CD minisystems have long been a staple of kitchens and bedrooms everywhere. But in the past few years, DVD technology has become so cheap and ubiquitous that manufacturers are adding video playback to these systems, often without charging much more money. One such "home theater on a shelf" is the LG LF-D7150. Widely available at Best Buy and other retailers for less than $250, the LF-D7150 delivers a panoply of extra features--including DivX video playback, USB host support, and digital audio input--that distinguish it from the competition.
With its black and silver color scheme and its reflective front face, the LF-D7150 sports a thoroughly high-tech look that feels right at home in the 21st century. Fashion police take note: It will fit right into any place with a modern design sensibility, but anyone needing a retro appearance or a more traditional wood-grain look should look elsewhere (the Philips MCD702, for example). The blue lighting effects may appear somewhat garish, but they can be toggled off with a click of the dimmer button so that only the LCD display remains lit, albeit less brightly.
The D7150 is a standard three-part shelf system: Two 6.4x12.6x10.2-inch (HWD) speakers flank a central head unit that houses the disc player and all the electronics and controls. The bottom half of the front panel includes some basic controls, including volume and source selector knobs; the upper portion offers an information-packed LCD display and, along the top edge, the disc tray. The controls are pretty straightforward, but the four-way directional pad that doubles as a disc playback control (play/pause, forward/reverse) and an AM/FM tuner can be a little cumbersome to use. Thankfully, the LF-D7150 includes a remote control. The 56-button clicker is logically laid out and offers more comprehensive access to the deck's full range of functions, including the ability to choose any of the sources (CD/DVD, radio, USB, or auxiliary inputs) at the touch of a button.
In addition to playing standard DVDs and audio CDs, the LG LF-D7150 can play an array of digital media files: MP3 and WMA audio, JPEG photos, and DivX videos. The system displays an intuitive and easy-to-use file browser, so you can navigate through the various folders found on home-burned CDs and DVDs as well as any standard USB storage devices. There are a few caveats, of course: DivX files can only be played from optical discs, not USB drives; photos need to be smaller than 5.6 megapixels and have a JPG file extension only (not JPEG or JPE); and the USB browsing and playback compatibility works for many MP3 players, but not iPods. Still, it's easy to make playlists on the fly, and photos can be viewed as a slide show.
In addition to the CD/DVD player and the USB and auxiliary inputs, the LF-D7150 also packs a standard AM/FM tuner, along with the capacity for a whopping 50 station presets. The display includes a clock, and though there's no alarm function, it does offer a sleep timer.
The LG LF-D7150's better-than-average connectivity options bespeak its impressive media flexibility as well. It's got the standard DVD player video outputs (composite, S-Video, and progressive/component video), so it can connect to virtually any television. The rear panel also boasts two auxiliary inputs: one analog (red and white RCA jacks) and one digital (S/PDIF optical). That means you can connect two external devices, such as an iPod (analog) and a cable/satellite box (digital). Jacks for the included AM/FM external antennas are provided as well. Rounding out the connections on the front panel are a standard 1/8-inch headphone minijack, two like-sized microphone jacks (for the D7150's karaoke function), and a USB port that accepts thumb drives, MP3 players, and any other mass-storage-compliant drive.
The D7150 is rated at 160 watts of total power (80 per channel). It's not going to blow the doors off a room, but it gets suitably loud for normal listening sessions. There's no full-on virtual surround function--you'll generally only find that in stereo or 2.1 systems that are considerably more expensive--but the LG does offer a handful of options to tweak the sound, including an XDSS mode (pumps up bass and treble) and an XTS Pro mode (supposedly corrects the frequency response). Toggling both of them on added a bit of sonic heft to the action sequences in King Kong, but conversely they added some shrillness to Ripley's climactic escape sequence in Alien. But because you can engage or deactivate either of them at the click of a button on the remote, it's left to the listener's discretion. The same goes for the EQ (six presets) and the DSP modes (five, ranging from "church" to "theater"). Note that though it does have Dolby Digital surround decoding, it will only be able to downmix this soundtrack to two channels; there are no optical outputs or additional speaker terminals to take advantage of the additional audio channels.
It's not the sonic voodoo of XDSS or varying DSP modes that delivers the LF-D7150's good sound quality, however. We preferred to leave these modes off for our listening tests, and we liked what we heard. The D7150 delivers its sound through its two three-way speakers, which both feature side-mounted woofers. It didn't work any miracles--it still sounds like a shelf system--but compared with other shelf systems, it was the hands-down winner for sound quality. It particularly excelled on rock music. Other systems, such as the Philips MCD702, couldn't handle the brute force of Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love, but the LF-D7150 held its own. We also listened to some jazz, by way of Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue, and the LF-D7150 still sounded good, although it was closer to its competitors--namely the Philips MCD515 and the JVC UX-G70--than it was when playing Hendrix. After spending considerable time with all the systems, the LF-D7150 was the most enjoyable to listen to.
We also gave a quick look at the video processing capabilities of the LF-D7150. It was comparable to other DVD minisystems in this price range that we've tested, which means that it really doesn't compare to standalone DVD players that we've tested. A quick look at Silicon Optix's HQV test suite revealed that it could not pass the full resolution of DVD and that the test pattern lines were not stable. That being said, plenty of people--if not the overwhelming majority--will find the performance to be perfectly acceptable, especially if they're viewing on smaller (less than 30-inch) TVs. Just don't expect the built-in DVD player to perform as well as more expensive stand-alone units. Considering how poorly the player handled deinterlacing tests, it may be worth while for HDTV owners to set the component-video output for interlaced instead of progressive (see the Tips and Tricks section for more details).
All together, the LG LF-D7150 is a very strong contender in the DVD minisystem category. Of the systems we've tested, it offered the best sound, and we liked its flexibility in handling different media files on both optical discs and USB sources. The styling isn't for everyone, and it doesn't offer the five-disc changing capability of the JVC UX-G70, but we felt this player hit a nice sweet spot for performance and features within the context of the bedroom minisystem. If $250 is too much for your budget and you don't need quite as versatile of a player, we recommend checking out the aforementioned Philips MCD515, which offered reasonable performance and is available online for less than $150.