If you don't want the hassle of buying a separate Blu-ray player, surround-sound amp and speaker set-up, then going for a home-cinema kit like the LG HB954PB might appeal. Priced at around £600, it aims to provide everything you need, bar a big-screen TV, to make the most of your movie and music collection.
Top of the line
The HB954PB sits at the very top of LG's current line-up of home-cinema systems, and packs in plenty of features. The main unit includes not just a Blu-ray player, but also a surround-sound amp, FM radio tuner, iPod dock and 5.1-channel speaker set-up.
The main unit has a pretty standard glossy black finish, but there's also a metallic blue hue underneath the Blu-ray disc tray. This is carried over to the champagne-flute-shaped front speakers. It certainly adds extra interest to the design, but we think it looks overly showy.
Setting up the system is relatively straightforward, as LG has colour-coded the cables. Unlike high-end systems from the likes of Sony and Panasonic, however, there's no automatic calibration feature, so you have to manually tweak speaker distances and levels.
Blu-ray playback is this system's key feature, and it puts in an impressive performance. It's quick to load discs and, as it conforms to the latest Blu-ray spec, it lets you download BD-Live content, as long as you hook it up to your broadband connection via the Ethernet socket on the rear. Playback quality is excellent. The player produces really crisp and sharp pictures, with bags of detail and really naturally-looking colours. It also handles motion beautifully.
On the audio side, the system's 5.1-channel speaker set-up comprises four satellite speakers and a centre speaker that kick out 155W each, plus a passive subwoofer that delivers 225W, which all adds up to 1,000W of neighbour-bothering noise. Audio is at its best when the player is decoding movies with either Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD lossless soundtracks.
Fed with a good source, you really get to appreciate the system's clean and crisp high- and mid-range performance. It's simply great at handling effects like bullets whizzing around your ears during the final, ridiculously violent shoot-out scene in Rambo. The subwoofer isn't perhaps quite as tight and well-integrated into the soundscape as it could be, but, overall, the HB954PB puts in a fine sonic performance, especially as it has easily enough power output to fill even the largest of front rooms.
Along with a Blu-ray player, the system also has a decent on-board FM tuner and a useful iPod dock. The iPod dock, which is mounted on a pop-out panel at the front of the main unit, is compatible with all the latest models, including the iPod touch and iPhone. Once your player is in place, you can control it via the main unit's remote.
The HB954PB also has a USB port that can be used to play DivX movies or listen to music in the MP3 or unprotected WMA formats. DivX movies are, unfortunately, limited to standard-definition resolutions, so 720p and 1080p files can't be played. It's also a shame that you can't stream movies or audio across a network to the player. If you do hook the player up to broadband via its Ethernet port, you can view and search for videos on the YouTube service via a small, easy-to-use applet that sits on the player's home screen.
LG recognises that most people will have a range of other kit that they'll want to hook up to the system, so it's provided two HMDI inputs on the rear. That means you can pump through other sources, like a Sky+HD box or PlayStation 3, to take advantage of the surround-sound decoding.
We're not overly keen on the metallic blue effect on the speakers, but, in most other respects, the LG HB954PB is a fine home-cinema kit. It's easy to use, packed with features, and its combination of great video-playback quality and impressive sound means it'll truly do your movie collection justice.
Edited by Charles Kloet