Wednesday, 15 September 2010 |
LG’s home theater equipment has maintained a sturdy name for itself since high-definition has taken prominence, wedging in between the other bigwigs for a share of the market with sturdy performance and often times intriguing design choices. Their Blu-ray players are no exception, offering a stylish flare in their chassis with respectable performance – not to mention a range of affordability scaled between models. These factors have carried over into LG’s new 5-series of Blu-ray decks, ranging from the network-free 550 model to their higher-end 590 model with a 250 GB storage drive. Here, AVRev got its hands on their BD570, yet the details that highlighted their performance are somewhat muted this time around. Unfortunately, its awkward design implementation, problematic stability, and merely sufficient performance, for both Blu-ray discs and standard-definition DVDs, hamper the fluidity of the BD570’s wireless networking and an attractive, easy-to-navigate (if overdesigned) interface.
Out of the Box:
Measured less than two inches high and a fairly standard 8 inched wide, 17 inches deep, LG’s player does appear sleek when looked at from a distance. The size isn’t celebration worthy, seeing as other models with equal skill sets fit nearly the exact same dimensions, but the compactness of these new decks still impresses in comparison to previous models, like JVC’s XV-BP1. The gray spindle from the 370 model has been tossed aside, though a center design fixture still remains in the form of two soft, glowing lights surrounding the Blu-ray logo (obviously only alit when the player’s on). The most noticeable aesthetic change comes in the hinged front door/cover, altered from the two-flap design from before into one large concealing flap – a design-only implementation that really isn’t necessary, considering the minimal arrangement underneath.
Aside from a standard Pause/Stop/Advance row of circular buttons that sits to the right of the LED clock, as well as an aggravatingly-placed USB port that requires the flap to be open in order to utilize media on a storage device, LG’s player also implements cumbersome placement and construction design for the Eject / Power buttons. A blocky strip discreetly sits at the top that controls both functions, Eject on the left and Power on the right, which offers that little extra bit of convenience in not flipping open the tray to control these features. However, the strength of the button’s construction isn’t very sturdy, feeling as if the mechanisms underneath each side of the bar could become brittle with time. That’s just speculation, of course, but the build quality reeks of cutting corners.
To the rear of the unit, the BD570 offers a standard array of jacks for easy plug-and-play usage – aside from one exception. An HDMI port serves as the central connection, with component video and Toslink audio ports also available for legacy connections and an Ethernet port for hard-wired internet connections. Frustratingly, LG Has opted to go the route of a built-in power cable instead of a port for an interchangeable AC adapter, which wouldn’t be quite as big of an issue if the cable itself wasn’t extremely short – roughly five feet in length. Therefore, many folks might need to invest in an extension cable to reach power outlets / strips further than that away, and obviously those with AC cords already positioned in their console will likely want to think twice about the player.
LG’s remote – model AKB72975301 – surprised me with its user-friendly design, fitting comfortably in the hand with a moderate weight and a comfortable button layout. The first thing that stands out is the navigation spindle at the center, made with a skin-gripping material that makes placement of fingers comfortable. Directly outside of the directional points, the Disc Menu, Title/Pup Up Menu, Info/Display, and Home buttons surround them – and each of the buttons click. It takes a little getting used to, but the button clicks become somewhat likable after a while. To the bottom, the rest of the Blu-ray functions can be sound, such as the quad-colored RGYB buttons, as well as a series of controls for LG televisions – which work just fine on a 55LH40, as does the SIMPLINK function. Equally as distinct as the central symbol, the primary glow-in-the-dark Play / Pause / Stop buttons sit at a curve at the center of the remote.
Easily one of the biggest sways in its favor, the LG BD570’s setup process couldn’t be simpler. When the system boots up, a new-fangled GUI becomes available that’s a bit different than the norm. Instead of static menu options, LG adds a bit of flare with each option – Movie, Photo, Music, Home Link, Netcast, and Setup – in shimmering ice cubes bobbing up and down in water. It’s a different touch, but one that shows a level of fun, out-of-the-box design innovation that adds to the experience of setting up a new toy. Under the “Setup” ice cube, which transitions to a normal block menu once selected, six functions are available: Display, Language, Audio, Lock, Network, and Others. Display handles rudimentary tailoring to aspect ratio, resolution, Hz display for 1080p content, and color space, while the Audio controls the HDMI / Digital Output (set to Primary Pass-Thru via HDMI), Sampling Frequency, and Dynamic Range Control (DRC).
Connecting to the Internet under the “Network” function operates on about the same level of simplicity as finding a wireless signal with a computer, as the player instantly registers signals in the area. It prompts the user for either a Wired or Wireless connection, locates access points, and then opens up a passkey screen for protected networks. One thing that might be a bit startling is that there’s not an uppercase function directly visible, but that’s just because it’s another option underneath the “#+=&” that pops up after hitting the button once. Type in the passkey and wait for the Dynamic IP to be registered, and then the player’s ready for internet access. Also under the Network Men are toggles for verifying information for Netflix and deactivating Vudu. At this point, updating the firmware in the “Others” menu will alleviate a lot of issues that the player will incur later on – something experienced first-hand.
Though no options to tailor the visual attributes are available in the Setup menu, a “User Setting” option can be found with a little digging. By hitting Display on the remote, which brings up a “Picture Mode” menu that mentions the audio track at-use, time progression, chapter listing, and a few other standard features, there’s one menu option next to a painter’s palette that reads “Standard”. Under this menu option, several picture modes are selectable – Standard, Vivid, Movie, and User Setting. These options tailor the Contrast, Brightness, Color, Sharpness, and Noise Reduction to degreed between -3 and +3, all of which are fairly start alterations. Mostly, they push the image beyond looking natural by even a slight adjustment.
For a long time, Sony’s been struggling with a good problem to have regarding their standalone Blu-ray decks. It doesn’t matter if their quality strong, the reaction time decent, and the supplemental specifics pleasing to the eye, they always have to combat price-wise against the company’s “flagship” player, the Playstation 3. On most occasions, their standalone decks of a comparable quality (such as the BDP-S560, reviewed here) were, on a good day, the same price as their game-playing iteration, a unit that’s become a reference machine for the likes of The Criterion Collection and others.
However, with the whittled-down cost of Blu-ray technology, they’ve finally been able to nail down a wireless, attractive until with their BDP-S570 that’s a good $50 below the PS3’s $300 list price. With wireless connectivity on-board, a sleek style makeover, snappy loading timeframes and respectable audiovisual performance, including 24p upscaling for DVDs and support for online stream services such as Netflix, Sony might’ve finally concocted a healthy Blu-ray alternative -- one that easily bests their previous 5-series model. Yes, it’s 3D ready as well for when the technology’s ready, but that’s just part of the puzzle.
Out of the Box
If a pair of eyes will be looking at the S570 that have seen the thickness and width of other Blu-ray decks, they’ll be taken slightly aback at the compressed size of this high-functioning unit. It barely sits a foot and a half deep at 17 inches, while offering a bit of a slack-jaw inducing height at 1.81 inches tall. Sure, the likes of Samsung’s ultra thin BD-P4600 are more shocking with their size, but the ability to cram this high-function player into a compact, glossy design impresses to a noteworthy extent. In comparison, this unit sits roughly a full inch shallower from front to back and about a half an inch shorter than JVC’s XV-BP1, an able-bodied and size-conscious unit on its own. Gone are the flip-open tray and wonky buttons from the S560, replaced by a front panel that’s sturdy, unwavering, and void of any blue coloring. But it’d be wise to have a polishing cloth ready if lights are in proximity, as the black glossy finish is prone both to dust pick-up and fingerprints.
To the front, attractive minimalist design takes the helm. The short stature calls for a more edgy motif to make it grab the user’s eye, complimented here by a thin silver trim that rides along a small jetting “shelf” at the bottom that holds very, very small buttons for stopping, playing, pausing, powering down and the rest of the standard functions. These buttons feel almost like thinner, hard Tic-Tacs or another small mint, which are pointed but on the stiff side. A very soft LED timer arrives on the right-hand side, rendered in delicate but readable blue typography that’s adjustable to even darker levels within the menus. For a little extra ambience and, maybe in some lighting, assistance in seeing the buttons, a thin light strip appears directly in the center of the unit that glows an agreeably tame white color – whose brightness can also be toggled along with the time display. A USB 2.0 port also adorns the right of the panel.
On the rear of the S570, there’s very little to get excited about. We’ve got out standard ports for plug-and-play usage, with the HDMI out taking charge as the preferred connection method. Component RGB jacks are available, along with coaxial and optical outputs to match for audio, as well as a LAN cable port for non-wireless Internet usage. The only nice earmark we’ve got on the rear panel is a port for a USB connection, so the user can connect a storage device to the back without cluttering up the front continuously. It’s worth noting, however, the power cable isn’t a standard A/C output port, instead carrying a permanent connection that cannot be unplugged or replaced. That’s a little frustrating for installation folks and those who’d prefer easier plug-and-play experience, or for those that, say, have a power wiring issue and need to switch out cables.
Though Sony has implemented a new model of remote between the S560 and the S570, jumping from a RMT-B104A to a RMT-B107A, there’s almost no difference between the two devices. Both are flimsy tack-on designs that work, mind you, and are user friendly – just very inexpensively handled. The B107A, however, has one key feature that the 104A lacked, and that’s an EJECT button. The “Theater” button has been scooped up and moved to a new location, but other than that it’s the same unit; therefore, the comments annotated in the review for the S560’s remote carry over here. Essentially, it’s a lighter, flimsier version of Sony’s Playstation 3 Bluetooth remote, carrying the same rotary navigation functions, color-coded buttons, and TV control as before.
JVC’s XV-BP1 has a terribly bright light at the front of its unit, reminding one a bit of the flood lamps at the front of the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The brightness can potentially be off-putting, especially with close proximity to the viewing screen. It might seem a little unorthodox to mention something aesthetic like that in the first lines of a review, but there’s a reason; aside from that, and a strange “happy accident” anomaly that jumps disc playback straight to the start of the programming upon boot-up, this 1080/24p, Profile 2.0 player delivers an impressive, unproblematic punch with its capabilities. Though it might be quiet and flex quite a bit of audiovisual muscle, it’s the fact that the player is lightning fast that makes it a strong competitor against the standard onslaught of heavy-hitters surrounding its $300 list price.
Out of the Box:
The XV-BP1 is, however, a no-frills player in regards to structure and inputs, after taking a look at the unit and its components upon arrival. It measures a standard width at 16.5 inches wide, while measuring 2 inches tall and roughly 9 inches deep – making it a bit shallower than many Blu-ray players and noticeably more compact from top to bottom. The front of the unit, when powered down, is a sleek and attractive piece of hardware, sporting nice circular buttons on the right-hand side. Though stock images give the right-hand size of the chassis a brushed metallic look, it’s little more than the difference between high-gloss plastic on one side and a more matte texture on the other. Though very light, there’s a layer of contentment with the player’s build quality once it’s found a place on a media rack.
When the unit’s powered on, the biggest gripe about the XV-BP1 very quickly comes into play. In a straight line right down the middle, and directly behind each of the circular buttons, a bright blue light emits. Emphasis is placed on the word bright here, because the light’s intensity is rather garish and, oftentimes, distracting. Sadly, the player doesn’t come with an internal dimmer for the light, so the bright, electric glow will have to be endured amid a dark screening room. If the player’s on a media rack away from the television panel, it shouldn’t glow enough to distract; however, if the unit finds its place directly underneath an LCD / Plasma panel, the light will take some optical conditioning to ignore it.
At the front, the player carries the standard button features – navigating Play/Pause/Fast-Forward as well as Eject and Power, while also carrying a fully-functional USB 2.0 port (more on that a little later) covered by a stable silicone cover that dangles when it’s not coating the input. To the rear, the JVC’s no-frills character continues; it comes with a very standard array of plug-and-play jacks, including a 1.3 HDMI port, component jacks, coaxial and toslink legacy audio outputs, an Ethernet port and 2-channel analog stereo jacks. No RS232C or IR remote inputs are available to the rear, nor are any multichannel analog jacks. Alongside the player itself, a remote, a standard manual, a set of composite cables, and a standard A/C power cable – circular on both sides to match the player’s power input -- have been included.
JVC’s remote may look (and feel) like standard fare, but it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve. It measures pretty close to six (6) inches and weighs very little, which makes it somewhat comfortable yet flimsy in the hand. The Play / Pause / FF-RW buttons are all in blue near the center of the unit, directly above the “circular” bezel navigation buttons at the center – though they’re more diamond-shaped that circular. Small blip buttons for Home / Disc Menu / Display / and Return adorn the corners of the remote, while the Audio, Subtitle, and Title/-Pop-Up menu button adorn the spaced directly underneath. Hitting the display button will show the type of audio file in-use, but it will not show the type of video codec for Blu-rays. For reference, the remote’s buttons are not iridescent (glow in the dark) or backlit, so nighttime / dark room use could be problematic.
At the very bottom portion of the remote, directly underneath the RGBY color buttons, a few notable additions have been included that add a bit of function to the remote’s blasé form. One of which is a Resolution toggle, where the output can be adjusted on the fly during a program. The other, one of the nicer selling points to this middle-tier player, is a Zoom feature that allows for zooming of standard-definition material – thus making non-anamorphic DVDs properly zoomed to an appropriate size for the screen. For those who still own a collection of non-16x9 DVDs, the prospect of an internal zoom device is a pleasant addition. Also, this remote can control channel changing, volume, and input properties on applicable JVC televisions.
If you’re looking for a player with wide adjustment capabilities and a deep user interface, then steer away from the XV-BP1; though, its limited tailoring is backed up by fine out-of-the-box performance. By pressing the Home Menu, or allowing the features to load for themselves if a disc isn’t present in the player, a simple menu with four options – Movie, Photo, Music, and Setup – loads on the screen against JVC’s attractive wallpaper options. Accessing the Setup Menu opens the option to adjust six different functions: Display, Language, Audio, Lock, Network, and Others. Each one merely offers the bare-bones in molding the player to the user’s home theater environment, such as setting resolution, screen shape, and electing whether to use 24hz output in the Display menu, and HDMI Pass-Through / Encoding, Sampling Frequency (up to 192kHz), and Dynamic Range Control under Audio.
The realm of the reference Blu-ray player can be a fickle one nowadays, where a home theater enthusiast is asked to take an even larger leap of faith above the rest of the pack for incremental improvements. However, it’s these nudges upwards in quality that create an even more satisfying experience, which is the climate where Denon’s Reference DBP-4010UDCI Universal Blu-ray player makes its entrance. For a $2,000 list price, you’re going to get a rather impressive-performing audiovisual Blu-ray device; however, the price tags also comes with a few hindrances that’ll squelch a good bit of HD-ready eagerness, namely some time-lagged quirks under the hood and some aesthetic grievances that shouldn’t be experienced with such a esteemed piece of equipment. Still, the precision once up and roaring is exceptional, boasting the advanced-performing quality with Anchor Bay Technology’s VRS video processor and dual 32-bit DDSC-HD bass processors that you’d expect from the high-end company. It stands behind its “universal” claim to handle just about any disc thrown in the machine, rendering itself into a sluggish yet stellar device.
Out of the Box:
Denon’s line of receivers have always been rather large and heavy, something that the aurally-proficient company has carried over into their flagship Blu-ray player. However, they’ve also got a vein of attractiveness that almost justifies the bulk. The DBP-4010UDCI towers at 5 and a half inches tall and clocks in at roughly 23 pounds, easily making it one of the tallest and heaviest players around. It’s obviously constructed with the mind that it’ll be paired with other Denon products in an adjustable rack, seeing as how the height could be problematic in almost any space designated in a media center for a Blu-ray/DVD deck. It’s sporting the classy brushed aesthetic that’s become the norm for Denon’s electronics as of late, as well as being overwhelming solid with its construction – weighty, sure, but certainly constructed to last for quite a long time. Denon have also included an Ethernet cable, heavy duty composite / stereo cables (one white-red stereo, one composite video), a thick PC-style power cable, a rather large remote (more on that later), and a dense owner’s manual in both English and French.
Along with being eye-catching at the front, the interface at the front of Denon’s player is also pleasingly streamlined. At the lower left is a standard power button that glows a dim green when powered on, as well as manual toggles for Disc Layer, Pure Direct, and HDMI Resolution. Indicator lights hover above those for Clock Control, Denon Link, and Advanced AL24 (essentially standing for Advanced Analog 24 for improved 24-bit PCM output), while the standard array of Elect, Stop, Fast Forward, Pause, and Source buttons are available on the right-hand side. At the center lies the Display, which contains indicators for HD Resolution Audio being active, Super Audio CD, DVD/CD, Blu-ray discs and SD Memory Card usage. When the disc tray is ejected, you’ll notice a “gripping” rubbery material that holds the disc in place as it makes its way into the machine. It’s an attentive earmark that lowers the concern of scuffed discs, as well as adding satisfying, sturdy rigidity to the flexibility of the tray.
Denon’s consideration for inputs in their receivers can be clearly seen in the satisfying array of inputs on the rear of the DBP-4010UDCI. As to be expected, an HDMI port can be found alongside Digital Out in both Toslink/Optical and coaxial varieties, as well as two Ethernet style ports – one for actual Ethernet usage, and the other for usage with the Denon Link functionality. Lower-grade video resolution outputs are also available, in Component and S-Video/Composite out jacks. Also included, however, are a dense handful of analog jacks, one series for 7.1 audio out and the other for separate 2-channel stereo functionality. And, pleasantly, IR remote control and RS-232C jacks have been made available for usage with universal remotes. For the purposes of the bulk of this review, a 1.3b HDMI cable was sent to Onkyo’s bitstream-capable TX-SR605 and then routed to LG’s 55LH40 LCD.
Denon has made it pretty clear that they had the usage of their DBP-4010UDCI with universal remotes in mind, because their RC-1140 remote device is an unpleasant clunker. Its size rivals the likes of Motorola’s cable box remote, measuring at 9 inches in length and nearly an inch and a half thick at its deepest. Though the bulk of Denon’s remote adds to the awkwardness, the weight and curvature doesn’t help; when in-hand, it’s simply uncomfortable to try and flip through the array of buttons. The layout is pretty standard, with Resolution/HDMI mode toggles near the top with the two Power On and Power Off buttons (yep, two separate buttons) , with the circular spindle at the center for directional / setup navigation and standard program progression (Play, Pause, FF/RW) buttons nearing the bottom. Of note, there’s also a Dimmer button to lower visibility of the player’s LED display, a Picture Adjust button to select the “picture mode” elected for usage with the player, and a Disc Layer button to toggle between layers on SACD and such. Note that a backlight has not been included on this remote, but the buttons are made with brightly luminescent glow-in-the-dark material.
Diving underneath the hood of the Denon DBP-4010UDCI with their gracefully-flowing GUI offers a fine array of tailoring options to both visual and sound elements. HDMI Setup allows for adjustments to DeepColor (On/Off), Audio signal translation (LPCM, 2CH, Mute), SACD Audio Out (On/Off), HDMI Control, changing between Max Resolution and Panel Resolution, I/P direct conversion of 24fps, and a toggle for RGB Normal/Enhanced and YCbCr Color Space. Under TV Setup, we can tailor the Aspect Ratio of the television (16x9 Squeeze/WIDE, 4x3 Pan and Scan/Letterbox)), the Component output’s resolution (480i/p, 720p, 1080i), Progressive Mode and TV Active Area. Mostly, these are straightforward adjustments that were optimized for the purposes of this review – maximum resolution, Deep Color enabled, etc.
Panasonic’s DMP-BD60K Blu-ray player features a solid lineup of features at a fairly reasonable price. It’s not going to blow anyone away, but at an MSRP of $199, it doesn’t need to.
The BD60K does most of what we’ve come to expect from a low to mid priced Blu-ray player. It outputs video at a 1080p resolution at 24 frames per second. That includes upconverted standard definition DVDs. It offers support for Deep Color and x.v. Color, and has a few features to clean up and enhance video further.
The audio side is fairly standard as well. The DMP-BD60K supports decoding and bitstream output of Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD. It has a range of audio manipulation functions such as Dialogue Enhancer, Night Surround Mode and Dynamic range Compression.
A common complaint about the BD60 is the lack of Netflix streaming video. While it does currently lack a way to access the service, Panasonic’s VIERA CAST package does include Amazon Video on Demand and YouTube. A built-in Ethernet port supplies the connection for both VIERA CAST and BD-Live.
Files can also be viewed from a networked computer or from an attached USB device. The DMP-BD60K has a limited amount of compatibility with common files though. It will play back MP3 audio files without a problem, which should satisfy most users, but the only video files supported are AVCHD and MPEG2.
Load times are also a factor in reviews of the DMP-BD60K. Load times are typically a bit longer than those of similarly priced players. Video and audio quality are said to be excellent for a player in the sub $200 range.
The Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-ray player is available now from Panasonic and other retailers for an MSRP of $199.95.