LG has consistently been ahead of the pack when it comes to new Blu-ray features, which is why it was a surprise at CES 2010 when nearly every manufacturer announced a 3D Blu-ray player--except LG. Instead, the company went in a completely different direction with its flagship model, the BD590, which includes a built-in hard drive for CD ripping.
Though 3D might get all the hype, we think LG's strategy makes a lot of sense. We're not expecting more than a handful of 3D Blu-ray titles in 2010, whereas CD ripping is a feature that buyers can actually use a lot this year. The BD590 also includes all the features of the step-down BD570, including built-in Wi-Fi, Netcast streaming media (Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, YouTube, CinemaNow), and excellent Blu-ray image quality. The biggest knock against the BD590 is its price ($380 street)--$130 more than the BD570, which is basically the same, minus the hard drive. At that price takers will be limited, but the LG BD590 is an excellent all-in-one solution for those willing to pay for it.
The BD590 takes its design cues from its predecessor, the BD390, but it's a slightly slimmer, less bulky unit, despite the fact that it includes a hard drive. The front is dominated by a long glossy panel that automatically flips down when the disc tray is ejected. We're not big fans of flip-down panels--they seem like one more thing that can break down the road--but it does keep the unit looking sleek.
Under the front panel rest a few playback buttons (including handy chapter forward/backward buttons) and a USB port. Of course, if you plan on keeping a USB drive in the port, you'll have to leave the front panel down, which is considerably less slick-looking. The power and eject buttons are placed toward the top and are always accessible.
The included remote is a complete redesign of last year's clicker. The main surface is glossy black, which looks sleek coming out of the box but accumulates fingerprints quickly. Button layout is mostly straightforward. Playback controls have a "hill" that runs underneath, making it easy to find by feel; there are also nubs on the rewind/fast-forward button. The main directional pad is surrounded by six buttons, which is a little more cluttered than most Blu-ray remotes we use, but we didn't find it that troublesome in use. Along the bottom are a few buttons for controlling a TV.
We loved the dead-simple user interface on last year's BD390, so we were a little dismayed to see that LG has done a complete overhaul. Gone are the simple squares with straightforward labels like "My Media" and "Netflix," replaced by floating ice cubes with more ambiguous titles like "Home Link" and "Netcast." We really don't get the point of new interface and how it makes the BD590 easier to use; it doesn't look cool to us and it seems to slow down navigation. That being said, the new interface isn't bad, we just preferred the old one.
Netcast is the name of LG's suite of media-streaming services, and luckily, once you enter the Netcast section, the floating cubes give way to large tiles with the names of services. LG's lineup of services is impressive, including Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, YouTube, Pandora, Picasa, and AccuWeather.
The most interesting feature on the BD590 is its ability to rip CDs directly to the hard drive. To test it out, we ripped about 25 CDs and the process was about as easy as it gets. Pop in a CD and the BD590 starts playing it right away, immediately downloading metadata (artist, album, title, and track number/order) from the Gracenote service. We found Gracenote to be near-flawless with its automatic tagging and we purposefully tried some obscure titles.
Pressing the info button brings up the option to "archive" the CD, then you select your tracks, your bit rate (128, 192, 320Kbps, or Lossless). We really appreciate the lossless option, as most people have small enough CD collections that there's no need to sacrifice any audio quality. Even better, the BD590 lets you to continue to listen to the CD while it rips, which takes a lot of the pain out of the process of ripping your music collection.
After you're done ripping, your music is accessible by selecting the music option on the main menu, then selecting HDD. Call us old-fashioned, but it was nice knowing that our music would play right off a local hard disk rather than stream over a network that's subject to buffering or dropouts. We had plenty of nitpicks with the user interface for navigating our ripped music and would have preferred more options to customize how our music collection is handled, but all told it's easy to find your tunes.
If you've already ripped your music collection to a PC, it's also possible to copy your digital music from a networked PC to the LG. If you just want to import all your music at once, you can filter by "all music," then select all and copy your files over. You can also copy music on an album-by-album basis. It's a nice option if you don't want to rerip your music.
Of course, true digital audio fans are better off with a dedicated network-music-streaming device like a Squeezebox or Sonos, but the real appeal of the BD590's CD ripping is for buyers who are less tech-savvy and will appreciate how easy the BD590 makes ripping your CD collection. It's also worth pointing out that CD ripping is one of the many functions of the PS3 Slim, if you're comfortable using a game console for your media playback.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||No||Onboard memory||250GB|
The BD590 has built-in Wireless-N networking, but so do competing 2010 players like the Sony BDP-S570, the Samsung BD-C6500, the Toshiba BDX2700, and the Insignia NS-WBRDVD. However, still requires a separate USB adapter.
According to LG, the BD590 is not upgradeable to support 3D Blu-ray playback. Though we were somewhat willing to let that slide on the step-down BD570, it's a more conspicuous missing feature on the more expensive BD590. Similarly-priced players from Samsung, LG, and Sony all offer 3D compatibility, but of course lack the CD archiving functionality. Essentially, choosing the BD590 means you're trading 3D playback for the built-in CD archiving feature. We have not had a chance to test any 3D Blu-ray products yet, but the cost of fully upgrading your home theater to 3D (new Blu-ray player, HDTV, and AV receiver) and the dearth of 3D media in 2010 means the 3D playback on a Blu-ray player will be expensive and limited in the short term.
|Streaming media features|
Online streaming media services continue to be a major strength for LG's Blu-ray lineup. The BD590 includes the same Netcast features as it did last year--like Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora--but also adds Vudu, Picasa, and weather. Vudu is the major addition, as it adds a pay-per-view movie-watching option to supplement Netflix's subscription offerings. We consider Vudu to be a worthy alternative to Amazon Video on Demand (which some competing players also offer) and Vudu's HDX streaming titles look surprisingly close to an actual Blu-ray title. Another slight advantage is that the BD590's built-in hard drive allows you to store purchased Vudu movies locally; considering the high pricing of Vudu movies to purchase, this isn't a big plus.
The BD590 is also DLNA compliant and capable of streaming video, audio, and photo files from a network-connected PC or viewing them from USB drive. The full list of supported formats are available on the specifications portion of LG's Web site. We had no trouble playing a couple MKV and DivX HD files off an attached USB drive; however, like last year's BD390, MKV files won't stream over the network. LG includes Nero's MediaHome 4 Essential software, which worked well. We were also able to use the built-in media server in Windows Media Player, after turning the sharing options on.
We mentioned before that it's possible to copy music stored on your PC to the BD590's HDD over the network; it also works for photo and movie files. We couldn't find a way to directly transfer files from the BD590's hard drive to a PC over the network, but you can transfer files to a connected USB drive. (In case you're wondering, lossless audio files are stored in WAV format.) In all, the BD590 was considerably more flexible than we were expecting, although power users will find nits to pick with its limitations.