In 2009, it's not enough for a Blu-ray player to just play Blu-ray movies. With the ubiquity of online-media-streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, consumers already expect Blu-ray players to offer up a wide variety of standard-definition, instant-gratification media options to complement their high-definition Blu-ray experience. LG was the first company to realize this trend with the BD300--the first Blu-ray player with Netflix streaming. The company's flagship Blu-ray player, the BD390, stays a step ahead of the competition with its outstanding feature set, including Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi (a first), 7.1 analog outputs, geek-friendly MKV-video file playback over USB, and 1GB of onboard memory. Even better, the BD390 is an excellent Blu-ray player, with top-notch image quality, lightning fast load times, and onboard decoding for all the high-resolution audio soundtracks. The biggest knock against the BD390 is its $400 list price; that's the same as Sony's PS3, which is still a better value if you're into gaming. If you're not, the LG BD390 is our top pick for premium standalone Blu-ray players, narrowly besting the competing Samsung BD-P3600.
Samsung has a lock on otherworldly designs, but the BD390 has a more conventional and refined look. The front faceplate is a glossy, reflective black accented by a strip of silver metal on the top and silver feet below. The LCD screen is just off center, and its large size and bright, white color make it easy to see from across your home theater, although some will be disappointed that it can't be dimmed. There are four playback controls across the front of the unit, along with a removable plastic cover that reveals a USB port. We had it sitting right next to the Samsung BD-P3600 in our lab and if we had to pick one, we'd give the nod to the BD390.
We've always liked the interface on LG's Blu-ray players and now that there are so many additional streaming services, the simple menus are even nicer. The home menu presents your options in seven straightforward icons: Movie, Photo, Music, My Media, Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow, and Setup. The colorful high-definition graphics are also a nice touch, compared with the more drab menus found on the Panasonic DMP-BD60.
All of LG's 2009 Blu-ray players include Netflix Instant streaming. The user experience is nearly identical to that of the Roku Digital Video Player, and we recommend you check out that review for more information. In short, you can stream anything in Netflix's "Watch Now" section, and while there are some flaws--much of the SD content is not wide screen, for example--it's a pretty great user experience overall. The initial catalog of movies and TV shows was fairly lackluster, but recent deals with CBS and Disney have significantly improved the content selection. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.)
Videos start out playing in a small window; you can make them full screen by pressing the Display button. Unfortunately, there's no aspect ratio control, although full-screen mode shows wide-screen content correctly, without stretching or squeezing, and the smaller screen mode shows 4:3 content correctly. We don't find much of YouTube's content to be compelling in a "sitting on the couch" environment, but there is a growing list of traditional Hollywood content available if you know where to look, and the interface is one of the better ones we've seen.
The BD390 also offers streaming CinemaNow access, which provides pay-per-rental pricing, similar to satellite and cable video on-demand services. CinemaNow's catalog contrasts with Netflix's in that it offers more new releases, similar to Amazon's Video On Demand service. We did a full hands-on report with CinemaNow on the BD390, but the short story is that we were mostly unimpressed. It's a decent additional feature on the BD390, but it shouldn't tip your hand for or against the player.
Image quality, especially after you've become accustomed to Blu-ray, is a little disappointing. CinemaNow doesn't offer HD streams yet (coming in the fall), and even though we were watching "Appaloosa" with four dots of streaming quality (the highest), it was less than DVD quality. The image is softer and on a big, 50-inch screen, we saw more more artifacts, ringing, and jaggies than you'd see on a high-quality DVD transfer.
There is also a component video output, which is capable of outputting Blu-rays at 1080i and DVDs at 480p, as well as a legacy composite video output. There are also both optical and coaxial digital-audio outputs, along with a separate analog stereo output. Rounding out the connectivity is an Ethernet port (if, for some reason, you don't want to use Wi-Fi).
In addition to Blu-ray playback, the BD390 can play back an extensive variety of media formats via its USB port. Video, music, and photo files are supported and the list of supported formats is lengthy: MP3, JPEG, PNG, AVI, WMA, DivX-HD, XVID, and yes, even MKV. We plugged in a 250GB USB hard drive and tested a large variety of files, including some high-definition .MKV and MPEG-2 files, and for the most part our experience was excellent, with only very high bandwidth MPEG-2 files occasionally showing some artifacts.
The included remote control is one of the better ones we've seen on a Blu-ray player. LG keeps it simple, with a big direction pad toward the top, surrounded by important buttons like disc menu and home. Playback controls are right below and they're sensibly separated, instead of being cluttered next to infrequently used buttons. There are additional controls under a slide-down cover, which is surprisingly stiff and tough to open. Luckily we found ourselves rarely using those buttons, although if you plan on using the BD390's remote to control your TV as well, you'll be peeved that important buttons like volume and channel controls are under the cover. (As always, a good universal remote is the easiest fix.)