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PJM Lifestyle

by
Ed Driscoll

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January 25, 2012 - 9:51 pm

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.)

Excellent Multimedia Features

One of the reasons why I purchased the LG BD670 was that PC World raved about its multimedia capabilities:

The BD670 offers a cornucopia of Internet-based entertainment. These items include Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube, three pay-per-view services (Amazon, CinemaNow, and Vudu), Google Maps, MLB.tv, Pandora, and Picasa. In an area called LG Apps, you can download streaming apps, many of them child-oriented, with names such as Horror Party and Stephanie’s Image. LG has built in the capability to add more services in the future.

Unfortunately, the BD670 uses an ugly, difficult, and annoying YouTube interface (which happens to be YouTube’s own). When you select YouTube, it immediately starts playing a video, and not necessarily the one you want to see. The video is always full-screen, too, despite the fact that many YouTube videos look horrible that way.

If you’d rather not watch YouTube, you can enjoy your own music, photos, and videos via USB storage devices (such as flash drives) or over your local network. The BD670 can play MP3 and WMA music. If you don’t want to bore your friends too much with your vacation photos, the BD670 has some decent slideshow capabilities, but they’re not exceptional; for instance, it offers only three transitions. The player also supports a limited number of video formats, which you’ll find listed on page 10 of the electronic manual.

In addition to that manual, the bundled CD offers Nero MediaHome 4 Essentials, a DLNA server program that you can use to stream content from your PC to the player. You don’t need it, though, since Windows Media Player can do the same job just fine. I had no trouble viewing and listening to media on my computer via the network.

Once I connected the LG BD670 to my LAN, I was able to second those emotions. The unit’s default wallpaper was a handsome illustration of a desktop with a nice hot cup of coffee in the corner. Once I set-up the DLNA on the computer hosting my 400 or so albums, the LG BD670 was quickly able to find them, and play my selections. Steely Dan’s Aja, even as a high-res MP3, sounded terrific on my home theater’s surround sound system. Between the ability play CDs, and all of the MP3s on your household LAN, the LG BD670 could replace a few pieces of technology in your home theater. Your CD player, your first-generation DVD player, and a multimedia bridge you might have purchased a few years ago could be rendered superfluous, thus freeing up valuable space in your equipment rack, and inputs in your A/V receiver.

To connect the player to your TV and/or A/V receiver, tthe back of the LG BD670 has outputs for HDMI, component video, optical (Toslink) digital out, an Ethernet jack, and a Wi-Fi input. There’s a USB plug on the front for a flash drive, to quickly play MP3s or viewing photos.

For those who also own an LG TV, the LG BD670’s supplied remote has auxiliary controls to turn the TV on, switch its inputs, and control its volume and channels.

As I mentioned in my review of the Roku XS unit, 15 years ago, the buzzword  in the home theater industry was convergence. Today, it’s sort of the opposite: the 21st century media room is essentially a de facto personal computer in deconstructed form, but with the emphasis on kicking back on the sofa in front of a giant TV, rather than leaning forward staring into a small monitor. And the LG BD670 goes far in bringing the two worlds together – connecting your PC to your media room, and making your media room a bit smarter in the process. Currently selling for a hundred and twenty five bucks on Amazon, the LG BD670 is highly recommended.

Blogging since 2002, affiliated with PJM since 2005, where he is currently a columnist, San Jose Editor, and founder of PJM's Lifestyle blog. Over the past 15 years, Ed has contributed articles to National Review Online, the Weekly Standard.com, Right Wing News, the New Individualist, Blogcritics, Modernism, Videomaker, Servo, Audio/Video Interiors, Electronic House, PC World, Computer Music, Vintage Guitar, and Guitar World.
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