Editors' Note: As of October 2009, a free firmware update available on the LG BD390 reviewed below allows it to also stream content from the Vudu video-on-demand online service on a pay-per-view basis.
In 2009, it's not enough for a Blu-ray player to just play Blu-ray movies. With the ubiquity of online media streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, consumers already expect Blu-ray players to offer up a wide variety of standard-definition, instant-gratification media options to complement their high-definition Blu-ray experience. LG was the first company to realize this trend with the BD300--the first Blu-ray player with Netflix streaming. The company's flagship Blu-ray player, the BD390, stays a step ahead of the competition with its outstanding feature set--Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi (a first), 7.1 analog outputs, geek-friendly MKV-video file playback over USB, and 1GB of onboard memory. Even better, the BD390 is an excellent Blu-ray player, with top-notch image quality, lightning fast load times, and onboard decoding for all the high-resolution audio soundtracks. The biggest knock against the BD390 is its $400 list price; that's the same as Sony's PS3, which is still a better value if you're into gaming. If you're not, the LG BD390 is our top pick for premium standalone Blu-ray players, narrowly besting the competing Samsung BD-P3600.
Samsung has a lock on otherworldly designs, but the BD390 has a more conventional and refined look. The front faceplate is a glossy, reflective black accented by a strip of silver metal on the top and silver feet below. The LCD screen is just off center, and its large size and bright white color make it easy to see from across your home theater, although some will be disappointed that it can't be dimmed. There are four playback controls across the front of the unit, along with a removable plastic cover that reveals a USB port. We had it sitting right next to the Samsung BD-P3600 in our lab and if we had to pick one, we'd give the nod to the BD390.
The included remote control is one of the better ones we've seen on a Blu-ray player. LG keeps it simple, with a big direction pad toward the top, surrounded by important buttons like disc menu and home. Playback controls are right below and they're sensibly separated, instead of being cluttered next to infrequently used buttons. There are additional controls under a slide-down cover, which is surprisingly stiff and tough to open. Luckily we found ourselves rarely using those buttons, although if you plan on using the BD390's remote to control your TV as well, you'll be peeved that important buttons like volume and channel controls are under the cover. (As always, a good universal remote is the easiest fix.)
We've always liked the interface on LG's Blu-ray players and now that there are so many additional streaming services, the simple menus are even nicer. The home menu presents your options in seven straightforward icons: Movie, Photo, Music, My Media, Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow, and Setup. The colorful high-definition graphics are also a nice touch, compared with the more drab menus found on the Panasonic DMP-BD60.
All of LG's 2009 Blu-ray players include Netflix Instant streaming. The user experience is nearly identical to that of the Roku Digital Video Player, 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 SD content is not wide screen, for example--it's a pretty great user experience overall. The initial catalog of movies and TV shows was fairly lackluster, but recent deals with CBS and Disney have significantly improved the content selection. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.)
The BD390 also offers streaming CinemaNow access, which provides pay-per-rental pricing, similar to satellite and cable video on-demand services. CinemaNow's catalog contrasts with Netflix's in that it offers more new releases, similar to Amazon's Video On Demand service. We did a full hands-on report with CinemaNow on the BD390, but the short story is that we were mostly unimpressed. It's a decent additional feature on the BD390, but it shouldn't tip your hand for or against the player.