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It's a big time for Blu-ray this Christmas. Player prices have dropped to a level which makes them mightily appealing and if DVD's history is anything to go by, people are going to really start embracing the latest HD disc format. There's a swag of new BD machines out there and a standalone player can now be yours for well under AU$500, especially with a bit of judicious shopping around. And LG's out to seriously tempt those who haven't yet succumb to Blu-ray's charms with its new BD300 Network BD player.
High gloss black (the "in" finish) looks great but is a bad dust magnet. Like most latest gen' machines LG has also opted for the minimalist look for the BD300. There are just a handful of buttons on the player, including both power on/off and disc drawer open/close on the top edge which are fiddly and should be front and centre, while 99 percent of controls are conducted from a fairly stock-standard remote handset. Physically, this LG — like all current BD players — has slimmed down considerably to DVD player proportions. And it's equipped with all that you'll need to hook it up to the latest TVs and AV systems, including HDMI 1.3a output and a front USB port that'll take things like MP3 and JPEG flash devices.
LG hedged its bets with the world's first dual Blu-ray/HD DVD combo player last year, but is now forging ahead with the successful format. The new BD300 looks like it's got some of what matters for a latest-generation Profile 2.0 machine, such as BD Live and Bonus View accessibility. In the US, LG offers the BD300 with Netflix subscription movies, which has proved quite a big deal and it's possible the company will do something similar here in Australia at some stage. For the time being, the BD300 comes with a Bigpond incentive of four month's worth of free DVD/BD movie rentals, redeemable online.
The player's also equipped with LG's Simplink connection which handily allows control of other devices via the HDMI connection. LG claims a couple of rapid actions for the BD300, namely boot time and disc loading. Earlier players were horrendously slow here, but at five seconds for the tray to open and 15 seconds boot time, we're finally seeing BD players behave in the same loading fashion as with DVD.
Out of the box with very little fiddling, the LG doesn't disappoint. It has a handsome and easily navigable menu system and for most, the player will happily plug 'n' play. Connected straight up to our AV system feeding a Sony Bravia XBR LCD TV, the LG tickled those HD pixels' fancy and put on an impressive BD show. The almost monochromatic and therefore contrast-testing BD of Sweeney Todd was first up, and the LG's low level detail retrieval never left you squinting to see what was going on in the murk and gloom of 18th century London. Sharp edges, dense blacks, it put in a demonic performance of its own with contrast that's excellent for a player at this level.
Playing something a bit brighter, the LG handled the dusty western 3:10 To Yuma equally appropriately. The BD300 produces a confident 1080p/24fps image with good overall stability and conjures up plenty of detail; you can almost make out the individual whiskers on the faces of the various cowboys. Fast horizontal motion doesn't prove a problem for this player which proves a smooth operator here.
Colours are also well handled and appear evenly balanced, something which the well produced 10,000 B.C. showed up well. The HDMI outputted image is also Deep Colour-ready with 12-bit, 4,096 step graduation, but you'll need a compatible TV in order to make use of this picture quality enhancement. Only when upscaling standard DVDs does the LG leave you wanting a little more detail and clarity — this is a player that would rather be handling HD than SD material.
HD audio decoding is fairly well catered for with onboard processing of Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, and while it doesn't have the ability to decode DTS-HD Master Audio, it does digitally output both it and Dolby TrueHD in bitstream, so if you have an up to date AV receiver with its own decoding, then there's no problem. Meanwhile, the player will decode the lesser-quality, vanilla DTS-HD. A lack of multichannel analogue outputs also means this player's better suited to more modern AV ancillary amplifiers. The player's Ethernet port gives it its networkability, but the cabled option isn't great — surely wireless streaming would have made life a lot easier for firmware updating, streaming and accessing BD-Live features?
All up, LG's BD300 does a decent job of replaying Blu-ray, but it could have done more to take full advantage of its networking potential — as it has overseas. Still, for the money it's not a bad option at this stage of the BD game for anyone not wanting to spend up big.