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.
3D might get all the hype, but 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 system, 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 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 the 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, 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.
Vudu 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 similar to actual Blu-ray titles. Another slight advantage is that the BD590's built-in hard drive allows you to store purchased Vudu movies locally; but, considering the high price of Vudu movies to purchase, this isn't a big plus.
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, and 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 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.
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. Along the bottom are a few buttons for controlling a TV.