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LG BD550 review: LG BD550

LG BD550

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Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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9 min read

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.

The Good

Excellent Blu-ray image quality; Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, and CinemaNow streaming; plays music, videos, and pictures off a connected USB drive; relatively quick load times compared with other entry-level Blu-ray players.

The Bad

No DLNA compatibility, so you can't stream digital media from a networked computer; user interface is overdesigned; no onboard storage; must manually change the output mode to 1080p.

The Bottom Line

Quick load times, excellent Blu-ray image quality, and a generous suite of streaming services make the LG BD550 a solid entry-level Blu-ray player.

Design
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.

Playback controls
There are playback controls and a USB port under the flip-down panel on the right side.

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.

User interface
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 user interface
We prefer LG's old interface, but the new one gets the job done.

Netcast is what LG calls its suite of media-streaming services. 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. 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.

Netcast user interface
The Netcast user interface is more straightforward.

We have one last design gripe, though: unlike nearly every other Blu-ray player we review, LG's players come in 1080i output mode by default. That's unfortunate, since many users won't realize this and change to 1080p, which means they'll be relying on their HDTVs to do some of the serious video processing.

Features

Key Blu-ray features
3D Blu-ray Onboard memory
Wi-Fi Blu-ray profile

Like all entry-level Blu-ray players, the BD550 has only a basic feature set. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, so you'll need to use an Ethernet connection to take advantage of its streaming-media functionality. Panasonic and Samsung offer the option to add Wi-Fi with a USB dongle, but the dongles are more expensive than it would be to just buy the step-up model, so we don't consider the lack of a dongle option a big loss on the BD550. If you're interested in 3D Blu-ray support, the cheapest option is Sony's BDP-S470 ($200), which will receive a 3D upgrade in the summer.

Streaming-media features
Netflix YouTube
Amazon VOD Pandora
Vudu Slacker
CinemaNow Picasa/Flickr
DLNA compliant Weather

Online streaming-media services continue to be a major strength for LG's Blu-ray lineup. The BD550 includes the same NetCast features as last year--like Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora--but also adds Vudu, Picasa, and weather. Vudu is the major addition, as it 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.

Unlike all of the other step-up Blu-ray players in LG's line, the BD550 is not DLNA-compliant and cannot stream music, photos, and movies from a networked computer. If network streaming is an important feature to you, check out the competing Samsung BD-C5500 or the Sony BDP-S370. (The Sony BDP-S370 will receive a DLNA firmware update sometime this summer.)

Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby TrueHD DTS-HD Master Audio
Dolby Digital Plus DTS-HD HR
Bit stream output SACD/DVD-Audio

Like nearly every Blu-ray player available now, the BD550 offers onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS formats. If you want to play back SACDs and DVD-Audios, you'll need to look to Oppo's competing players; Sony's competing BDP-S370 also offers SACD playback.

AV outputs
HDMI version HDMI 1.3 Stereo analog
Component video Multichannel analog
Composite video Optical/coaxial Coaxial

The BD550's AV output selection is standard. The only surprise is the lack of an optical digital audio output, but that shouldn't be a problem unless your AV receiver is out of coaxial inputs.

Other connectivity
Ethernet SD card slot
USB ports 1 RS-232 port

Connecting the BD550's Ethernet port is the only way to access its streaming-media services. Though we would have liked a second USB--as is available on both the Samsung BD-C5500 and the Sony BDP-S370--it's more of a bonus than a missing feature.

Blu-ray performance
Editors' note: We found the BD550 to have identical Blu-ray and DVD image quality as the step-up BD570. Therefore, the following sections will be largely the same.

Overall, we were impressed with the BD550's Blu-ray image quality, especially for an entry-level player. It passed all of the most important test patterns and program material tests, putting it in the top tier of Blu-ray players we've reviewed this year. As usual, the most dedicated videophiles will still prefer the very slightly better Blu-ray picture produced by the Oppo BDP-83, but the vast majority of high-definition movie fans will be perfectly satisfied with the BD550's Blu-ray image quality.

All our testing was conducted via HDMI at 1080p/60, with the Samsung PN58B650 display and Oppo BDP-83 and Sony BDP-S570 for comparison. If your display supports and correctly handles 24 frames per second output (also known as 1080p/24), you can largely ignore these tests as we find all players to have virtually identical 1080p/24 performance. For more information on our testing procedure, consult our full guide to how we test Blu-ray players. Home theater enthusiasts can also see more-detailed testing results in our 2010 Blu-ray players comparison chart.

Blu-ray image quality: Test patterns
Film resolution Dynamic range high
Video resolution Dynamic range low
Text overlay on film Luma multiburst
Cadence tests 1/8 Chroma multiburst
Chroma bug test

The BD550's performance on test patterns was largely solid. First off, it passed the two most important tests--the film and video resolution tests--that generally indicate the player will have no issues on the vast majority of Blu-ray titles. We did notice that the BD550 slipped a bit on the film resolution test, showing moire for a second, which is something we didn't see on our reference Oppo BDP-83. However, we didn't notice any issues in actual program material.

The tests the BD550 failed--text overlay and the majority of the cadence tests--are comparatively minor tests that don't have an impact on image quality with the vast majority of movies. In the text overlay test, though the text itself was free of artifacts, the video in the background suffered from comblike shredding, visible on the top of the newspaper, and on the edges of any of the actors when they were in motion. However, the issue isn't visible with subtitles on standard Blu-ray movies like "Mission: Impossible III." Yes, the BD550 failed some of more esoteric cadence patterns, but we've seen almost no program material on Blu-ray using those cadences, so we don't consider that test very important.

Blu-ray image quality: Program material
"Ghost Rider" "Tony Bennett"
"M:I:III" "NIN Live"; Chapter 3
"Sunshine" "NIN Live"; Chapter 4

The BD550 passed all our Blu-ray program material tests, which gives it an edge over some other players we've tested, like the Vizio VBR200W and Sony BDP-S570, which had some trouble with the video-based titles. However, the image quality difference between the players isn't that large, as most movies are film-based and look nearly identical. We felt the difference between the BD550 and the Oppo BDP-83 was even smaller.

Blu-ray operational speed (in seconds)
"M:I:III" | player on 12.67 "POTC" | until movie 80.87
"M:I:III" | player off | quick start n/a "Spider-Man 3" | until movie 63.15
"M:I:III" | player off | no quick start 22.22 "Sunshine" | chapter skip 13.58
"POTC" | past loading 29.19 CNET speed rating (composite score) 93

CNET speed rating (composite score)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The BD550 is the fastest entry-level player we've tested so far and, surprisingly, is even a little quicker than LG's step-up models. The speed difference between LG's players could be because of small manufacturing differences that occur between any two products, but the bottom line is the BD550 is reasonably quick, coming close to our reference BDP-83 in speed. Yes, the BD550 lacks a quick start mode, so it can't compete with the bootup times of the Panasonic DMP-BD85K and Sony BDP-S570, although it boots up relatively quickly compared with other models that lack a quick start mode. Load times were particularly good on movies with complex, BD-Java menus, with the BD550 loading titles like "Spider-Man 3" over 10 seconds faster than the Samsung BD-C5500. If speedy playback is a priority for you, the BD550 is a good entry-level choice.

Other performance

DVD image quality: Test patterns and program material
Film resolution "Seabiscuit"
Video resolution "Star Trek: Insurrection"
Text overlay on film "Invite Them Up"
Cadence tests 2/8

The BD550 failed some of our standard test patterns, but we didn't notice major issues in any of our program material tests. It's worth pointing out that though the BD550 did technically pass the 2:2 resolution test, it took much longer than the Oppo for its processing to kick in and eliminate the moire. Again, we'd give it a slight nod over the Sony BDP-S570 for doing a better job handling niche video content, and pure videophiles will prefer the Oppo BDP-83 if DVD image quality is a high priority.

Streaming-video image quality
Netflix

As with most devices, we saw no major issues with Netflix streaming on the BD550. That gives the BD550 an edge over the Sony BDP-S570, which suffers from some streaming-image quality issues.

Power consumption
Standby | quick start off 0.07 W Standby | quick start on n/a
Power on | watching movie 14.65 W Power on | idling 9.00 W
Annual cost; quick start off $0.95 Annual cost; quick start on n/a

The BD550 lacks a quick start mode and therefore by default uses very little power in standby mode. In comparison, the Sony BDP-S570 has an annual cost of $7.35 with its quick start feature enabled. The downside with the BD550 is that you don't have the option of faster load times if you're willing to pay the extra cost. Though the BD550 is a relatively faster player overall, we would have liked a quick start option for those willing to use more energy to cut down on the initial bootup time.

OVR
6.6

LG BD550

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 5Performance 8
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