If you haven't ripped your CD collection yet, you either have a runaway case of procrastination or you're just not that into technology. That's what makes LG's CD-ripping Blu-ray player, the BD690, a bit of a strange hybrid. The type of tech-oriented people who will appreciate the BD690's solid Blu-ray playback and excellent suite of streaming-media services probably ripped their CD collections years ago and are in no rush to revisit that tedious process. They're also better off going with the similarly priced Sony PlayStation 3 Slim ($250), which gets you HD gaming, streaming video, Blu-ray playback, and CD ripping.
That makes the LG BD690's primary audience nontechies, specifically nontechies willing to pay a premium ($260 street price) for a unique Blu-ray player. That's a narrow audience, but if you're in it, the BD690 is a good choice. Its built-in Gracenote service does an excellent job of automatically downloading album art and metadata, so your digital music library stays well-organized. Still, the ripping process could use refinement. You'll likely need to crack the manual just to figure out how to rip a CD (there's shockingly no "Rip CD" button or onscreen menu option) and we sorely missed a bulk ripping mode to speed up the process.
Even with those flaws, we're not aware of another product that combines all of this functionality in a single box. The LG BD690 may not be the dead-simple CD-ripping Blu-ray player of our (parents') dreams, but it's good enough to recommend if you can put up with its quirks.
The BD690's thick, chunky look seems like a throwback now that Blu-ray players have slimmed down. It's 2.3 inches tall, which doesn't sound like much, but it towers over the 1.5-inch Panasonic DMP-BDT210, for example. The front panel has a sleek look with no buttons, which are all behind the flip-down door. Unfortunately the door doesn't always automatically pop up on its own and the uncovered front panel is a bit unsightly. There's also a USB port on the front, convenient for quick connections.
The included remote's button layout is quite good, but we would have really liked a Smart TV button for jumping directly to the streaming services. Similarly, as we mentioned, there are no dedicated buttons for the CD-ripping functionality, which is a huge omission. Unfortunately, LG decided to largely copy the standard remote used with its other Blu-ray players instead of optimizing a remote for the BD690's unique features.
Like most Blu-ray players this year, the LG BD690 can also be controlled via smartphone using LG's Remote application, available for both Android and iOS. The app works well enough, but you can't use it to input text in the Netflix and Pandora interfaces, which is when it's most painful to use the standard remote.
Despite the simple layout of the home screen, the Premium and LG Apps icons aren't as straightforward as you'd think. Premium brings you to LG's full suite of streaming-media services (Netflix, Pandora, and so on), while LG Apps brings you to an app store that carries barely useful programs. So, basically, when you want to access apps you might actually use, don't select LG Apps.
LG Apps is new for this year, but as of now, it's not a useful feature. The available apps are completely underwhelming, with the majority being basic games. Until we see more apps being developed for the platform, we wouldn't factor LG Apps into a buying decision at all.
Once you get into the streaming-content portal, the interface is excellent. Unlike Samsung's cluttered Smart Hub interface, LG's streaming-content home screen has big icons for the various services. It's the best interface we've seen for streaming content on a Blu-ray player in 2011, mainly because it's easy to quickly get to the streaming service of your choice.
Overall, we definitely prefer the simple approach to streaming-media services offered by LG over the more involved content portals from Samsung and Sony. Check out our full review of LG Smart TV for more information and comparisons of the content portals offered on Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony Blu-ray players.
Blu-ray player meets CD ripper
The only reason to buy the BD690 over cheaper midrange Blu-ray players is its unique CD-ripping functionality. There's a built-in 250GB hard drive, which can hold well over 400 CDs in lossless format. That means unless you have a truly extensive CD collection, there's not much benefit to using the other compression options.
The ripping process works relatively well, but we were frustrated that LG didn't put in the extra effort to make it great. The part that works best is Gracenote, which automatically identifies CDs and downloads the appropriate cover art and song, artist, and album information. No setup required; it just works out of the box once you have the BD690 connected to your network.
The rest of the process is more convoluted. Pop in a CD and there's no menu option for ripping. Instead, you have to know to press the "info/display" button on the remote, to bring up the CD Archiving option. Then you have to select tracks and pick a folder to save it all to. These steps should be automatic, but instead they have to be manually repeated every time you rip a CD.
We're also disappointed the BD690 doesn't have a bulk ripping mode that would allow you to continually feed it discs which it would immediately rip with your preferred settings and then eject, ready for the next one. Considering that most buyers will probably want to rip their existing CD collections in as few sittings as possible, this is a considerable oversight. Especially since it takes about 10 minutes to rip a CD, which is significantly longer than most computers take.
These might seem like nitpicks, but, again, this isn't a product suited to techies who will breeze by these hiccups. It's not hard to use, but less experienced people will likely still need a tutorial to learn how to use it.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||Yes||Onboard memory||250GB|
The LG BD690 has a few premium features (built-in Wi-Fi, 3D Blu-ray support, smartphone control), but it doesn't have 2D-to-3D conversion. That's not a big loss to us, as 2D-to-3D conversion is little more than a gimmick. The BD690's 250GB of onboard storage can also be used for BD-Live functionality in addition to CD ripping.
Like most players in its price class, the BD690 is DLNA-compatible, which means you can stream digital media files over your home network using a DLNA server or off a connected USB drive. Supported file types include MKV, DivX, XviD, MP3, and JPEG. (A full list of supported file types is available in the user manual, on page 10.) Note that M4V files (without DRM) can be played off a USB drive, but not via DLNA. While we were able to play back our suite of test files, digital media files have tons of variation in how they're encoded, so your results may differ. If digital media playback is important to you, we'd recommend looking through user comments on CNET and elsewhere to see how a player performs in real-world scenarios.