If you have Ethernet connectivity in your living room, the smart move is to go with an entry-level Blu-ray player. Most such players available in 2010 offer much of the functionality of step-up models, minus built-in Wi-Fi.
That's the case with the LG BD550 ($150 street), which is nearly identical to the step-up BD570, except it lacks Wi-Fi and DLNA compatibility and costs about $100 less. If you can live without those features, the BD550 still delivers excellent image quality, relatively speedy load times, and a generous suite of streaming-media services, including Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and YouTube. It's missing the expandable Apps platform of the competing Samsung BD-C5500, but if you mostly care about core streaming services, the BD550 is a solid entry-level choice.
At first glance, the exterior design of the BD550 looks almost identical to the step-up BD570, but we actually liked it a little better. The main difference is that the BD570 has one long flip-down panel that covered the entire front panel, whereas the BD550 is broken up into three sections: disc tray on the left, power and eject buttons in the middle, and a flip-down panel on the right. We preferred the partitioned design since the BD550's automatic door mechanism tends to work better. We also favored the LG's more low-key look compared with the Samsung BD-C5500.
We loved the dead-simple user interface on last year's BD390, so we were a little dismayed to see that LG has given this year's model a complete interface overhaul. The redesign moves all the streaming-media features off the main page onto the separate Netcast interface. We see why that makes sense--there are simply too many streaming-media services to fit them all on the main page--but Samsung's new interface does a better job of letting you quickly jump to the service you want. We also found the "floating ice cubes" design a little goofy and slightly slower to navigate.
Netcast is the name of LG's suite of media-streaming services, and once you enter the Netcast section, you're greeted by large tiles with the names of services. LG's lineup of services is impressive, including Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, YouTube, Pandora, Picasa, and AccuWeather.
LG's included remote control is a complete redesign over last year's clicker. The main surface is glossy black, which looks sleek coming out of the box, but being a remote, it naturally accumulates fingerprints quickly. Its button layout is mostly straightforward. Playback controls have a "hill" that runs underneath them, making it easy to find by feel; there are also nubs on the rewind/fast-forward buttons. The remote's 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. Along its bottom are a few buttons for controlling a TV.