Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace. The LG BD300 has been replaced by the the LG BD370.
Standalone Blu-ray players have certainly been held back by confusing Blu-ray profiles and high movie prices, but one of the biggest reasons they haven't taken off is the Sony PlayStation 3. As we mention in nearly every review, the PS3 is an excellent movie player, and it offers significantly more functionality than standalone players, such as high-definition gaming, media streaming, and a browser. The LG BD300, however, has one killer feature that the PS3 doesn't.
The LG is "Netflix Internet Streaming Ready," which means it's capable of playing movies, TV shows, and other videos available via Netflix's Watch Now service. While we weren't impressed with the selection on our first go-round, Netflix has recently added some significant content partners, such as CBS and Disney, making the service much more compelling (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)
Aside from Netflix, the BD300 is a capable Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player with solid image quality. Even better, the list price has fallen all the way to $350, which means you're paying a relatively small premium for Netflix over competitors like the Sony BDP-S350. There are better options to consider if you're just interested in Blu-ray playback, such as the Panasonic DMP-BD35, but if you'd like to supplement your high-definition movies with Netflix content, the BD300 is a compelling package.
The LG BD300 is a slick-looking player. The front panel is glossy black and nearly completely flat--even the front panel buttons are flush with the panel. The left side of the unit covers the disc tray, and the panel flips down when the disc ejects. Just to the right of center is an LCD screen that's a little on the small side. Further right are the front panel controls, including chapter forward/backward, which are handy if you can't find the remote control. We appreciated that LG decided against any additional front-panel lights, as we've seen on the Panasonic DMP-BD55. Our only complaint with the design is that the two buttons mounted on top of the player--power and eject--are a bit awkward to reach.
The included remote control has a lot of functionality. Our biggest complaint is that there are too many buttons surrounding the directional pad--we prefer the standard four buttons. Unlike some other Blu-ray remotes, the BD300's clicker is well-suited to control a TV, with input buttons and button rockers for channel and volume control. Of course, we expect most home theater buffs to opt for a universal remote control anyway.
The graphical user interface on the BD300 is one of the best we've seen so far. It consists of five colorful and intuitive icons: movie, Netflix streaming, photo, music, and setup. And while we can't give the BD300 credit for the excellent Netflix menus--they are the same as the menu on the Netflix Player--it integrates nicely in the graphical user interface. Compared with the blocky menus of the DMP-BD55, the BD300's interface is a real treat.
The most standout feature of the BD300 is it's the first Blu-ray player we've seen that has built-in Netflix streaming capability. The user experience is nearly identical to that of the Netflix Player by Roku, and we recommend you check out that review for more information. In short, you can stream anything in Netflix's "Watch Now" section and while there are some flaws--much of the content is not wide screen--overall, it's a pretty great user experience. While the initial catalog of movies and TV shows was fairly lackluster, recent deals with CBS and Disney have significantly improved the content selection.
The LG BD300 is Profile 2.0 compliant, which means it's capable of accessing Internet-enabled features (often referred to as "BD-Live" features) available on some movies, such as Transformers and Walk Hard. To access the features, you'll need to have the BD300 connected to the Internet via its Ethernet port, as well as have an USB drive in the front panel port. So far, BD-Live features have been pretty underwhelming, but we expect the content to improve as more compliant players hit the market and disc makers get a handle on the new technology. As we've noted with other standalone Blu-ray players, the BD300 still offers a significantly inferior experience to the PS3 on these interactive features--the PS3 is just faster, and its built-in hard drive is more convenient.
Soundtrack support is about average, but LG makes it pretty confusing to figure out exactly what the BD300 can do. Those interested in the nitty-gritty can check out page 40 of the manual (you can search for the manual on LG's support Web site), but the short story is that the BD300 has onboard Dolby TrueHD decoding, but lacks DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. On the other hand, it does support both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bit stream output, if you have a relatively new audiovisual receiver that has decoding for those formats. Of course, we would have liked to see onboard decoding for DTS-HD Master Audio, but it's worth remembering that even with ideal conditions, it can be tough to hear the difference between the high-resolution audio soundtracks and their standard Dolby Digital and DTS counterparts.