[Update 12/30/9: After using my BD390 for six months I wrote a new post about it’s Netflix feature.]
I’ve had my LG Blu-Ray player for ten days now, and I’m learning a lot about this specific player, and Blu-Ray players in general. I had been waiting for the price of a Blu-Ray machine to fall below $200 before buying, which it had, but I ended up spending $150 more for my player because I wanted Draft-N wireless built in, which only LG was offering. I wanted a Samsung player, like my TV, but Samsung only offered wireless-G that plugged in as a dongle, which I gave a Bronx cheer to as a buying option.
Networking speed is everything. For the first six days of owning my LG machine I was totally delighted with the built-in Netflix feature. I was getting the HD bar on their little connection meter, and content looked fabulous. Then Memphis was hit by a storm that knocked out the power to 129,000 homes (luckily, not mine this time), and networking hasn’t been the same since. This isn’t LG’s fault, and I hope Comcast will eventually recover, but this lesson from nature has taught me something significant. Without a very fast broadband connection, don’t count on those extra features of Blu-Ray players that make them cost more.
There are many factors to networking speed. First, is the wireless speed between the device and your wireless router. Draft-N is the fastest, and I think this speed is needed for streaming video well. Then there’s the speed between your house and the Internet. With Cable Internet, this varies greatly. Finally, there is the speed of the video servers. If those machines are hammered, things will be slow no matter how fast the other two connections.
Each evening since the storm, I’ve selected something from my Netflix menu only to be told that my connection was too slow and the machine asked me if I wanted to try anyway. After hopefully answering yes on several nights, I’ve learned to just say no. Movies and TV shows that were once quick to load and beautiful to look at were now almost impossible to load and horrible to watch. Bummer.
I’m not an early adopter, and after several years of Blu-Ray refinements, I had hoped things would be smooth sailing by now. Not so. My wife keeps asking me why I don’t take the LG back. She complained that her DVDs looked better on the old DVD player. The Gilmore Girls jittered. I could see it too. And I had read on the Amazon reviews many complaints about playing DVDs on the LG player, whereas many reviewers said old DVDs looked great. I got into the setup and changed the screen resolution to automatic, and Susan’s problems disappeared. That’s one of the many hassles of digital TV, matching the resolution of the content to the resolution set on the TV. I had set the LG to 1080p, wanting to get the max out of my Blu-Ray discs. The TV was set to 4:3 for playing DVD TV shows.
So my advice to people getting into this Blu-Ray game is to expect a learning curve. They aren’t as easy to use as DVD players with old-style analog TVs. And I also say “buyer beware” to people wanting those new gee-whiz features.
I really wanted Pandora streaming music, a feature offered on Samsung players. I even wrote LG to see if they were working on it. Here’s my plea: “Will the BD 390 be upgraded to handle Pandora streaming music, and Amazon Unbox video?” Here is LG’s short answer after editing out the flowery marketing speak: “Unfortunately this unit does not handle Pandora that is a feature of one of our new home theater systems.” I would have thought their fancy Blu-Ray player was part of their home theater system. At least I got my reply within 24 hours.
If I had seen LG’s support page before buying the player, I don’t think I would have bought my player. It doesn’t offer system updates for downloading, or any information about updates. The unit itself has a menu option for checking for updates, but that only works if you have the box networked or if put the update on a USB drive and feed it to your machine directly. But how do you get those updates if the support page doesn’t offer them? I was also wanting a user forum on the support page. A Blu-Ray player is essentially a computer. It has tremendous potential for expansion. Many great equipment sites have these kinds of features on their support site.
Forums are especially useful because volunteer tech-wizards will offer hard won discovery tips, and company techs will add inside knowledge. I get the feeling LG wants people to accept what’s listed on the box as the only features their machine will ever have. They are missing a marketing advantage by not promoting such goodwill. The menu on the LD BD390 has 8 icons, with room for 4 more without reducing the size of the current icons. They could squeeze 20 icons easily onto the screen if needed, offering 20 super features.
These machines are computers, and adding features is like loading software and updating the menu. LG could offer Pandora, Amazon Unbox, Rhapsody Music, Lala.com, iTunes, Hulu.com, and many other multimedia networked services. And maybe they will. The BD 390 is new. I’m going to be pissed off though if they sell the same box labeled the BD 490 with those features. If I see that, I won’t be buying LG anymore.
For now, I’m not going to take my player back. It does what was advertised on the box, although the box should have had in very big letters, a warning that these features need a very fast Internet connection and without such a fast connection these fancy features will suck. Many people are going to be disappointed. Probably only the top cable and DSL speeds will offer pleasing results. Doesn’t Korea have the best broadband in the world? Their marketing execs need broadband simulator for the other countries they sell to, so as to get an idea of how their products will perform in different markets.
I hope my very fast Comcast connection comes back. [Comcast contacted me because of this blog and reset my modem, and I’m getting 17-20 Mb/s download speeds and the Netflix feature is back to producing excellent results. Thanks Melissa, I’m happy with my LG again, and impressed with Comcast’s service, let’s hope LG might be reading blogs too.]
But the future development of Blu-Ray players that have networked features is illustrated by my desire to have Rhapsody support. I have a separate device, a Roku SoundBridge M1001 that supports getting music off my computer that is stored in Windows Media, iTunes and Rhapsody. The LG BD390 sees the Windows Media, but supports another media server, Nero, and doesn’t see iTunes or Rhapsody. Roku now makes a Netflix/Amazon Unbox decoder. Apple makes a AppleTV device. How many boxes will I need to buy for my den to work with my TV and stereo setup? How many HDMI connections and combinations of HDMI connections will that take? How many surround sound connections to my receiver will I need?
The solution is one box. And the obvious place for that box, is the Blu-Ray player. I waited out the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray fight for the winner to emerge, but now it seems many other contenders must duke it out. There are already several online video distributors, and many music services. Right now it’s like buying a different brand of TV for each TV network you want to watch, and a different radio for each music station you want to play.
If you’re sitting at your computer you can take advantage of all of these offerings. That’s because a computer is a general purpose device. We need to think of the box we hook up to our TV as a general purpose device, and a Blu-Ray player is a computer. They should be upgradable by software, so each quarter, as manufacturers make marketing deals, they can upgrade their players to offer more choices.
Here’s a specific example of my problem. I discovered a new musical group I like, The Kings of Leon on Lala.com. I then went to Zune Marketplace and added their album to my Zune to play on my trip to Birmingham, Alabama. When I got home I wanted to play them on my big stereo in my den. I have Rhapsody set up to do this, but I had switched the optical fiber audio connector to my LG BD390 player, so my SoundBridge M1001 wasn’t hooked up. I went to Target to buy the CD so I could rip it and put it on my computer so the BD 390 could see it. Target was out of the CDs. I already have rights to play this CD on two paid subscription services, but I was willing to buy it on CD so it would work with my new LG BD 390, but that didn’t work out. So I shifted the optical fiber cable from the LG to the SoundBridge and played the CD. When I want to watch a movie, I’ll have to shift the fiber audio cable back.
If the LG supported Rhapsody, Zune or Lala, I could have played it through the Blu-Ray box as it was set up. By the way, even though my connection isn’t fast enough for streaming video from Netflix, it’s perfectly fine for streaming music. The Kings of Leon sounded great. I may still buy the CD to hear them in their best sound quality, but my SACD CD player won’t work if the LG BD 390 is connected because my receiver won’t take 5.1 RCA connection setup from my CD player and optical fiber input by the LG at the same time. The LG will play a normal CD, but it doesn’t support SACD, an orphan technology that I need to keep the old SACD CD player around to play my handful of SACDs. The LG could have offered SACD and DVD-Audio support.
Sometimes I want to just give up on technology for five years, and come back and see if the Geeks of Earth have worked everything out. Man, the Amish must have it easy.
JWH – 6/18/9
Update 6/19/9: Melissa at Comcast posted a reply to this blog offering help, and my network is working perfectly again. The Netflix feature is back too, and this has a lot of implications. I’m on Netflix’s unlimited 1 disc out at a time subscription, but with this new feature I can watch as many TV and movies I want from their Watch Now list. I’ve converted all my queue to Blu-Ray discs. I read customer reviews of the Roku Netflix box on Amazon, and many say how streaming Netflix movies and TV shows have changed the way they do things. One thing they do is to cut their Netflix subscription down to 1 disc out at a time, and many talked about canceling their cable TV. Streaming Netflix, when it works right is a game-changer. I know, for the most part, I’ve stopped buying DVDs because of Netflix, and I won’t be buying Blu-Ray discs, because I can get them from Netflix too. We know Comcast is reading this too. I wonder if they will change the way they offer content. Instead of me buying a zillion channels, I’ll pay a few and stream just the shows I want to watch. Streaming content could mean the end of networks.