I woke up this morning, got the newspaper, and opened the ads to discover that the 40th Anniversary Edition of Woodstock the music documentary is to be released on Tuesday. Hot-damn. Not only that, but a special edition with even more un-shown acts was coming out on the Blu-Ray version. I’ve been wanting a Blu-Ray player for years, but have been waiting for the price to come down. I got on Amazon and found out if I ordered my copy of Woodstock from them they’d include a bonus disc with even more un-shown acts from that famous three days of love, happiness and mud, so I ended up buying my first Blu-Ray content before I actually owned a player.
I jumped on Google and started researching players. I figured I’d want to be at Best Buy by 11am to get one, no use wasting any more time. But which Blu-Ray player to buy? I assumed I’d get a Samsung, since I’ve been a Samsung kind of guy for awhile now, but after reading many reviews I decided to give the LG BD390 a try. It was $150 more than what I wanted to pay for my first Blu-Ray player, but it had wireless draft-N built in, whereas the Samsung used a USB plug-in wireless-G dongle. The reviews and specs were more favorable to the LG. Samsung had one thing I really wanted, Pandora streaming, but because of the funky wireless and more complaints, I was pushed to try out LG for the first time in my life.
I decided to pay the extra $150 for the nicer machine because it had wireless-N built in, so I wouldn’t have to run an Ethernet cable across my attic and down two walls. Because the BD390 had 1gb of flash memory built in, so I didn’t have to buy a USB flash drive that stuck out the back of the player to store configuration data and other digital junk within the Blu-Ray unit. Because it had a Netflix decoder, so I could stop wanting the $99 Roku Netflix player. And finally, because it had media player support so I it might replace my SoundBridge 1001 and have a visual interface for looking up music to play on my stereo in the den.
I was at Best Buy by 11:07, and out by 11:27. I grabbed the BD390 and gazed at the Blu-Ray movie selection, settling on the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Matrix as my test disc. I got home and detached my Samsung up-converting DVD player/recorder, and attached the BD390 and put in The Matrix. Total breeze. Set the player to 1080p – the first time I saw media in this mode on my Samsung HDTV, which had been a buying point two years earlier.
Then I used the menu to tell the BD390 about my wireless system, which worked immediately. I had remembered my secret security code okay, which made me feel good, since I’m forgetting so much now-a-days. I then told the new LG player to update itself, which it did. Again, a breeze.
After the update, I click over to the Netflix menu and the LG told me a 4 digit code to go enter at the Netflix web site. I went back to my computer room, brought up Netflix, told them I was willing to spend $3 a month extra to add Blu-Ray discs to my queue, put in the code at /activate, added a few Blu-Ray titles to my growing queue and went back to the den to check on the BD390. All the Play Now movies that were in my queue were now listed on my HDTV screen. So I played the second episode from Star Trek, the original series, called “Charlie X.” It was beautiful. I’m thinking the Netflix streaming episode might have been from the newly re-mastered Blu-Ray episodes, but I don’t know for sure. Netflix streamed perfectly and the video quality was excellent.
Many reviewers of the BD390 complained of having trouble setting up the media server. I checked the menu and my Windows Media server was showing up, but it wouldn’t let me access it. I took the computer install disc that came with the BD390 for Nero MediaHome 4 back to my computer room and installed it on my desktop with all my media files. After a quick install the program scanned my computer for photos, videos and songs. I went back to the den and found several folders of media, including 18,000 MP3 songs. This was under the Nero MediaHome 4 server. Still couldn’t get into Windows Media server that was also listed – I had two media servers in the menu now.
Went back to my computer room and installed the update to Nero MediaHome 4, which messed up the original setup. I ran the update again and got the program running for the second time, but had to re-scan the folders for my media again. Damn, it takes awhile. Went back to the den. This time I could see into both media servers, but the Windows Media files loaded far slower, and had interruptions when playing, whereas the Nero MediaHome 4 folders opened faster and played files flawlessly.
Now for my first complaints. Nero MediaHome 4 is simple, but not elegant, although it plays the files perfectly so far. But with 629 artists and 18,000 songs, jumping to a particular cut involves a lot of menu clicking. I quickly discovered that I could search by artist by displaying 5 large folder icons, or 14 medium-sized folder icons, or 40 small folder icons at a time, by cycling through the Display button. Page down, page down, page down… through 629 artists even at 40 at a time takes awhile. LG needs to add a A-Z selector. The media librarian is spartan, but works. I’d like to see LG add a lot of polish to it, and I hope it can be done through firmware updates.
When you get to an artist’s folder, you’d think you’d see photos of all the albums, and the LG might eventually load them all and show them, but not while I waited. The album covers get displayed when you open an album folder and then the album art is repeated for each song, so it looks stupid. There are 14 tiny photos of Blonde on Blonde covers listing the songs to my favorite Dylan album. Why not show the album covers to each album once in the artist folder? And then just list the tracks by track number within the album folder?
Selecting music through the LG Blu-Ray menu is far nicer than looking up albums on the tiny LED readout of the SoundBridge 1001, but it’s not as fast. Using an iPhone app on my touch is even faster managing the SoundBridge, and using a software program on my laptop is even faster still, but keeping those two machines on and charged in the den is a pain. So is using 4 remotes to get everything turned on and ready for watching a movie or listening to a song. (Cable, TV, LG, Receiver).
The Nero MediaHome 4 also found my the movies I had bought and downloaded from Amazon Unbox, but it wouldn’t play them. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if LG worked with Amazon like it does with Netflix? The BD390 does show CinemaNow rental movies and free YouTube clips as part of its menu. The is so much technical potential out there, but it all needs to work together. One player should be able to be a front-end for many online stores. Who wants to own a device for all the different online movie outlets, much less all the online music stores.
I’m hoping LG will add Pandora, and even Rhapsody to their firmware via an upgrade, but this is probably wishful thinking. Maybe ten years into the future I’ll have one TV, one box and one remote, and life will be simple. I wish my Comcast DVR/cable box had everything built into it, so I didn’t need anything extra. I fantasize about having a DRV with 2gb of storage, a Blu-Ray player and burner, a built in Surround Sound receiver/amp, a media extender for my computer files, all working perfectly integrated and controlled by a single elegant remote. Ha-ha, dream on kid, what a fanciful fantasy.
I suppose someday 1080p video will be streamed, and Netflix will offer absolutely everything in streaming mode. And Rhapsody Music will also stream through the same box. And I wouldn’t have to worry about owning movies, TV shows or songs. Just rent everything and select it from a menu.
I decided I couldn’t wait for Netflix to ship me more Blu-Ray movies, so I went to Target this afternoon and bought Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp for $15, the only movie that I’d wanted to keep that was cheap enough to consider. Both films look beautiful at 1080p, but not stunning like I’ve seen some Blu-Ray movies look at Best Buy. I’m used to 1080i and 720p high definition and to be honest I could probably live with that quality of video for the rest of my life. Blu-Ray is much better than up-scaled DVDs though, and now that special content is coming out for Blu-Ray, I’m happy that I bought a player. I’m looking forward to re-watching Battlestar Galactica on Blu-Ray, and if Netflix offers that new Neil Young retrospective box set on Blu-Ray, I’m anxious to see it, but I wouldn’t spend the money to own it. I was happy to spend $48 for Woodstock though, or at least I hope it will live up to my expectations of having a nostalgia summer, because it’s the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, my high school graduation, and Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Maybe NASA will offer a Blu-Ray retrospective this summer too.
Part 2 of my review…