LG XF1 Portable Theatre review

Price when reviewed

External USB hard drives come in rather handy for ferrying music, movies and digital photographs to and fro, but LG’s XF1 goes one better by squeezing in media player capabilities too.

LG XF1 Portable Theatre review

The sleek, glossy XF1 is roughly the same dimensions as any bus-powered USB hard drive, but the crucial difference is that there’s an HDMI socket at its rear – capable of up to 1080i output – alongside a mini-jack which, with the supplied cable and scart adapter, ferries composite video to older devices.

The internal 500GB drive provides enough storage for a generous media collection, and transferring files is refreshingly easy: just drag and drop music, video, photo and audio files using Windows Explorer. Transfers are nippy, too.

Small files saw the LG manage read and write speeds of 23MB/sec and 15MB/sec, while large files saw it go even faster, managing 30MB/sec and 27MB/sec respectively. That puts it significantly ahead of its rival, the Plextor MediaX PX-MPM320U (web ID: 218172).

Video support is limited to files encoded in DivX, XviD and MPEG1, 2 and 4 formats, but you can also play DVDs that you’ve ripped to a folder on the drive. All the usual DVD menus remain intact, so if you have the patience to copy all your DVDs in the first place, the LG makes an attractively compact travel partner.

Given the obvious copyright issues, though, you’ll need to find third-party software of dubious legality to copy the DVDs and strip the copyright protection first.

Audio support is more impressive, however, spanning MP3, WMA, OGG, AAC and WAV. Photos, meanwhile, are restricted to JPEG and bitmap flavours.

There are some gripes, however. Support for WMV and the increasingly popular MKV container is entirely lacking – although the same can be said of Plextor’s MediaX PX-MPM320U – and the XF1 refuses to playback high-definition 1080P videos, even downscaled to 720P or 1080i.

1080i files played back without fuss, but the quality left something to be desired, with poor de-interlacing leaving noticeable shimmering around the edges of on-screen objects. In fact, video quality in general was merely average, with our test files looking noticeably soft and ill-defined.

In keeping with the LG’s natty design, the on-screen interface is a clean, uncluttered affair, and navigating through the menus is done via the miniature remote control or the touch-sensitive buttons mounted along the unit’s front edge.

Aggravation soon sets in, however: the sluggish, occasionally illogical interface and less-than-sensitive buttons making far from ideal bedfellows. The remote frustrates as well, lacking dedicated transport buttons for play/pause, fast forward/rewind and skipping between audio tracks.

The final moan is that the LG gets very hot to the touch. Warnings in the quick-start guide such as “Do not use the product for a long time without cooling it down” or “DO NOT PLACE THIS PRODUCT WHERE IT CAN BE REACHED BY CHILDREN. THE PRODUCT MAY GET HOT WHILE WORKING. IT MAY RESULT IN BURNS,” certainly seem worryingly at odds with a device designed to play feature-length movies.

The LG might trump the Plextor MediaX PX-MPM320U when it comes to looks and support for (some) HD media files, but ultimately it’s a tad disappointing.

HDMI makes for a simple one-cable connection to compatible TVs and projectors, but while the Plextor has to make do with a Component output, its all-round simplicity of use and ability to upscale standard definition video are ultimately far more appealing.

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