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LG LHB535 review: LG LHB535


Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Jeff Bakalar
Steve Guttenberg
9 min read

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 Good

5.1 home theater system with built-in Blu-ray player; two HDMI inputs; Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, and CinemaNow streaming; built-in Wi-Fi; plays music, videos, and pictures off a connected USB drive or via network; built-in iPod dock.

The Bad

Sound falls a bit flat; better audio for music than movies; no automatic speaker calibration; no direct input buttons; doesn't support 3D Blu-ray.

The Bottom Line

The LG LHB535 offers an outstanding feature set for its price, but its sound quality is only passable.

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).

User Interface
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.

LG HB535's main user interface
The LHB535's user interface is a little quirky, but it's straightforward to use.

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.

LG HB535's inputs user interface
Changing inputs is as easy to browsing the onscreen interface.

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.

LG LHB535's Netcast user interface
The Netcast interface was more to our liking, with speedy navigation and large graphics for each service.

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.


Audio features
# 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 802.11n Blu-ray profile 2.0

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
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon VOD No Pandora Yes
Vudu Yes Slacker No
CinemaNow Yes Picasa/Flickr Picasa
DLNA compliant Yes Weather Yes

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.

Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby Digital Plus Yes DTS-HD HR Yes
Bitstream output Yes SACD/DVD-Audio No

Like all Blu-ray HTIBs this year, the LHB535 has onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS soundtrack formats. There's no support for DVD-Audio or SACD, but that's not offered by any competing systems at this price level.

AV connectivity
HDMI inputs 2 Analog audio inputs 1
Optical inputs 2 Coaxial inputs 0
Minijack input Yes Max. connected ext. devices 5

The LHB535's outstanding feature over the competition is the inclusion of two HDMI inputs; nobody else even offers one at this price level. That's a huge step up in our book, now that nearly all home video devices use HDMI, plus it's the simplest and highest-quality connection available. The rest of the connectivity is mostly standard, although we would have liked to have seen at least one coaxial digital audio input. We appreciated that LG lets you select each input individually, so you can connect a total of five external devices, which doesn't include the minijack input on the front.

As mentioned before, there's also the built-in iPod dock, which should support any modern iPod with a dock connection. iPhone and iPod Touch users are in luck as well: the docks plays nicely with those two models, too, though you may want to switch your iPhone to airplane mode to avoid interference. We really like the onscreen interface that allows you to navigate through your music. You can also use the LHB535 to view photos and movies off your device as well, but keep in mind the iPod must be set to TV out.

Other connectivity
Ethernet Yes SD card slot No
USB ports 1 Headphone jack No

The rest of the LHB535's connectivity is standard. We would have liked an extra USB port on the back and a headphone jack, but those features aren't common on these systems.

Audio setup
The LHB535's speaker setup menu covers just the basics. You input each of the five speakers' distances from the prime listening position and then adjust the volume level of each speaker and the subwoofer. It's easy enough to do, but if you'd rather skip the setup chore altogether you won't be missing much as you can easily adjust the volume of each speaker and the subwoofer directly from the remote. For example, if you're not hearing enough of the surround speakers on a movie, or you want to add more bass, it'll take just a few seconds to get the balance you want. Few competing HTIBs are as flexible on that front, so kudos to LG for implementing it.

We initially placed the LHB535's subwoofer in the usual spot in the CNET listening room, over to the right of the right front speaker. The quality of the bass was fine, but it failed to blend with any of the speakers. No matter what was happening in the movie, all of the bass came from the right side of the room.

That's not a unique fault of the LHB535 as most HTIBs with very small satellite speakers exhibit similar bass directionality. The cure was simple enough, though; we moved the subwoofer to the front wall between the center and right channel speakers. The blend was then better, and the bass no longer seemed to come from the right side of the room.

Audio performance
Going into our performance testing, we figured the LHB535's small satellite-speaker size would play a role in their sound. Case in point, the front and surround speakers sounded undernourished, but the subwoofer tried its best to provide a solid foundation for the sound. The center channel speaker sounded slightly better than the front and surround satellite speakers, so fortunately dialogue sounded clear and evenly balanced.

The Michael Jackson "This Is It" DVD fully exercised the LHB535's speakers and subwoofer. By nudging the volume higher and higher we learned the LHB535 can play fairly loud without distorting. However, it does have its limits as HTIBs with small speakers almost always do. The front-to-rear surround ambiance on the Jackson DVD was good and the subwoofer proved fairly powerful, but bass clarity and dynamic oomph left us wanting more.

Sure enough, the LHB535 didn't totally embarrass itself with the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray's battle sequences. The sound was clear, surround effects filled the room, but the fiery helicopter crash and explosions didn't pack the wallop we've heard from, say, the Onkyo HT-S7200.

The LHB535's speakers' sound was overly bright and thin, probably because the satellite's sound never completely jelled with the subwoofer. This led us to experiment with the LHB535's Sound Effect options. The Clear Voice (Sound Effect) took some of the edge off, and Bass Blast warmed up the sound and reduced the brightness. Though we don't usually use HTIB sound modes, we found them necessary with the LHB535.

Moving over to our music CD testing, the LHB535 held its own. That's not always the case with HTIBs--most do a better job with movies than music--but the LHB535's sounded fine with classical, jazz, and rock music. The overly bright sound and loosely defined bass were still concerns, and the LHB535 always sounded like what it truly is: a small home-theater system.

Blu-ray and DVD image quality
Overall, we were impressed with the LHB535's Blu-ray image quality, as it passed all of the most important test patterns and program material tests. We found its performance to be similar (although not identical) to LG's standalone BD570. For a more in-depth look at this player's Blu-ray and DVD performance, we recommend checking out the review of the LG BD570.



Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6