LG BD300 Network Blu-ray Player Page 2

The first time I tried the service, my connection showed a rating of four for quality. This indicates the best quality available. I tried an assortment of titles to get an overall feel for audio and video quality. Netflix streaming programs are limited to stereo audio, which is a bit of a bummer. The video quality is also somewhat hit or miss. Netflix recently partnered with Starz to make 2,500 titles available for instant streaming, so some of the titles include the Starz leader. Aspect ratios varied on a title-by-title basis from full screen to widescreen. You’ll also notice an assortment of different aspect ratios depending on the titles you order. You may see black bars on the top and bottom of the image, on the sides, or even a combination of both! On top of that, video quality varied dramatically from title to title—even with a quality rating of four.

Some titles were extremely soft and almost out of focus, with the image quality of a bad cable feed. Some titles fared a bit better, with video quality approaching DVD quality. But these fell a bit short of the best DVDs shown on a high-quality upconverting DVD player. The BD300 does upconvert Netflix videos to 1080p, but the quality can only be so good if the source material is poor.

Later that same day, I tried the service at night. My Internet connection showed that the best quality I could get was a two, which resulted in slightly longer buffering times. But the biggest impact was the video quality. It went from OK to horrible. The video was blocky, and artifacts that looked a lot like streaking and combing were evident throughout the entire image. This isn’t the kind of video quality I can live with even for casual viewing. Based on this alone, I recommend that you evaluate the quality of your high-speed Internet connection. You need to be sure you have adequate connection speeds to make the most of this service.

Blu-ray/DVD Video Testing
I’ve been using LG’s BH200 Blu-ray/HD DVD combo player for quite some time now. While I don’t use it as my reference player, it’s a great player for evaluating and checking issues with different content on occasion. The BH200 uses the Marvell Qdeo video processor. It does an outstanding job with HD deinterlacing, frame-rate conversion, and DVD upconversion.

The BD300 doesn’t incorporate a name-brand video processing suite. Instead, it relies on its decoding chip. A few decoders have gotten better with their video processing capabilities; the recent UniPhier solution from Panasonic, for example, did a spectacular job with our testing suite (HT, December 2008). Unfortunately, the BD300’s decoder doesn’t seem quite as refined in terms of video processing as we saw from the similarly priced Panasonics.

The BD300 doesn’t perform well processing 1080i content. While 1080i content only represents a small segment of the pre-recorded Blu-ray market, concert releases and other content continue to hit the market in 1080i. The BD300 decoder cannot retain the full resolution of HD content flagged for 3:2 and 2:2, the two most common cadences in use with program material.

However, most pre-recorded Blu-ray movies are encoded as 1080p/24, and the BD300 did an outstanding job with these. The player retains full resolution out to the limits of the Blu-ray format, with no apparent loss of fine detail. The BD300 didn’t clip any of the intended video signal below black or above white, and it beautifully delivered Blu-ray images at full resolution.

The BD300 is also a capable DVD player and did a great job in our DVD deinterlacing tests. The player’s decoder didn’t have any issue with common DVD cadences, and I didn’t see any obvious combing artifacts. The BD300 will scale DVDs to 1080p for playback via HDMI. Its scaling quality was quite good, although it was a bit short of the higher-end upconverting DVD players on the market today. I saw some softness in the finest details and our full-resolution test bursts, but this would only be obvious on larger screens.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed with the BD300’s HD video processing. But the player did a great job with standard Blu-ray playback and was solid with DVD playback. Even discerning customers would probably have little to complain about with its level of performance.

A New Bar
Speed and ease of use are the biggest issues that have plagued the standalone Blu-ray player market. With Sony’s PlayStation 3 setting the bar for disc load times and overall speed and ease of use, nearly every player out there pales in comparison. Some recent Samsung and Panasonic offerings close that gap, but they still fall short with more difficult titles. LG did what seemed to be impossible; it outperformed the PlayStation 3.

When I started my testing with the BD300, I was surprised by how fast the player booted up and loaded discs. After a few tries, I was curious to see how it would stack up if I compared it directly with my PS3, which continues to be the benchmark for disc loading and interactivity. Armed with a handful of titles from various studios and a stopwatch, I set out to see just how close this competition would be. Surprisingly, the LG pulled ahead with most titles. Granted, the differences were typically within 5 seconds of each other, but most players fall behind the PS3 by a much wider margin.

When you press Eject from a powered-down state, the disc tray appears in about 3 seconds, and the player will be fully powered on and ready in less than 20 seconds. Boot times for most discs were under 20 seconds.

Even Java-intensive discs loaded without significant or frustrating delay. I was wondering how long it would be before a standalone player would match the PS3’s load times, and the BD300 is that player.

The BD300 also excels in its level of interaction and ease of use. When you power on the player, a home menu gives you selections for setup, playing a movie, or selecting the Netflix features. Setup is a breeze. The onscreen GUI walks you through each area and offers settings for BD-Live connectivity and firmware updates. With a network connection in place, you can enable firmware updates by simply selecting the feature and the player. If an update is available, you just tell the player to perform the update, and it takes care of the rest.

On the audio side, the BD300 offers selections for onboard decoding or a passthrough if you want to take advantage of the player’s bitstream audio output for advanced audio codecs. The BD300 also offers a DTS re-encode feature for those of you who still use legacy TosLink or coaxial digital connections. This allows the player to decode advanced Dolby audio formats internally and then re-encode them as high-bitrate DTS soundtracks for output to your receiver. Although it doesn’t offer full lossless HD audio quality, it’s a nice step-up solution if you haven’t upgraded your receiver or processor to a new model.

The remote is largely the same as LG’s previous player remote, and it does a fair job with interfacing. The buttons are laid out a bit differently than your standard Blu-ray player remote. This may present a small learning curve if you’re more familiar with standard remote layouts. The key buttons are a bit on the small side and can present some frustration early on, especially in a darkened room. But the remote offers the majority of the buttons you’ll need to operate all the player’s functions.

The BD300 did a great job with advanced interactivity on some of the latest Blu-ray Discs, like Disney’s Platinum release of Sleeping Beauty. This disc features Bonus View picture-in-picture as well as a number of BD-Live features. The BD300 had no issues with this disc, and I managed to trudge through the exhausting registration screens without any hiccups or excessive response times. This level of performance also continued with my review of Universal’s The Incredible Hulk, which features extensive Bonus View supplements and BD-Live features. Interacting with Universal’s U-Control interface was quick, easy, and engaging. This is the level of performance I expect from a next-generation player at this point in the game.

LG has done a spectacular job with its first standalone Blu-ray player. The BD300 sets the bar for disc load and response times. Netflix support only adds to the allure of this low-priced player. I hope other manufacturers take note, because the standalone Blu-ray player market just got a whole lot faster.

LG Electronics USA
(800) 243-0000