LG BD590 Network Blu-ray Disc Player

"The real story here isn't just A/V quality, but how easily the LG BD590 lets you access different media. You'll want to access your stuff all the time because it's always all there and easy to get at, and it's guaranteed to play without hiccups."

Once a novelty, TVs and Blu-ray Disc players capable of streaming movies and music from the Internet have really caught on, with many new models also offering Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compatibility for playing media stored on networked computers and hard drives. Now comes a different twist. LG Electronics has built a 250-gigabyte hard disk into its new BD590 network Blu-ray player. While this has some valuable benefits I'll explore below, it doesn't come cheap: The BD590 carries a list price of $430 and sells for around $380. (LG's own step-down model, the BD570, offers similar features without the hard disk for $150 less.) But for the money, you get one mighty slick and well-performing player.

The BD590's low-profile cabinet sports a black translucent hinged panel that hides the disc drawer and transport keys. There's also a USB port under there for plugging in a flash drive with music, video, or photo files, or for BD-Live storage (though the hard drive can also be used for this purpose). The same USB port can be tapped for pulling files from the hard drive. LG has wisely left the On/Off and Open/Close keys exposed above the panel for easy access.

Around back are the usual connections, including HDMI, component and composite video, and digital audio (both optical and coax), as well as a LAN port. The BD590 also has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for 802.11b, g, and n wireless networks.

Aside from its lack of backlighting, the supplied 8-inch remote is one of the best I've used. Its lightweight ergonomic design includes a groove on the underside for your index finger that perfectly places your thumb over the transport keys and navigation cluster. Cleverly, the transport buttons sit on a hilllike bump in the face of the remote that positions the Stop, Play, and Pause keys at a downward angle, while the Track Skip and Fast Forward/Rewind keys angle up. This makes the two rows of buttons easily discernible by feel in the dark.

The remote's Info/Display key is used to access task-specific menus for several activities, and the Home key takes you back to the LG BD590 Blu-ray Disc player's main menu. Another key, Music ID, can be tapped during Blu-ray playback to search the Gracenote database for the title, artist, and album information on a song being played in the soundtrack. Kudos to LG for such a well-thought-out wand.

Hitting the Home key takes you to an attractive, animated graphical user interface that shows off the BD590's capabilities. Six bobbing ice cubes floating in a light blue sea (complete with random bubbles) are labeled Movie, Photo, Music, Home Link, Netcast, and Setup. Selecting Movie takes you to a menu where you can browse all the content currently available, whether in the disc tray, the hard drive, or a connected USB stick. Ditto for the Photo and Music cubes. The Home Link icon takes you to your network-connected PC or drive to either stream files or transfer them to the hard drive.

Selecting Netcast brings you to another graphic menu with access to LG's media-streaming offerings. These include Netflix, Vudu, and CinemaNow, plus YouTube for movies/video, Pandora for personalized Internet radio, Picasa photos, and AccuWeather weather forecasts. For Vudu, you have the option of designating the built-in hard drive to store downloads of purchased (but not rented) movies.

One more notable feature of the BD590, perhaps its most intriguing, is the ability to directly rip music to its hard drive from CDs. Encoding options include MP3 at 128, 192, or 320 kilobits per second, or uncompressed WAV. Drop a CD into the drive, and it'll begin to play while the system goes online to collect album art and metadata from Gracenote. Once your music is ripped to the hard drive, you can browse it by Song, Genre, Artist, or Album from a graphically pleasing and easily navigated Music Library menu, or select a personal playlist you've created. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, and no PC needed.

SETUP

Connecting the BD590 was remarkably simple and required no special knowledge of networking terms. After connecting the LG's HDMI output to my A/ V receiver, I visited the Network submenu under Setup and selected the "Wireless" option. The player scanned my airspace, recognized my 802.11g home network, and asked me to type my Wi-Fi security key on a virtual keypad. I was online in less than 5 minutes.

The only other critical setup task was to load DLNA server software on my laptop so it could communicate with the player. LG supplies Nero MediaHome 4 Essentials for this purpose. Once launched, it prompted me to select which folders on my PC or my attached drive I'd like to share; the moment I did, those folders could be browsed in the LG's Home Link area. Home Link-compatible audio formats include MP3, WMA, and AAC; for video you can stream MPEG, AVI, DivX and DivX HD, among others.

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