote that let users look up content information.

Much of the Same
After the BD590, LG upped the ante with this year’s BD690, which includes all of last year’s features plus the addition of Blu-ray 3D and more streaming options.

It looks very similar to last year’s model, sporting the same sleek flip-down front panel that hides the disc tray and most of the control buttons (except for Eject and Power). Underneath the panel are the Play, Stop, and other transport buttons, as well as the sole USB port. The right-sized information display is plenty bright and is clearly readable from across the room, but unfortunately, it’s not dimmable.

Rear connections include one HDMI 1.4 port for Blu-ray 3D compatibility, plus component and composite video outputs. For audio, there’s optical TosLink, coaxial digital, and stereo analog. Absent are 7.1 analog audio outputs for owners of legacy AVRs without HDMI, but as time goes on, this is becoming less important. The BD690 includes an Ethernet jack for hardwiring to your network, or you can connect to the Internet using the built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The BD690 can internally decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and send it via HDMI as multichannel PCM to an A/V receiver or surround processor. Or you can send the raw bitstream to a compatible device if you want to see the appropriate logo light up on your rig. Comparing the two methods yields no meaningful audio difference, although if you choose the bitstream option, you’ll lose the secondary audio with PiP commentaries and the button sounds in Blu-ray menus.

User Interface and Setup
One of my biggest gripes against the BD590 was its poisonously slow user interface. Sadly, the same issue applies to the BD690. The player boots up quite fast, but once you reach the main screen, navigating among the options is quite frustrating due to the slow reaction to remote commands. The main screen icons are labeled Movie, Photo, Music, Premium, LG Apps, and Setup. To find Netflix or the other streaming services, you have to venture into the Premium area, and it takes about 10 seconds to load the different service icons on the screen. Along with Netflix, the player offers 20 different services, including Vudu, Amazon VOD, YouTube, Pandora, Mog, and even Google Maps.

The Netflix interface is the latest incarnation, which includes the ability to search for titles and add them to your instant queue without the use of a computer. This interface debuted on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and is slowly migrating to other platforms—thankfully. However, you’ll still need access to a computer to pair the player with your Netflix account (as with many of the other streaming services). The video quality of Netflix streams has shown an improvement in recent months, but the audio feed is only Dolby 2.0 versus Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 on the PS3. Hopefully, this will spread to other devices at some point as well. As you may know, Netflix is a subscription service, and in addition to its disc-by-mail option, it now offers a streaming-only option for $7.99 per month.

If you’re a stickler for quality, then you’ll simply love Vudu’s HDX streams. In addition to 1080p video, you get Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtracks (640 kilobits per second) on most movies as long as you have a minimum 4.5-megabyte-per-second Internet connection. If you’re new to Vudu, you get a free movie to stream when you first activate the player. It’s a great way to sample the service. The other services on the player vary in quality, but I have to say that the YouTube interface is one of the worst I’ve used. It takes forever to load.

Player setup and network configuration are a breeze, with the usual assortment of options for display, language, audio, and network. Supported video outputs include 1080p (24 or 60 frames per second for HDMI), 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i (component output only). You can even choose the HDMI Color Setting (Y/Cb/Cr or RBG). There’s also an option to enable/disable 3D output, so if you have a 3D display, you’ll want to make sure to turn this on before you pop in a Blu-ray 3D disc.

Audio configuration consists of choosing PCM Multi-Chan for internal decoding or Primary Pass-Thru for bitstream. If you aren’t HDMI equipped, it’s time for an upgrade. But if you’re still feeling the effects of the Great Recession and are forced to use either the TosLink or coaxial output, the BD690 offers a DTS re-encode feature that will decode the lossless formats and re-encode them as high-bitrate DTS streams to your AVR.

LG Electronics
(800) 243-0000

FarmerBob's picture

. . . their "innovative" BD lines. They killed my BD390 with FW updates they sent me on discs and now don't what to talk about it. In the beginning they were attentive and right there. Once it was decided that they killed my player, they are no where to be found. And many newer and some older BD releases will not play on their machines, FW update or not. That's my problem. Oh and now files are locking up the UI. And the UI is locking itself up. They did make a special update for Avatar though.

And what happened to the multi-channel out on the "newer" machines. Looks like they are stripping these down, not dressing them up. Now the WiFi (802.11n) 2.4 or 5GHz? Their 2.4n is slow and drops a lot. But then hardwire is always the best. Even off a 5GHz repeater.

Sounds like there were many problems with the two test models here and I trust all their "innovative" Lucky Goldstar junk.

David Vaughn's picture
Bob, While my Mom's BD-590 hasn't broken down once, I've told her to ignore any firmware updates for at least 60 days before installing them to be sure they don't break the player. So far this has worked out well for her. Regardless, I didn't recommend this player due to the slow response from LG and there are better alternatives on the market.
ghard1's picture

It's incredible to see the differences between reviews. Consumer Reports has rated this player the highest score amongst 3D capable BDP's. It actually scores higher than Oppo's BDP-93 if you can believe that! Reading Amazon reviews shows people either love it or hate it with an average rating of 3.5. So who should we believe? On one hand, most magazines (I believe) are biased by advertising dollars. On the other, publications such as CR often base a review on a couple of day's of use and a battery of tests. Then there's amazon where most reviewers are not engineers but base their reviews solely on experience. This may be based on performance, customer service, reliability etc. All I can say is that I hope manufacturers pay close attention to all these sources and develop better, more reliable products!

DSharkey's picture

The only reason we have been going to the movies at all lately is the 3-D. We do not enjoy the cost, or the loud people with their cell phones bothering us. When my husband's back injury got so bad that we are really not able to go to the movies at all, it became time to upgrade. We bought this player along with a 60 inch LG 3D TV and glasses and we got it all set up, it was very fast and easy to set up, and headed down to get a couple of 3D movies.

The 3D was amazing, the player was easy to set up and work with and the Blu-Ray movies were just gorgeous themselves. I was in awe, having just seen a movie on my old DVD player probably 2 weeks ago, and then watching the blu-ray copy I bought, seeing the depth and clarity of this player.

We have not used it for the Netflix other than to set it up, but it was also very easy.

Keep in mind that I have only had this player for a couple of days, but I have very high hopes!