LG BD300 Network Blu-ray Player
LG Breaks New Ground
LG has been one of the most innovative companies out there championing Blu-ray. Early in the format war, LG tried twice to provide a solution for consumers with combo Blu-ray/HD DVD players. While its first attempt didn’t support HD DVD’s full capabilities, the follow-up BH200 was a fully functional player for both formats. It was Bonus View capable and offered Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and 24p playback for both formats. It remains a solid player today, and I have one in my rack.
Rather than release a standalone Blu-ray player that falls in line with the rest, LG once again pushed the envelope of features with its new BD300. This fully featured Blu-ray player is not only compliant with Bonus View picture-in-picture supplements and BD-Live interactivity, it also brings a new home video feature to the table: Netflix streaming.
We recently reviewed the Roku Netflix Player (HT, November 2008), which offers similar features. However, the LG is the first network-capable Blu-ray player to offer this new feature to consumers. If you have a Netflix account, you can access a large library of streaming video content through the BD300. The content is near DVD quality, depending on your Internet connection. And at $350, this player makes for a compelling option in the Blu-ray market.
Slick Case, Slick Features
The LG BD300’s slick black case is rather unassuming for a Blu-ray player. You won’t find a bunch of logos or buttons on it. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not think it was a player at all. The disc tray hides behind a flip-down panel on the front face, and the front-panel controls are limited to the basics such as play, stop, and eject.
You’ll also find a covered USB port on the right side of the front panel. Like many other BD-Live capable players, the BD300 lacks the 1 gigabyte of local storage required for BD-Live playback. You must purchase a USB flash drive separately to enable BD-Live interactivity. You can also use this port to play back music files and do firmware updates if the player isn’t connected to the Internet. I’d like to see all BD-Live players include the required 1 GB of storage internally and offer the ability to add more storage via external media. This would alleviate confusion for consumers who try a BD-Live disc and don’t know they need to purchase outboard memory. I’m sure this scenario will result in more than one service call to the manufacturer, or worse, a return of the player to the retailer. Still, the ability to expand with outboard memory makes the player more flexible in storing downloaded content, as the 1 GB minimum may not be enough in the long run.
When you power the player on, the buttons light up, and you get a glimpse of the readout that hides behind a smoked-plastic panel. Thankfully, the lights aren’t too bright and didn’t intrude on my bat-cave theater environment like many other players and electronics do.
The back panel is also quite spartan in its approach. On the legacy analog side, you’ll find composite and component video connections and a stereo RCA connection for audio. On the digital side, you’ll find a TosLink and coaxial digital audio connection, along with an HDMI output for full-resolution audio and video. The player also includes a LAN connection for Netflix and BD-Live functionality, plus firmware updates.
The BD300 can output the advanced audio formats in bitstream form, but its internal decoding (to PCM) is limited to the Dolby suite, which includes Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus. It’s not clear whether LG will offer DTS-HD Master Audio decoding in a future firmware update, but I’m a bit surprised this feature isn’t in players across the board now. So, for full resolution DTS-HD MA playback, your A/V receiver or surround processor must do the decoding. There are no multichannel analog outputs, so lossless audio is limited to multichannel PCM over HDMI from uncompressed PCM and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks or native bitstreams.
Netflix on Demand
The biggest feature that sets the BD300 apart from other BD players is its inclusion of Netflix streaming capabilities. This requires a Netflix rental account, which starts at $9 per month and includes unlimited instant viewing. The library of streaming films includes more than 12,000 titles. Netflix does not typically offer newer releases on street date, and it may be a while before the latest titles become available. But catalog titles are plentiful, and the service even offers TV shows, so you can catch up on your favorites.
The Netflix connection and service setup was easy, and Netflix offers a free two-week trial to BD300 purchasers. After you sign up for the account, the player walks you through the simple first-time connection. From there, you go to your Netflix account on your home computer and add as many movies or TV shows as you want to your queue from the list of instant titles. If you don’t have a disc loaded when you turn on your BD300, a home menu greets you. The GUI is very simple to use, and one of the options is Netflix Streaming. When you select this option, the BD300 brings up your queue, and you simply select the film or show you want to watch.
The downside of this service is the fact that it only streams content—it doesn’t download it. This means the quality of the presentation relies completely on your Internet connection speed. When you select a film, the player starts a buffer and gives you an indication of the quality you can expect on a scale of one to four. My Internet uses a high-speed cable connection, and I subscribe to the fastest service my provider offers. But cable Internet speeds depend on the number of users who share bandwidth at any given time, so my speeds vary throughout the day.