To give you a sense of how far video technology has advanced, and how far prices have plummeted, let’s first go back to the mid-1990s. Back then, Pioneer Elite’s CLD-97 laser video disc player was one of the finest video playback systems a consumer could buy. Selling at about $2500, it weighed 37 pounds and its exterior case featured a sleek, rich piano black finish with rosewood side panels. With the right source material, it was capable – for its time – of a stunning picture, and can be seen as one of the last steps in the 12-inch laser disc’s evolution before the 4.7-inch DVD came along in the US back in 1997.
But that’s all Jurassic-era history. Currently selling for $124.77 on Amazon, the LG BD670 3D Wireless Network Blu-ray Disc Player with Smart TV leaves the $2500 CLD-97’s picture quality in the dust. And unlike the home theater technology of the 1990s, it’ll talk to your home’s local area network, too.
Amongst the formats it supports, the LG BD670 is capable of playing high-definition Blu-Ray discs, which output up to a 1920×1080 picture, plus 3d Blu-Ray discs, conventional DVDs, compact audio discs (CDs), WMA, and MP3s . We’ll get to those last two in just a minute.
The LG BD670 does a very good job of upconverting most DVDs before outputting them to an HD television. I wrote my recent review of Boardwalk Empire based on standard definition DVDs played through the LG BD670 on a 55-inch LCD TV and thought, man, this picture looks great. Of course, when the Blu-Ray review copy finally arrived from HBO, I was blown away by how sharp it was; you could discern the weave in Nucky’s proto-zoot suit. Or read the text on the bottles of Pimm’s No. 1 he procures for a politician he’s bribing. Watching Apocalypse Now in Blu-Ray, it was possible to read the “Winston” script on the band of Martin Sheen’s cigarette while he was taking a drag. On some films, this can lend dramatic differences in perception. The pace of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times over the past decades, on pan & scan VHS, a couple of different letterboxed laser discs, DVD, and on a few rare occasions in revival theaters, seemed noticeably faster. The difference was that I could make out the myriad fine details embedded into every shot as eye candy. And I could watch Keir Dullea – almost always photographed in long and medium shots to frame him in his environment – act. It was a potent reminder of how much is lost, even on high-quality playback systems such as anamorphic standard definition DVD.
Speaking of which, the results can vary in quality when watching a standard definition DVD on the LG BD670. I already mentioned the anamorphic standard-definition DVD version of Boardwalk Empire. But plenty of DVDs have been released in TV’s traditional 4X3 format. My DVDs of the legendary early-1970s Thames TV series The World at War probably looked their very best on the LG BD670, but there’s only so much its electronics can do for a series consisting of alternating WWII newsreel footage and 16mm interviews. The worst offender I’ve seen so far was my first generation DVD of the 1989 Michael Douglas, Ridley Scott potboiler Black Rain, which Paramount issued in letterboxed non-anamorphic format shortly after the DVD format debuted. All of the smoke and diffusion in the cinematography made for a muddy, pixilated image after so many lines of resolution were lost in the letterboxing format. (Fortunately, it’s now out on Blu-Ray.)
(Disclosure: my LCD TV doesn’t have 3D, and I’m not a fan any format that requires me to wear extra glasses over my own glasses, so I did not test any 3D discs.)