Getting good sound out of Blu-ray is harder than getting good pictures. Most televisions will make 1080p video look superb, but sound doesn't come as easily. That's where devices like LG's £450 HLB545 come in -- a 2.1 system with separate wireless subwoofer that features a built-in Blu-ray player as well as a host of media-streaming options.
It's not cheap, but if you're looking for a Blu-ray player and want to improve your audio, it's likely to be an attractive option. LG points out that it's designed for smaller rooms, so perhaps people looking for a device for the bedroom, or students, will take an interest. Whoever you are, and whatever you're planning to do with it, read on to find out if it's worth your money.
Geek chic styling
Visually, we like what we see here. The main unit looks quite compact, and the only bulge in its lines is at the point where the disc mechanism is. Even so, the system looks lovely from the front.
A simple display gives you useful information and some cool red and blue lights that indicate when the HLB545 is starting up, or in standby. The red one looks like a static Cylon eye, so it gets extra geek points for that.
The remote is simple to use, for the most part, although the system isn't all that responsive to remote commands. We like the on-screen menus, too, which are stylish and pleasant to use.
Setting the HLB545 up is, at most, a five-minute job. Assuming you've got somewhere to rest it, all you need to do is connect it to the mains and your TV. If you have other hardware that you want to connect to the LG, there are two HDMI inputs and an optical-digital input. There's also a stereo 3.5mm jack, which you can use to connect an MP3 player.
Because the subwoofer is wireless, all you need to do is find a plug socket in the same room as your TV and you're good to go. We loved this, and no fiddly set-up means you could be watching movies in a matter of minutes.
The LG can stream audio, photos and video from either a DLNA server or via the USB socket on the front of the main unit.
MPEG-4 video in MKV containers plays well, unless you've got an unsupported audio codec, in which case the LG won't play them at all, not even without sound. We threw a 1080p clip from The Dark Knight at it, with DTS 5.1 sound, and the LG handled it with no trouble whatsoever.
DLNA is a different matter, though. While we accept that this system can work well, it's too prone to problems for our liking. If you've got it up and running in your home, the LG will offer you a multitude of options for streaming content. It has both built-in wireless and an Ethernet socket.
The good news is, the USB socket means that using a network to watch video is not the only option. We tested the LG's media skills with this method, and we were impressed. Certainly, the comprehensive codec support is something that makes us very happy.
High price, good picture
On Amazon, the LG is £450, which does seem expensive. On the plus side, you get a fully featured Blu-ray player with a 2.1 system for the money. We doubt you could get much to rival this set-up for less than that, so it's far from a rip-off. We note its initial RRP was significantly higher than this, and it's only worth considering at around this price point -- certainly don't pay more.
As with most Blu-ray players, the LG does a super job with the picture quality. There are differences between players, but we didn't see anything on our test discs to give us problems. You should expect a fine, crisp picture from your favourite movies. Our reference discs looked super, especially District 9, which has a distinct look to it, as well as some testing audio.
Our pet peeve with TVs and, in particular, movies on TV is the poor audibility of speech. Without exception, movies sound dreadful when they're downmixed to stereo. The main strength of the HLB545 is providing a distinct, clear and uncultured centre channel for dialogue. This meant we could clearly hear every word spoken in our test material, even when a spaceship was making a deep resonant roar via the LG's subwoofer.
The LG does dialogue superbly, and we were impressed by how close it was to our reference 5.1 system in terms of clarity.
Deep bass, if a little unrefined
While the LG does a great job with speech, we weren't so bowled over with its bass-handling abilities. The subwoofer provided is quite large and can certainly generate a heap of noise. Where the sub differs from those found on proper 5.1 set-ups is that its low frequency reproduction isn't as well rounded.
In particular, bass sounds quite coarse. Having said that, it still has the desired impact, and we think action-movie fans who don't have the budget for a full 5.1 setup might fall in love with this system quite quickly. It is good, but don't expect a Hi-Fi experience.
Don't expect 'surround' sound
If you're buying this device with the hope that it will create an all-encompassing surround-sound effect in your living room, you're barking up the wrong tree. We think the LG is a superb 2.1 system and we had no expectation that it could fool our ears into thinking we had rear-effects speakers, when we didn't. The simple fact is, virtual surround sound is a pipe-dream, and if you want to hear things from behind you, you need rear speakers.
If LG wanted to improve the next iteration of this speaker system, it could do worse than adding a pair of wireless rear-effects speakers, which would make this quite a hot little device.
Perhaps one of the best things about this system is that it does support Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio. That means you'll get lossless audio. Now, on a system like this, it's possible to argue that there's not much gain from lossless over lossy audio -- such as Dolby Digtial. But we like the fact that LG is aiming at doing the best job possible, and we think the results speak for themselves.
While £450 is a fair amount of money, it's not an outrageous sum for a Blu-ray player and speaker system. We like the LG and would happily recommend it as a great option. It's loud and does a fantastic job for the most part. Don't expect the same performance as a stand-alone 5.1 amp and speakers, but for small rooms and undemanding users, this is perfect.
Edited by Emma Bayly