In today's competitive home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) market, features and connectivity are key. Discriminating buyers scan a prospective purchase's spec sheet to see if it sports HDMI, USB, XM Satellite Radio readiness, and iPod capability, and so on, before deigning it a worthwhile purchase. Those buyers will find LG's LHT764, a fully loaded HTIB, bests many of the competing models in its budget price class (around $330). Equipped with a sleekly styled five-disc changer and matching compact satellites and subwoofer, LG's product designers didn't miss a beat. We were pretty impressed until we played a couple of movies on the LHT764 and found its sound quality to be less than stellar, even with the lowered expectations of this price point.
The LHT764's clean lines and gleaming, black-gloss finish are handsome and will obviously match LG's flat-panel displays. The HTIB certainly looks classier than the more typical silver-plastic models we've seen, and LG's main "head unit"--which houses the receiver and magazine-style DVD changer--doesn't hog anywhere near the shelf depth required by carousel-style changers. It's just 14 inches deep, 17 wide, and 3.6 high.
The molded black-plastic speakers' gloss-black trim matches the receiver/DVD changer's design, and the medium-density fiberboard subwoofer has a bit of heft. The main and surround speakers are about 8.25 inches high, the center is just less than a foot wide, and they're all wall-mountable via a keyhole slot and threaded inserts. The subwoofer is on the small side, even for an HTIB. It's around 15.4 inches high, by 13.3 wide, and just 8.2 deep.
Setup menu navigation isn't the easiest we've seen, but it's far from the worst. We recommend making the effort because the out-of-the-box balances on the surround speakers' volume were too low. Besides, you'll have to input the video settings to match your TV's resolution and aspect ratio, so you might as well do the audio stuff while you're there.
There were a few nagging operational quirks, such as the receiver/DVD changer's volume control. It's one of those iPod-style touch wheels, but it didn't work with our fingers. True, the little blue LEDs would magically alight, but it either refused to change volume or jumped up or down erratically. Thankfully, the remote control is more straightforward and functional, but there's no bass or treble controls nor any way to make on-the-fly adjustments to the subwoofer volume level.
Lacking an obvious "open/close" button we had to read the owner's manual to figure out how to load CDs and DVDs--turns out it's the "disc view" button. Hit that button and a tray with five numbered drawers glides forward; each drawer can be manually moved in and out to load discs. It's easy enough to use, though we couldn't help but notice the changer mechanism makes clunky noises as it goes about its business loading, unloading, and swapping discs.
Also, we heard a mild amount of fan noise and a slight buzzing sound from the idle receiver. It certainly wasn't audible when we were listening to music or watching movies, but it was still annoying.
The LHT764's receiver/changer digital amplifier delivers 155 watts per channel to the satellite speakers and 225 watts to the subwoofer. The front and rear satellites each offer one woofer but no tweeter, the center speaker features three drivers, and the subwoofer has one driver. (LG doesn't specify driver sizes for the satellites or the subwoofer.) Surround processing covers the usual Dolby Digital and DTS decoding options, so you can listen to DVDs and even stereo sources (CDs, MP3s, and whatever else) in surround.
Connectivity options on the LHT764 are pretty sparse at first glance. It offers most--but not all--of the same video outputs you'd find on a standard DVD player: composite, component, and HDMI. DVD video output can be upconverted to 720p or 1080i resolution via the HDMI connection. However, there is no S-Video output nor are there any audio outputs; you must use the attached speakers rather than, say, a line out directly to your TV speakers. Video inputs are nonexistent, but there are three audio inputs: one analog (red-and-white RCA jacks) and two digital (one optical and one coaxial). Rounding out the standard connections is a front-panel stereo minijack audio input for use with portable players. Headphone users are out of luck; the LHT764 doesn't have a jack for them.
That lack of video inputs means you can use the LHT764 to get surround sound from several other components in your home theater system--say, a cable/satellite box and a game system or a VCR--but you'll need to use your TV to handle the video-switching duties. However, the system offers a few other source options that aren't usually found on products at this price. It's a certified "Made for iPod" audio system, so you can plug in your iPod using the supplied cable and access its music via an onscreen menu on the LG. Owners of non-iPod players will appreciate the front-panel USB port, which provides for playback of digital-music, -photo, and -video files, including DivX. The system is also XM-ready, so it can pull in satellite radio--if you supply an XM Mini-Tuner, a docking kit, and a $13 per month subscription. The LG is also "wireless rear speaker ready"; purchase an add-on accessory, and the two rear surround channel speakers can wirelessly communicate with the main unit, obviating the need to run the two longest speaker cables to the back of the room.