LG BH5320F Blu-ray home cinema system review

LG's BH5320F is a home cinema system very much aimed at the 'lifestyle' market thanks to its sumptuous design and clutter-busting 2.1-channel speakers. The idea is that it won't just blend in with your décor but actually enhance it, and we think LG has done a cracking job on that score.

But good looks will only get you so far. Without the performance to back it up, it's practically just an ornament. Happily, LG got the memo and has packed this Blu-ray-spinning system with a vast amount of tasty features and has hopefully ensured that movie playback is suitably thrilling - fingers crossed.

Design and connections

So what makes the BH5320F so darn attractive? For starters, the Blu-ray receiver unit looks unlike any other model on the market - it's a thick square block with a flat black front panel, into which is embedded a cluster of illuminated touch-sensitive buttons and a large display panel on the right hand side. It's topped off by a delectable silver finish around the sides.

But what sets it apart from rival systems is the large hole on the left hand side, which serves no purpose other than to set it apart from rival systems. Discs are inserted into a slot on the right edge - another tidy feature that keeps up the minimal appearance.

The two front speakers are like mini versions of the main unit, with the same open hole and chunky shape. A black mesh on the front hides the drivers. The subwoofer looks equally chic in its black and silver styling and it's by no means imposing or awkwardly shaped, meaning maximum convenience for you.

This unusual design has impacted slightly on the main unit's sockets. It's left no room for any HDMI inputs, but you do get two optical digital audio inputs, an Ethernet port, composite video out, 3.5mm input and a USB port for flash drives, iPods and external HDDs.

Features

LG's Smart TV service is available through this system, offering a wide range of applications that can be downloaded and used over a network connection. The highlight is of course BBC iPlayer, ably supported by YouTube, Dailymotion, Picasa, Stuff, Viewster and more - all located within the 'Premium' section. Its execution here isn't a patch on LG's slick, super-sophisticated TVs and the choice still isn't up to the quality of Samsung or Sony, but the presentation is attractive and most areas appear to work smoothly - although it wouldn't let us access the 'LG Apps' section.

To access Smart TV, you can either hook up the Ethernet port to your router or take advantage of the built-in Wi-Fi, which makes life a whole lot easier - as does Wi-Fi Direct, which means compatible devices can share content without going through your router.

When connected you can also stream your media files from devices on your home network. We had a little trouble getting this to work at first, but when up and running it's a superb feature, playing a surprisingly wide range of formats, including hi-def videos wrapped up in an MKV file, plus AVCHD, XviD, WMV, AVI, DivX, WMA, MP3, AAC, WAV and FLAC lossless. The good news is that you can also play these from USB memory drives if you have trouble using the DLNA functionality.

Being a 2.1-channel system you miss out on the true surround sound experience, but to make up for it there's a 3D Surround Processor setting, which offers virtual surround in Movie and Music flavours. Despite the limited speakers, the system also decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio giving you the hi-res sound benefits. There are loads of presets and other stuff to play around with, but our pick is the Bypass setting, which turns all the processing off.

Operation

Setting up a 2.1-channel system is hardly rocket science, and LG certainly doesn't complicate matters. The speaker cables and terminals are colour-coded so you know where it all goes, plus the initial setup wizard gets all the tricky stuff done quickly using clear, helpful dialogue boxes and graphics.

In fact, all of the onscreen displays are first-rate, using bright colours to engage the eyes but arranging everything in a clear, logical manner. That goes for the setup menu, which allows you to set the levels of each speaker and make other key tweaks.

We love the Home menu too, which uses a row of large, vivid icons to provide instant access to different types of media and other important stuff. Select one of the Movie, Music or Photo icons and it shows you on which connected devices you'll find that content.

You get a long, black remote in the box, which makes navigation simple with its thoughtful button layout and clear labelling for lesser-used buttons. Volume and menu controls are right under the thumb, with a hump in the middle that lifts them up in a weirdly helpful way. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone or tablet to control the system thanks to the LG Remote Apple/Android app.

Performance

So often all-in-one systems fall at the performance hurdle with their harsh, unrefined sound, but thankfully the BH5320F doesn't fall into that trap. OK there are a few rough edges that won't exactly send audiophiles into rapture, but on the whole the sound is clean and exciting.

Most impressively, it doesn't skimp on sonic detail. These unassuming speakers lift subtle ambience and noises from Blu-ray discs, giving you a textured atmospheric listening experience, even without rear channels serving the rear of the room. Whether it's the rustling leaves and crunching twigs as Sully explores Pandora's rainforests in Avatar, or fairies fluttering round Hellboy's head at the Troll Market, there's a lovely crisp open, airy sound to delicate high-frequencies.

At the other end of the spectrum, the subwoofer provides a solid foundation, provided you keep it at a sensible level to stop the nasty room-boom that can muddy the sound. It lends a decent thump to gunshots and explosions and integrates well with the speakers, although it could do with a little more punch and control to make even more of an impact - but perhaps we shouldn't expect too much from a passive sub.

Continuing on the negative theme, the system does sound a tad brittle and shouty when you push the volume up high and the action gets busy. And the 3D Surround Processor gets a 'could do better' on the report card, failing to add anything but a little extra width to the stereo soundstage. But dialogue sounds clear and overall the sound is loud, dynamic and polished enough to make it a satisfying upgrade from TV speakers.

On the picture side, the LG continues to impress. It's a 3D-compatible system and with a 3D disc in the slot you get rich, dreamy stereoscopic pictures, laced with loads of detail, vivid colours, deep blacks and hardly any artefacts to sully the clarity. 2D pictures are equally resplendent, boasting strong colours and meticulously rendered detail. Sure, it dazzles, yet it's adept at the subtle stuff too, like fine textures and tonal gradations, all of which look smooth. A great effort all round.

Verdict

2.1-channel systems from mainstream brands have a bit of a chequered history in terms of sound quality but the 3D-ready BH5320F is one of the better examples of the genre. Not only has it been bestowed with stunning (and dare we say unique) looks that you'll be proud to show off in the living room, but it's also packed with cutting-edge features and delivers crisp Blu-ray sound quality with decent punch and detail. It's not perfect, and certainly isn't any replacement for a full 5.1 setup, but if you're in the market for a system that provides movie kicks without ruining your décor then you could do a lot worse.

Score: 9/10

Manufacturer: LG

Price: £350

Specifications:

Manufacturer and Model

LG BH5320F

Quoted power

400W

Channels

2.1

HDMI output

1, v1.4

HDMI inputs

None

Component video output

None

Composite video output

1

Ethernet

Yes

Digital audio inputs

2 (both optical)

3.5mm minijack input

1

Dolby TrueHD decoding

Yes

DTS HD Master Audio decoding

Yes

USB port

1

Built-in Wi-Fi

Yes

iPod/iPhone support

Yes via USB

DLNA media streaming

Yes, Smart Share

Online content

LG Smart TV

3D ready

Yes

Supported media formats

MKV, AVCHD, XviD, WMV, AVI, DivX HD, M4V, FLV, 3GP, WMA, MP3, AAC, WAV, FLAC

Dimensions (main unit) W x H x D

373 x 228 x 75mm

Smartphone control

Yes

Audio Return Channel support

Yes

Radio tuner

FM

Sound processing

3D Surround Processor