It would only seem appropriate that the 2010 line of Blu-ray HTiBs upped the ante over previous years. In 2009, we saw the rise of quality Blu-ray players bundled inside these all-in-ones, and for 2010 we're getting more systems with integrated Wi-Fi and a slew of streaming media services.
The LG LHB535 is among the first systems of 2010 we're looking at and its feature set is outstanding. No competing Blu-ray HTIBs at this price have any HDMI inputs, and the LHB535 has two--plenty to add a cable box and game console. It also features built-in Wi-Fi, whereas Panasonic's SC-BT300 and Samsung's HT-C5500 both require you to purchase a pricey adapter for Wi-Fi. We were less impressed with the sound quality, which didn't have quite enough impact for our home theater tastes, although it'll still probably work for less critical listeners. If you're looking to get the most features for your buck, the LHB535 is basically unbeatable, but it likely won't be the best-sounding system in 2010.
The LHB535 is a sleekly designed system, with black shiny plastic trim throughout. The main unit itself is a little beefier than a standalone Blu-ray player, measuring 16.9 inches wide, 2.5 inches high, and 11 inches deep. The 5.1 system consists of four identical front/surround speakers, a skinny slimmed-down center channel, and a passive subwoofer. The four main speakers are small enough to be almost completely unobtrusive in a living room environment. Overall, it's a stylish package, but the plastic speaker cabinets give it a cheap feel that's common to all home-theater-in-a-box systems at this price.
The main unit houses a hidden iPod dock that flips down when you press the center of the front panel. There are six playback buttons to the right, which are located directly below a volume knob. On the left side of the unit there's a flap, which hides a USB port, line in, and a tray-loading Blu-ray drive. It a compact unit, considering how much functionality is packed in.
Overall the included remote works well and feels good in your hand. We appreciated the large volume rock in the center of the remote, as we do the sizable playback buttons above. However, direct input access buttons would have been a nice touch--especially for "HDMI 1" and "HDMI 2"--although we did find it easy to navigate inputs using the graphical user interface (GUI).
All of the LHB535's functionality can be controlled onscreen using the GUI. Everything from input select to iPod playback to radio tuning all has visual representations. For the novice user it's certainly a welcoming sight, but for those who are slightly savvier, most of the functions can also be controlled via the remote. The main screen can seem sluggish at times, because of the animated floating ice cubes, but it's not unbearably slow.
Just like the BD570, the onscreen interface is simplistic with a home screen outlining the various functions. The menu system is clean and logical, though the brief one-line summaries describing your options could be a little more user friendly.
We did like the fact that most of the button assignments share a small clip-art logo, so once you learn the shortcuts for items you use regularly, you should have no problem finding the corresponding images on the remote control, thus saving you time.
Netcast is what LG calls its suite of media-streaming services. Luckily, once you enter the Netcast section, you're greeted by large tiles with the names of services. We found this design more to our liking; navigating the streaming services feels speedy and there are large buttons for each service. LG's YouTube layout is also one of the best we've seen and we found it quick and easy to browse for videos. However, the exception, as always, is using the onscreen keyboard to input search terms; perhaps we'll see QWERTY keyboard remotes on future players to alleviate that problem.
|# of speakers||5.1||"Tall boy" speakers||No|
|Wireless rear speakers||No||iPod dock||Built-in|
|Auto speaker calibration||No|
The LHB535's main audio features are consistent with its competitors at the $500 price level. The built-in iPod dock is a plus for us, as it's a much sleeker design than the Samsung HT-C5500, which requires a separate dock and accompanying wire. The lack of tall-boy speakers is standard, although the competing Panasonic SC-BT330 includes them. The lack of automatic speaker calibration is unusual, as its standard on other systems, but we did at least like the amount of manual setup options the LHB535 offered.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||No||Onboard memory||No|
Wi-Fi has become standard on midrange Blu-ray HTIBs, but the LHB535 (and Sony BDV-E570) have a leg up on the competition by having it built into the unit, rather than using a separate USB dongle that needs to be purchased separately. We're disappointed that the LG doesn't have any onboard memory--which means you'll need to connect a USB memory drive to use BD-Live features--but to be fair, none of its competitors has onboard memory, either. The LHB535 also lacks 3D Blu-ray support, which Sony is promising to add to the BDV-E570 via firmware upgrade.
|Streaming media features|
Netcast includes the vast majority of major content providers. This year, all the manufacturers are offering a healthy selection of streaming services, so it really comes down to personal preference as to which model suits your taste. Yes, it's possible that Samsung will have more services because of its expandable Samsung Apps platform, but we were really satisfied with the variety of services offered by Netcast.
The LHB535 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 is 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. 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.