LG has gone to town on features, throwing in all the cutting-edge gubbins you’d find on its standalone Blu-ray decks. Most importantly it includes built-in Wi-Fi, which cuts out the cost of buying a USB dongle and the inconvenience of hooking up an Ethernet cable.
This web connection makes it possible to access Smart TV, LG’s internet content portal, which delivers premium video streaming and a range of other games, puzzles and lifestyle services designed to keep you entertained in between Blu-ray movies. These are split into ‘Premium’ and ‘LG Apps’ sections – the former offers BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Acetrax Movies, Picasa, Viewster, vTuner, Dailymotion, Google Maps, I-Play TV, CineTrailer, AccuWeather, Funspot, AUPEO! and MLB.TV.
Additionally the soundbar is DLNA certified and can stream content from servers on your home network (HomeLink). That includes movies, music and photos, and it’s a hugely convenient way of enjoying your media. Alternatively you can load files onto a USB storage device or external HD and play them that way. Either way the system supports such formats as MKV, DivX HD, AVCHD, WMV, MP4, AVI, MP3, WMA and AAC.
The BB5521A also features Wi-Fi Direct – which means it can talk to Wi-Fi devices without a router in sight – and with LG’s remote app downloaded onto your iPhone, iPad or Android device, you can use it to control the system. What’s more the system will also play 3D Blu-ray discs, as well as upscaling DVDs to 1080p.
As for audio features, there’s a bunch of ‘Sound Effect’ presets designed to enhance movie and music playback. These include Natural, Bass (which boosts low frequencies, natch), Clear Voice (for dialogue based material), Virtual (generates a surround-like effect), Night, Game, Upscaler (which aims to enhance high-frequencies), Loudness and User EQ, which lets you tweak the sound using an onscreen graphic equaliser across seven different frequency bands.
You can also tweak the individual channel levels by hitting the Speaker Level button on the remote – up pops an onscreen menu showing level bars for each of the five channels. There’s no automatic calibration, so you’ll have to rely on your ears to get the balance just right. You’ll find further lip sync correction in the setup menu to correct timing issues.
Elsewhere the LG is a cinch to use, thanks largely to its incredibly attractive and friendly onscreen menus. The Home menu is a fine example of this. Drenched in bold primary colours, the graphics and icons are instantly appealing, but the clear, spacious layout and clear and quick-moving cursor keep frustration from the door.
From here you can choose the type of content you want to view – Movie, Music, Photo and so on. Select one and a second menu shows you which connected devices contain that type of content (network, USB, Blu-ray, iPod etc). You can also visit the setup menu, which is simple to navigate with its classic left-to-right submenu structure. The DLNA media menus are gorgeous, showing album art where available (even over a network) and listing tracks in alphabetical order. It can get a little confusing finding specific tracks amid large libraries, but you can filter by album, artist, genre and so forth.
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Another nice touch is the Gracenote-powered Music ID service, which lets you look up info about songs you’re playing and displays cover art and metadata when you load a CD.
Elsewhere the Smart TV and LG Apps menus look great. The former superimposes logos for each service over a full colour background of a grassy park, while the latter’s icons are lined up on shelves, as if you’re browsing them in a shop. Nice.
The remote is a stylish device, using an all-too-rare silver finish with chunky rubber buttons embedded into it. They’re nicely separated into groups, clearly labelled and placed for maximum thumb-venience. The direction pad and ‘Enter’ key have a satisfying click to them too. It’s dotted with keys that give direct access to often-used functions, while a cluster at the bottom allows you to control LG TVs. But as we mentioned, you can ditch this remote for your iPad, iPhone or Android phone if you prefer.