You can get a lot of Blu-ray player for under $100 these days, including built-in Wi-Fi and a full suite of streaming-media services to supplement your disc-playing needs.
If you're looking for a player that offers a reasonable selection of apps and does a good job with most discs, the LG BP530 is a decent choice. While neither the best performer nor the fastest player available this year, it also doesn't have any deal-breaking flaws. Sure, the interface is unnecessarily cluttered, there's a minor issue with some film content, and the Private Listening feature isn't as promising as it appears on paper, but at least it's not stuffed with advertising, like the Panasonic DMP-BDT230.
You'd be better off with Samsung's BD-F5900 ($95), but the LG BP530 is still a solid, only-some-nonsense machine.
Design: Keeping it simple
While its competitors are busy creating trapezoids and funky business with their Blu-ray players, LG is keeping it simple with the BP530. This is a steel-gray or black oblong with a small lip which, unlike some similar players, allows you to put other components on top. That's because the controls are on the front instead of facing upward. But unless you have good lighting, the controls aren't easy to see, as they're the same color as the front panel. At least the buttons are raised, so they're easy to tell apart by touch.
The remote control is compact and logically arranged with raised playback controls and a bright blue Home button if you get into trouble.
The menu system isn't as nice as the rival Samsung player, and while the shortcuts to popular apps at the bottom of each "tile" are a good idea, at least two of these tiles -- My Apps and LG Smart World -- are unnecessary. The menu is attractive though, and you'll quickly work out which shortcuts to use and which not to.
The My Apps shortcut is especially bewildering and not much of a "shortcut" at all, as it simply lists the apps you add from LG Smart World. Given the only app of real use that isn't preinstalled on the player is Rhapsody, you probably won't use either shortcut much. Loading each of these interfaces takes about 8 seconds, but the shortcuts at the bottom of the main screen do save you some time.
Features: No Wi-Fi, but plenty of apps
The BP530 features LG's Smart TV suite, which covers most of the popular apps, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube. It also adds Spotify -- something only 2013 Samsung TVs have -- and Pandora. The big omission is Amazon Instant, which is available on the Samsung BD-F5900. Otherwise, the Smart TV interface is fairly compact and easy to traverse with the remote control.
The other optional app barely worth mentioning is Red Karaoke, because it's a pretty lackluster karaoke experience. I mean, there isn't even video of couples walking in slow motion along a beach(!), just poorly scrolling white text on a gray background. And you can't connect a microphone.
One of the most compelling features of this player though is the LG AV smartphone app. It not only lets you control the player with your phone, but it includes a feature called Private Listening. This enables you to listen to Blu-ray discs -- no apps unfortunately -- via your smartphone. While it sounds like a good idea, the sound quality doesn't scale down for slow connections, so you need to have a really good wireless connection or else you'll just hear mush. It's a great idea, but it just doesn't work that well here.
The player is also compatible with 3D discs, which distinguishes it from the 2D-only BP330.
There is only one video output on this player: a single HDMI port. To get an analog output, you'll need to try a more expensive player like the Sony BDP-S790. Be aware that come 2014 no player on the market should have analog outputs per rules set down by Hollywood and the hardware manufacturers, known as the "analog sunset." The LG's other connections are coaxial digital, USB, and an Ethernet jack. Wireless Internet connectivity is also included.
Performance: Not quite perfect
In terms of picture quality, the LG performed toward the bottom of our chosen group of 2013 Blu-ray players. However, there really isn't that much separating the top performer (Panasonic DMP-BDT230) and the worst (Sony BDP-S5100). The dividing performance test proved to be how well the players dealt with film content. The LG was unable to properly render 3:2 pull-down without jerkiness, while the Sony failed both of our film-based tests. What does this mean in the real world? Pans and fast action shots may have a little more judder than usual, but it isn't something you'll notice unless you're looking for it. All other Blu-ray tests passed without complaint.
Upscaled DVD content also looked fine, with no issues with moire in the fine detail of "Star Trek: Insurrection" on DVD. During the opening of the movie the camera pans across the rooftops of a utopian village, and lesser players will exhibit jaggies on some of the diagonal lines -- not so the LG.
In terms of speed, the player is a bit worse than average. While it was able to load "Mission: Impossible" in a decent 13.6 seconds -- roughly the same as the Panasonic player -- it took the longest of any equivalent player to load Netflix, with a snooze-worthy 35 seconds, or almost twice the time of the others. Though the Samsung BD-F5900 uses a bit more electricity in standby mode than most players, it is also the speediest I have seen.
In using this player for a few days, I did experience a couple of random lockups, and at one point needed to unplug it from the power to restart. I may have just had some bad luck with the player, but it's worth noting that I didn't have similar issues with the other units I've tested this year.
If it weren't for the cluttered user interface and slight picture quality issues, I'd recommend the LG BP530. The Private Listening feature is a great idea, albeit poorly executed, so I'd love to see it improved upon in future products. But for now, your $100 is better spent on the Samsung BD-F5900.