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Front/surround speakers

Center channel

Center channel, side view


Receiver/Blu-ray combo unit

Built-in iPod dock

USB port on top

Receiver, back panel


Speaker jacks


When Blu-ray HTIBs first hit the market, they really didn't make sense as a product type. They were slow, and the value just wasn't there, as it was easy to put together superior systems from separate components.

One year later, everything has changed; there are several excellent HTIBs with integrated Blu-ray for not much more than a standalone Blu-ray player. The LG LHB953 is one of the better systems on the market, and a lot of that is because of its unparalleled streaming content options--Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and CinemaNow augment its disc-playing capabilities. It also handles the basics with above-average finesse, with solid sound quality and excellent image quality on Blu-ray movies.

Our complaints with the system were largely aesthetic; the speakers are a bit bigger than average and the main AV receiver/Blu-ray player lacks style, especially with its perpetually glowing volume knob. Also, the competing Samsung HT-BD1250 is a slightly better system, especially sonically, but its street price is about $70 more.

If you can't swing the extra dough for the Samsung or don't need its perks, the LHB953 delivers much of the same performance and more streaming features for less.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The LHB953 is a 5.1 system; the included speaker package consists of four identical smallish speakers for the front/surround, a sizable center channel speaker and a subwoofer.

The four identical speakers have an odd shape. From the front, they have a slight bulge toward the middle, but from the side you can see there are some pretty radical curves. The speakers are also larger than competing systems, coming in at 9.5 inches tall. There's a built-in stand on the bottom of the speakers and, strangely, the speaker jacks are actually located inside the stand, underneath the speaker. There's a slot toward the back for the speaker wire and there's really no functional problem with the design, except it makes it a little hard to access the wires if you're moving the speakers.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The center channel is also larger than we expected, coming in at 13.8 inches wide, 4.1 inches high, and 3.7 inches deep. It will still fit comfortably under most TVs, but it doesn't quite "disappear" like the tiny center channel on Samsung's HT-BD1250. Although the speaker is quite wide, it appears to have just a single driver in the middle of the unit.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The subwoofer is an average size for an HTIB (8.5 inches wide, 15.9 inches high, 14.2 inches deep).
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
LG certainly has some products that exude style, but the main AV receiver/Blu-ray player isn't one of them. We had it stacked up right next to the HT-BD1250's main unit and the Samsung was easily the more stylish component. The LHB953 has a more boxy shape and when you get up close, the front panel has a mix-and-match color scheme--some of it is glossy black, some glossy deep red, so it ends up looking like a car that had a door replaced that's just not quite the same color. (This doesn't show up well in photos, but it's obvious up close.)
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The LHB953 does make up some points on usability, though. We loved the integrated iPod dock, which makes for less wire clutter than having a separate dock. The way it retracts is slick, too--just push it and it slides out automatically.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
We also appreciated the prominent volume knob--especially compared with the top-mounted disc on the HT-BD1250--but the bright blue light surrounding it (not shown in photo) is distracting. We also weren't crazy about the touch-sensitive controls--we prefer actual buttons--but at least they're located on the front of the unit so you can still stack other components on top of the LHB953.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Like most Blu-ray HTIBs, the LHB953's connectivity is limited to audio inputs; there are no video inputs. That means with additional components, like a cable box or a game console, you'll need to make separate connections to the LHB953 and your TV, plus you'll have to fumble with several remotes to get it all working. (Alternatively, you can avoid some of the hassle with a quality universal remote.) While most Blu-ray HTIBs don't have video inputs, it's worth mentioning that the LG LHB977 (street price of less than $600) and the Samsung HT-BD3252 ($800 list price) each have two HDMI inputs, so they might be a better choice if you have other HDMI gear, such as game consoles and DVRs.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The LHB953 has two digital audio inputs (one optical, one coaxial) and one stereo analog audio input, which is average compared with other systems. There's also a minijack input for portable audio devices (other than an iPod), which is a nice perk that's not offered on other systems. All of the inputs are selectable by repeatedly pressing the "input" button on the remote. Lastly, there's a USB port on the front panel, which is capable of playing back MP3s and MPEG2 video off a connected USB drive.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
At first glance, the included remote looks a little cluttered, but it's actually the best one out of the Blu-ray HTIBs we've tested this year. There's a large directional pad toward the top, surrounded by important buttons like disc menu and pop-up menu. Beneath it are the playback controls and farther down is a button rocker for volume control. We could have loved more separation between the buttons, but it gets most things right.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET