The high definition experience is not complete without taking a look at Blu-ray video. Using the 42-inch 1080p LG Scarlet TV that I recently reviewed alongside the LG HB354BS 2.1 home theatre system, I was able to pick out the finest details in movies like The Dark Knight and 300. What’s even more amazing is watching BBC’s documentary, Planet Earth. I was blown away by the clarity of the picture. You just get so drawn in to the picture. And I know it sounds corny to say this and it’s a line that’s probably used by sales people, but you really do become a part of the action.

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But before I get carried away, lets talk about the physical elements of the HB354BS. The setup is a 2.1 home theatre system which includes the Blu-ray deck, a floor-standing subwoofer and two satellite speakers. The speakers are finished in a glossy black. The Blu-ray deck has a curved front lip with a hint of transparent blue. Overall, a well integrated design that isn’t too extravagant and most importantly, isn’t covered in logos.

Around the back of the Blu-ray deck, there’s a generous offering of ports and connectivity, including LAN and two HDMI-in connections. The LAN port is for internet connectivity to get software updates as well as access to extra content using the BD-Live function for compatible discs. This gives you access to online content and interactivity as and when they are released. I don’t think this feature has been fully realised yet but it’s handy to have it there for when they do start doing interesting things with it.

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Optical and digital coaxial connections can also be found around the back for hooking your PS3 or Xbox 360 to get the true Dolby Digital sound output. For those on the analogue track, you don’t have to worry about being left out because there’s also composite audio and video and an FM antenna connector.

If you’ve got a 1080p display or you plan on getting one, definitely make sure you set aside a budget for at least a Blu-ray player. The true HD experience can only be achieved when you’ve got a combination of a large flat panel display that’s capable of outputting 1080p video and a Blu-ray player. The HB354BS from LG performed exceptionally well as expected, with its “SimpLink” technology that ‘talks’ to a compatible TV set and sets itself up ready for viewing. Now I’ve heard some rumblings from around the web that Blu-ray players are extremely slow at loading discs it hasn’t seen before, in my experience whilst it was slower than loading a DVD, it was no longer than the time it takes to load on a PS3, which by many accounts is one of the quickest.

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The next best thing about the HB354BS is the fact that it’s a 2.1 sound system. From my experience, 2.1 works best for average sized living rooms. Anything more like a 7.1 or even a 5.1 and you end up cluttering the room with trailing cables. With the 2.1 setup, there was more than enough power coming from the satellite speakers and the subwoofer with tis 300 watts combined output, 150 of that coming from the sub.

I had the chance to sign up to LoveFilm.com and grab a bunch of movies to test out including action and non-action. The HB354BS’s sound output is phenomenal for action scenes like those in 300, The Dark Knight, I Am Legend and Hancock. It’s just like being in the cinema only more comfortable. For the non-action films, you still benefit from the clarity of output from the two left and right channels. Despite their small size, they still deliver on the goods with clear speech and non-ear-piercing highs.

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Not one to skip out on testing any of the features, I also gave audio playback a spin with my music collection. Other useful features in the HB354BS include an iPod dock that’s neatly integrated in to the front of the main deck which slides out with a gentle push. I was able to get it to work fine with the iPod 5G, but my iPod Touch wasn’t liking it, so do be aware if you intend on using it with an iPhone/iPod Touch. For non-iPod users, there’s a USB port neatly hidden under a pull away tab just above the volume dial. This supports playback of audio and viewing JPEG images.

Music playback works best when you’ve had a chance to play around with the equaliser presets since the movie settings don’t work so well for music listening. There is also manual control over the treble and bass so you can adjust to your hearts content to match your perfect listening mood.

The deck will also playback your DVD collection upscaled to 1080p so you can drag your old movie collection kicking and screaming in to the world of HD.

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Overall, the HB354BS delivers on superb performance from nearly any angle that you look at it. The excellent picture quality courtesy of the Blu-ray deck and HDMI output, to the powerful sound system, offers an all-in-one integrated unit that helps deliver the true HD cinematic experience in the comfort of your own home.

2009-04-27 Onwah Tsang

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