It may only be a budget 2.1 Blu-ray system, but LG's elegant HB354BS is still a fountain of plenty, packing a centrally-mounted iPod dock, fine-tuning by audio guru Mr Mark Levinson, an FM tuner and direct YouTube access via its rear-mounted Ethernet jack.
In Blu-ray terms it's up to scratch, with Profile 2.0 BD-Live capability and decoding of DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.
Cynics might argue that there's little point in supporting hi-res audio on a system like this, but the satellite speakers are surprisingly good – the high frequencies are handled by dome tweeters which, to be frank, I didn't expect at this price point.
The associated 3in mid-range drivers are plastic-coned, while at the heart of the passive subwoofer is a 5.5in driver. Unfortunately, the system can't be upgraded to 5.1 with additional LG-branded amps and speakers at a later date – you could, however, use it as a BD deck in a more advanced setup based around an AV receiver, thanks to the HDMI output.
The whole system is controlled via some nicely-designed and responsive menus, and Blu-ray loading times are also acceptable.
My only gripe in terms of its feature set is the USB media player doesn't follow in the footsteps of some LG Blu-ray decks and support mkv/x.264 video.
Spin a movie and the good impressions continue. Treble is crisp and well-defined, and while the virtual surround audio system is hardly up to the standards of a conventional 5.1 rig, it creates a reasonable spread of sound.
The subwoofer lets things down a bit, though. It can throw out generous quantities of low frequencies into the modestly-sized rooms the system is obviously intended for, but did sound rather coloured and uncontrolled on occasions.
Video performance is as good as that from some of the standalone LG players I've seen – intricate Blu-ray details are conveyed well, and there's oodles of depth. DVDs are also upscaled to a good standard without any fuss.
So, while at first I feared this designer system might have more style than substance, I have no trouble recommending the HB354BS as a great starter package or one for the bedroom.
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