With clumsy-looking soundbars failing to make much of a dent, how about this: the LG SoundPlate.
Designed largely to boost the sound quality of the slim-but-dim TV that wowed you in the shop but sounds weak and weedy at home, LG’s SoundPlate is a novel idea indeed.
This flat, 700x320x39.5mm product is uniquely designed to sit under a TV and be, for the most part, completely hidden from view.
The main SoundPlate unit has four 40W speakers that – along with a separate (and reasonably square) 297x296x332mm wireless 160W active subwoofer – attempts 4.1 sound at 320W power.
Not quite 5.1 home cinema, then, but pretty close. Whether the SoundPlate’s speakers are powerful enough to be a worthy upgrade to a TV purely on audio quality remains to be seen, but there’s a whole other dimension to the LG LAB540 SoundPlate, too.
Inside that main unit is a 3D Blu-ray player that brings LG’s SmartWorld of apps, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, DLNA connectivity and even 4K upscaling.
While 4K upscaling will only appeal to a select few, the SoundPlate’s inclusion of Wi-Fi for easy-access smart TV and Bluetooth for the streaming of music from a smartphone or tablet threatens to make the SoundPlate almost irresistible.
So too the SoundPlate’s Private Sound Mode 2.0, which wirelessly sends audio to the LG AV remote app on a smartphone for easy late night listening.
Ins and outs are fairly sturdy, with the SoundPlate’s HDMI input able to switch a feed from a set-top box or games console. Flexibility is added by the provision of a HDMI output that’s Audio Return Channel-compatible, which will allow any TV’s remote control to tinker with the SoundPlate’s volume. It can also link over Wi-Fi to select LG TVs.
A rear panel also adds a USB slot, a digital optical audio output (the third way to hook-up a TV) and an Ethernet LAN slot.
Does the odd-looking SoundPlate justify its high price of £499? You bet. It’s just so simple to set-up and house on any AV rack or living room layout that I’m surprised no one thought of this concept before.
I attached an older TV to the SoundPlate using the digital optical audio output, but the wireless subwoofer is easier still. Placed about 10ft away towards the back of the room, once switched-on at the wall it links to the SoundPlate within a second. Zero set-up.
Although I generally liked the LG AV Remote app running on iOS, it’s the standard remote control that’s easiest to use for everyday operation. It’s even got glow-in-the-dark navigational buttons and a function shortcut for scrolling through Blu-ray, Bluetooth and the SoundPlate’s media player software.
The core of the SoundPlate concept is also a clear highlight. Tested with a 32-inch TV with thoroughly awful speakers, SoundPlate proves a worthy and surprisingly space-saving upgrade. It appears to down-mix Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on Blu-rays discs to 4.1-channel audio without problems.
Crucially, that subwoofer is up to the job of lending much-needed rumble; both the frenetic space debris scenes and the more musical sequences in Gravity are lent much more, ahem, gravitas. The subwoofer wakes instantly and re-links with the SoundPlate even after periods of inactivity.
That sub helps create a joined-up soundstage that lacks the width of a physical 5.1 home cinema system, but it has plenty of depth. Dialogue is very clear and centrally located in the mix despite the 4.1 array’s lack of a dedicated centre channel.
The music mode brings a warm yet detailed and exceptionally bass-precise reproduction of rumbly tune Carry Me by the Bombay Bicycle Club, which I sent to the SoundPlate from an iPhone 5S paired over Bluetooth. The sound effect buttons includes a one-touch toggle between standard, music and cinema 4.1.
Loading discs in about 12 seconds and reproducing everything with skill, the SoundPlate even gives an old DVD of The Last Of The Mohicans a nicely upscaled and remarkably clean treatment. Gravity in 2D looks sharp and contains smooth edges and textured blocks of colour, while the 3D disc suffers from zero crosstalk.
That LG hasn’t skimped on the 3D Blu-ray player inside the SoundPlate underlines that this is no gimmicky product. Sound quality is serious and it’s plenty smart enough on apps, too. It’s hard to see the soundbar – let alone the 5.1 home cinema – surviving the appearance of the SoundPlate.
The SoundPlate is just so easy to set-up, with just one cable needed, while the wireless subwoofer attaches and gets going within a second of being powered-on at the wall.
The choice of Premium apps on the home screen include a good haul with Now TV, BBC iPlayer, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Blinkbox, Netflix and Knowhow Movies. Meanwhile, dedicated apps pages add YouTube, Dailymotion, CineTrailer, AccuWeather.com, Google Maps, Facebook, Crackle, iConcerts, Euronews and Deezer.
File support is great, too; I managed to get SoundPlate to support AVI, MP4, MPEG-2, AVC HD, MKV and WMV video, MP3, M4A, WMA, AIFF, WAV, FLAC and OGG music, and JPEG, PNG and GIF photos from both USB and a Windows laptop. Bluetooth streaming from any phone is also fabulously implemented.
If the SoundPlate wants to truly act as a home hub, it should be fitted with at least two HDMI inputs for switching external AV gear. Who wants to get up to change cables on the rear of something hidden under a TV?
I was also a little disappointed that it didn’t support a clutch of 4K-resolution MP4, MOV and MKV, especially since LG has traditionally been a trend-setter in the handling of digital media (and this very machine has other 4K features).
LG SmartWorld needs some more UK-centric action from the ITV Player, 4OD and Demand Five, while the usability of the SoundPlate’s built-in web browser is hampered by the lack of LG’s Magic Remote, a Nintendo Nunchuk-style pointer remote that’s usually supplied with its Blu-ray players.
And the 4K upscaling? It’s probably only worth using if you plan to go for a cheap-as-chips 4K TV; the big brand 4K TVs tend to have decent upscaling inside already.
Who needs a soundbar – or even a home cinema? LG’s all-in-one ‘soundstage’ that slips underneath almost any TV and even builds-in a 3D Blu-ray player is the ultimate space-saver. The main unit links to a TV via optical or HDMI and pairs-up with a wireless subwoofer painlessly and without any kind of set-up procedure. SmartShare, and SmartWorld apps like Netflix and Amazon Instant, impress also, though it’s the chance to easily stream music from a smartphone over Bluetooth that’s the icing on this soundbar-killing concept.