LG HR600

This inexpensive Freeview HD recorder has some praiseworthy abilities – but its tics render it a less than stellar performer

THE MARKET for standalone Freeview HD recorders is reasonably big but already the category has subdivided into combinations that also provide Blu-ray playback, and along with it, HD upscaling, plus options to export music onto the recorder’s hard disc.

This inexpensive LG deck includes online features such as the BBC iPlayer and media streaming of various multimedia files over a home network, while the Blu-ray section is also 3D-compatible.

Build and connectivity

The unit has a bigger footprint than most PVRs or players but it’s still a space-saver. The front panel has a few main controls and a USB port for playback and copying.

Rear sockets include Ethernet, HDMI up to 1080p resolution, component video output and Scart. It also has a straightforward WiFi option capable of streaming 1080p over a good Wireless N connection.

Basic use

The remote follows the trend for being elongated (more than 23cm). Main function keys are large and easy to find but the cursors are rather flimsy. The menus are highly graphical, more like a tablet computer app. They are responsive in most respects but slow if loading thumbnails when browsing photos.

Tuning digital channels was hassle-free. Planned recordings can be checked in an appealing calendar layout but the EPG sits within a wide border and only details five channels at once and there is no keyword search.

PVR and multimedia

Hard drive capacity is only 250GB. Using HD as an example, it stores about 125 hours at most. LG’s otherwise identical HR650 doubles that, being equipped with a 500GB drive and costing around £50 more.

Freeview+ features such as series links are supported. Dual recording works without a hitch and any timer clashes are managed efficiently. At the end of playing a recording the PVR runs into the next on the list, which can be annoying.

Standard-definition recordings can be exported in MPEG-2/TS format onto USB drives. Likewise, it imports music, photos and video files over USB memory or, impressively, over a home network. CDs can be ripped directly, employing Gracenote automatic track naming, using one of three MP3 compression rates or WAV.

Multimedia playback works via networks from shared folders and UPnP servers or USB memory (flash drives and external HDDs, including those formatted in NTFS). Unlike the confusing limitations of some players, this one handles a similar line-up of formats regardless of source. These include MPEG-4 and MKV, as well as AVCHD camcorder footage. Subtitles play from USB/ HDD but not when streamed.

We could get hardly any JPEG photos to show and not all of our AVI test files. WAV music played fine locally but not over a network. Another inconsistency is whether you are able to rewind or fast- forward video files, which changes according to format and source.

The HR600 supports video with DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 but not DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, despite having suitable decoders in its Blu-ray components.

An interesting feature is MusicID, which uses Gracenote to identify music in DVDs, Blu-ray and video files via USB but not streamed material or Freeview.

NetCast is LG’s name for internet-based extras, which are YouTube, Picasa, AccuWeather and iPlayer. The latter is well implemented, with a smooth, watchable image that also includes HD content and radio, making up slightly for the recorder being unable to record Freeview radio channels. However, its iPlayer menus are sluggish and there’s a frame-rate issue in some situations.

You can access online or network features while the PVR is recording, although you can’t move or delete recordings at the time. Also, unlike Panasonic’s recorders, the HR600 can’t act as a media server to stream its own hard disc content to other devices.

Performance

Freeview HD quality is admirable, with effective upscaling for standard channels and DVD too. A lot of enhancement is happening, but the results appear crisp and engaging rather than overly processed.

.Its Blu-ray playback quality looks fine, such as Tron Legacy (2D version) or Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland (in 3D). Detail is less sharp than expected though, and colours are a little underwhelming. Multimedia playback is extremely fluid. Like Blu-ray, film sourced material works best in 24fps mode. However, if this mode is enabled it causes jerky movement in the BBC iPlayer because it fails to switch to 50Hz. Forcing 1080i output is a fix but this lowers Blu-ray performance, unless you manually change modes each time.

Our sample also had a problem with the HE-AAC 5.1 surround audio used for some of the BBC’s HD broadcasts.

The centre channel was heavily distorted and no amount of tweaking sound settings rectified it. This applied to multiple audio outputs, including HDMI and coaxial, whether running on a TV in stereo or through an AV receiver. If the issue is widespread we hope that a firmware update will resolve it ■ Ian Calcutt

Verdict

In theory the HR600 is excellent value, packing an array of features such as Blu-ray, iPlayer and wireless streaming into one device for less money than some hard disc-only Freeview HD recorders. The picture is impressive across various sources, and its multimedia compatibility is broad. With a machine that does so much, peculiarities are inevitable. Some are minor, others more significant. If the drawbacks are of no concern to you, then it makes it a better buy. Overall, the HR600 scores well for its abilities and low price but ultimately it’s less than the sum of its parts.

PLUS
■ Neat combi of Blu-ray and Freeview+HD PVR
■ BBC iPlayer included
■ Built-in wireless ‘n’ networking
MINUS
■ Problem with HE-AAC 5.1 sound
■ No keyword search in EPG
■ Inconsistent multimedia playback

Build
★★★★★★
Setup
★★★★★★★
Searching
★★★★★★
Navigation
★★★★★★★
Performance
★★★★★★
Features
★★★★★★★★★
Value
★★★★★★★

What Satellite & Digital TV rating
67%

FEATURES
Hard disc size: 250GB
Freeview+ HD: Yes
Common interface: No
EPG days: 8
Upscaling: Yes
BBC iPlayer: Yes
USB media playback: DivX, AVI, MPEG-4, AVCHD, TS, MKV, MP3, WMA, WAV, JPEG, PNG
Media streaming: Yes Scart:
Yes HDMI: 1
S/PDIF audio out: No
Coaxial audio out: Yes
Analogue audio out: Yes
Ethernet: Yes

Originally published in Issue 308