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LG's LFD790 two-channel home theater in a box (HTIB) stands out in a field of silver plastic HTIBs--the entire LG system, AV receiver/DVD player, stereo satellite speakers, and powered subwoofer are finished in a pristine, high-gloss black finish. By normal HTIB standards, the speakers are large, big enough to house three drivers--two woofers and one tweeter--but the AV receiver/DVD player and subwoofer are nice and small. But the interface wasn't nearly as well-designed--just figuring out how to get it to play music was a challenge. Once we got the LFD790 up and running, though, our first impressions of the sound were positive, especially considering the sub-$330 price tag. But the interface is so byzantine--you'll need to have your TV turned on just to switch inputs from, say, radio to CD--that the LG LFD790 is far from an easy recommendation, especially when so many easier-to-use HTIBs are available in the same price range.
The LG LFD790's handsome design will look right at home even next to today's high-end flat-panel displays. The slimline front panel of the head unit (combined receiver/DVD player) has just a few buttons to control the CD/DVD player, but no display. If you want to know what track on a CD you're playing, for example, you'll have to walk over to the head unit and look at the display on top panel (or have your TV on, because the information is displayed there as well). The head unit is also smaller than average, just 3.1 inches tall by 12.8 inches wide by 8.5 inches deep. The remote is certainly more generic-looking, but it was easy to use.
Like the other LG HTIB we tested, the LHT764, the LFD790's user interface was loaded with operational quirks. If you want to change inputs from say, the iPod to DVD, first press the "Home" button on either the player or the remote. Next, look at the TV and move the cursor over to the "Movie" icon and hit the "Enter" button. Of course, if you were going to watch a DVD, your TV would be on, but even if you're switching between the radio and iPod, you still need to have the TV on to see what you're doing. We also had a problem with the receiver/DVD player's volume control. It's one of those iPod-style touch wheels, backlit in soft blue light, but it didn't work with our fingers. It looks really cool, but it either refused to change volume or jumped up or down erratically--so we used the remote to change volume. The top panel houses touch-sensitive cursor controls, but they only intermittently worked for us. You'll probably have better luck.
Something to take note of--the receiver/DVD player is shipped with a thin protective film on the top panel, and that turned out to be a partial cause of the problems we were having with the touch-wheel volume and cursor controls--after we peeled off the film, the touch controls worked better, but not every time. LG should advise new owners to remove the film before attempting to use the LDF790.
The stereo speakers are constructed from medium-density fiberboard instead of the far more typical plastic, and they're larger (12.8 inches tall by 4.1 inches wide by 5.5 inches deep) than most HTIB speakers. Their shiny, concave black woofers and their thin chrome bezels--set off against the piano-black cabinets--are distinctive, but we were a little concerned that LG doesn't provide grilles to protect the exposed drivers from inquisitive fingers. LG didn't make any provisions for wall-mounting the speakers, and since they have a rear-mounted port for bass extension, you wouldn't want to place them too close to a wall. We had them on speaker stands next to our TV.
The subwoofer is built to the same high standard as the speakers and has a soft blue backlit circle on its front baffle, a design motif replicated on the receiver/DVD player's top panel. Measuring a compact 11.8 inches tall by 8.5 inches wide by 12.8 inches deep, it should be easy to place in even the most confined spaces.
Being a 2.1-channel system, the LDF790's speaker setup was a breeze. We found the factory-set subwoofer level much too loud, so we went into the speaker setup menu to turn it down. Sad to say, the LFD790 doesn't have bass or treble controls or in any way enable you to make "on-the-fly" adjustments to the subwoofer volume level. In any case, the chances are you will probably have to explore the video setup menus to get the best picture on your TV.
The system includes a thick 6.25-foot cable that runs between the AV receiver/DVD player and the subwoofer, and two thinner 16-foot cables that run between the subwoofer and the two speakers. The proprietary connectors won't allow for substitutions of cables, so you have to place the speakers within those limitations.
The LG LFD790 is a 2.1-channel home-theater-in-a-box system with a single-disc CD/DVD player and AM/FM radio. It's XM satellite radio ready, and it includes a USB port for playback of various digital media. The head unit's HDMI output upscales DVD movies to 720p or 1080i resolution when connected to compatible HDTVs. That section also includes the USB input and headphone jack. But the rest of the AV connections are located on the subwoofer: component and composite (but not S-Video) outputs, plus two analog stereo inputs (one pair of RCA plugs, one 3.5mm jack), and optical digital input, and an XM satellite radio jack. So if you wind up placing the sub some distance away from your TV and you're not using the HDMI connection, you'll need to run long video cables between the TV and subwoofer. We don't think the diminutive size of the head unit made the unusually curious setup worth it.
The speakers are two-way designs, with two 2.5-inch woofers and a 0.75-inch tweeter. The subwoofer has a side-mounted 7-inch woofer.
DVD, USB, and CD media playback
As mentioned, the LFD790 can upscale DVDs and other video files to 720p and 1080i resolution via the HDMI out port located on the rear of the main receiver. The LG seems to do a decent job of this when we tried out discs such as King Kong and Seabiscuit, but when it came to video benchmarking on test pattern material, the LFD790 didn't pass a single test. Most disappointing was the LFD790's inability to smooth out any jaggies whatsoever. Those shortfalls were manifested in real world material such as the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection, which was littered with a variety of noticeable artifacts.
While the LFD790 may fall short in regard to DVD playback, it makes up for that by including a well-designed onscreen interface for navigating through media files on optical discs or a USB drive. The interface is extremely easy to use and allows the user to compile playlists for songs and video files as well as slide shows for pictures.
A word on file formats--video playback is limited to DivX files (AVI or .divx file extensions), so you may need to encode your videos accordingly. MP3 and WMA audio files are supported (but not AAC), and the only pictures you'll be able to view are JPEGs.
We put the LG LFD790 through its paces with the Dreamgirls DVD. The sound was beautifully balanced, so the vocals, especially Effie's (Jennifer Hudson), had lots of body and soul. The big production numbers were clear, and the subwoofer's lock on the deep grooves was never in doubt; it's one of the best subs we've heard in the LFD790's price class. There were two drawbacks to the sound: the virtual surround--which is supposed to simulate a surround effect from just the two stereo speakers--was virtually nonexistent, and the little LG didn't provide enough juice to play at all loud (we'd recommend confining it to rooms smaller than 150 square feet). LG's surround synthesizing modes, XTS pro and VSM, weren't particularly effective--we much preferred the LFD790's sound in plain vanilla stereo.
We did get a bit more volume when we played CDs, and the Clash's live From Here to Eternity disc rocked pretty hard--until it didn't, then the treble detail took on a nasty edge and the LFD790's power limitations became pretty obvious. Next we checked out Bright Eyes' new CD, Casadaga. This mostly acoustic disc fared better, but the instruments lacked their natural warmth. We wished the LFD790 had some sort of tone control, but it doesn't.
We went back to DVD and felt the LFD790 was at its best in home theater. That's not too surprising; most HTIBs stumble with two-channel music sources such as CD. One of our favorite Nicole Kidman films of the last few years, Birth, sounded excellent.
Up to the point the LG runs out of steam, it avoids most of the sonic pitfalls of inexpensive HTIBs. It works best in very small rooms, spaces that would likely not accommodate multichannel HTIBs anyway.
Assistant Editor Jeff Bakalar contributed to this review.