LG Smart TV Upgrader Review
Besides Apple, most big companies have relegated their “smart TV” interfaces to other products, like incorporated into TVs and Blu-ray players. Thus, the standalone streamers are left to Apple and companies like Roku, Boxee, Western Digital and others.
LG, with their Smart TV Upgrader, takes aim at Apple TV and Roku directly. How does it hold up? Let’s find out.
Off the bat, they got the form factor right. It’s nearly identical in size to the Apple TV, and just slightly smaller than the Roku (reviewed here). The design is subtle, but looks good with a faux-brushed metal finish.
You get the expected HDMI output, plus optical for those inclined towards that style of digital audio transmission. A USB connection is an added bonus, giving the Smart TV Upgrader the ability to play music, video, and photos from flash drives.
The stubby remote is similar in size to the Roku’s, though the button clicks are far more precise. The center button has a touch/motion functionality. This works marginally better than wishing. There’s a slight sluggishness to the controls and interactions. It’s not a big deal, but it’s not as polished as the Apple TV.
In the setup menus you can chose 24 Hz playback, and you’ll need to enable wireless, as wired is the default. Not much else to setup, really.
The software version on install was ST.8.79.151.F. I manually updated this to ST.8.79.168.F via the user menu. Annoyingly, my settings were lost in the update, requiring WiFI password re-entry.
The main user interface is attractive, and is similar to those found on other current-gen LG products.
A streaming device is only as strong as it’s apps. Netflix is here, of course, but just as important is Amazon Instant Video. For those looking for higher quality, VUDU is here as well.
The streaming section of the Smart TV is identical in looks and functionality to the BD670 I reviewed a few weeks ago. The Netflix interface is of the newer variety as well, with large cover art and search.
Scaling up standard definition Netflix content is pretty good, better than the Apple TV, and similar to the performance to the better Internet-connected Blu-ray players (a good thing). I checked the most recent Star Trek movie, and found decent detail in the captain’s face during the opening scene. HD playback is decent as well. The beautiful BBC series Sherlock looked quite detailed, though perhaps a touch noisy.
The Amazon Instant Video interface is far better than the original interface, with more easily navicable sections. It continues to seem as if no one at Amazon has ever used Netflix, as the interface still needs a lot of work.
Video quality wise, the Amazon feeds of the same titles (I checked Sherlock and Farscape) was a little less noisy, but had noticeable jaggies, even on the HD Sherlock. I don’t know where in the process this artifact is being created, as the Netflix versions had no such jaggies.
VUDU is the other major provider, and the only one that offers true 1080p content (the others are upconverted SD or 720p). Checking Star Trek again, this time HD, there was only a little noise but lots of detail. Not quite Blu-ray, but way better than the content picture quality from the other providers.
You also get Napster and Pandora on the audio side. CinemaNow is available, but as there is no HD content, I don’t consider it a serious provider.
Apps. Everyone’s got apps
LG Apps is their App Store, which has a bookshelf aesthetic. Ã‚Â The light gaming and info apps here are mostly filler, and none seemed overly exciting.
The biggest separator of the Smart TV Upgrader over the Apple TV is a built-in web browser. Boxee and Google TV pride themselves on a similar feature. What’s lacking here is any convenient way to navigate. The ineffective thumbpad sensor on the remote combined with no physical keyboard to type URLs, means this feature looks cool on the box, but remains a cumbersome novelty.
If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can download the free LG Remote app. This lets you use your portable as a controller. Sadly, the most obvious advantage of a smart phone/tablet Ã¢â‚¬â€ a real or virtual keyboard Ã¢â‚¬â€ is not available with the app. So even though the touchpad screen makes moving the cursor easier, typing URLs is still tedious.
The two screens of the LG Remote app. You toggle between them with the icons at the top. The screen on the left acts like the arrows on your remote. The screen on the right acts like the thumbpad on a laptop.
Your own media
Smart Share is LG’s DLNA interface. It saw the computers and files on my network instantly (though on my computer’s end, this was previously set up). Music playback works, though there is no search feature and no way to shuffle through your entire music collection, only per album. Apple TV still wins over any other media streamer in this feature.
Lastly is Media Link, included in the Smart Share section. This media manager requires downloading the third party Plex software. It’s exceedingly clunky, enough so I that I can’t imagine anyone using it. After an hour of trying to get it to run correctly, I gave up. If I can’t get something running in an hour, I don’t see how most consumers will. If you use Plex and love it, let me know and I’ll be happy to give it another try.
LG faces some stiff competition in this product space. The Apple TV, despite its 720p output, remains the benchmark. For those who don’t partake of the Apple, Roku is a viable alternative. The Smart TV Upgrader does look better than either, in terms of SD scaling, but lacks the elegant simplicity of the Apple and the open architecture of the Roku. It does, however, have a modicum of DLNA functionality, which is more than I can say Roku (save your comments, I covered my feelings about the Roku in that review).
So where does that leave the Smart TV Upgrader? If you don’t plan on using it as a music streamer, and don’t care about Apple-ness, the LG offers better picture quality. That said, at full MSRP, it is not worth $30 more than an Apple TV. Current web prices, though, have it at $21 less than the Apple, which is much more reasonable. So in that case, it’s a good deal, given the caveats above.
The LG ST600 Smart TV Upgrader is priced on Amazon for $76.99 (41% off MSRP of $129.99). HDGuru.com awards the Smart TV Upgrader a Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã‚Â Ã‚Â out of Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥ heart rating.
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