The days when a Blu-ray player merely spun discs and made tentative contact with the internet via BD Live, are long gone.
Decks like this Panasonic DMP-BDT220 are network connected in the truest sense, as happy to stream IPTV as they are to play the latest 3D Bu-ray releases.
The DMP-BDT220 is one of five new 3D compatible BD players from Panasonic for 2012. It sits just above the entry-level DMP-BDT120, and below the more advanced DMP-BDT320 and the audiophile grade DMP-BDT500.
Joining it in the range is the oddball DMP-BBT01, a compact designer player not much bigger than a couple of Blu-ray cases.
Not that this model is carrying any surplus weight. It follows the full-width (430mm), half-depth (185mm) design which has become so popular with mainstream brands, and stands just 38mm tall.
One consequence of this half-deep design is that you can’t sandwich it between other full-size 430mm components, it has to sit on top.
Cosmetically, the deck is pretty anonymous. A full-width grey fascia flap conceals the loading tray, front-mounted USB port for media playback and SD card reader.
At the rear of the player you’ll find HDMI, composite video and stereo phono audio and optical digital audio outputs.
There’s also a second USB, intended for a Skype camera, as well as an Ethernet port. If you don’t have a wired network connection in your viewing room, don’t worry, the DMP-BDT220 has Wi-Fi onboard.
The DMP-BDT220 works with a wide variety of discs. In addition to regular 2D and Full HD 3D Blu-ray, it’s also compatible with recordable BD media, both rewritable BD-RE and BD-Rs, plus DVDs (upscaled to 1080p). If you’re into home brew, this deck recognises DVD-R and DVD-R DL, DVD+R and DVD+R DL discs, plus –RW and +RW rewritables. CD and CD-R/RWs also play.
It will not play ball with DVD Audio or SACD though. Or vinyl.
Panasonic may have made massive strides in improving its multimedia file support, but the DMP-BDT220 still offers some usability challenges.
The good news is that from local USB (or any of the aforementioned blank disc formats), it does a fine job. We successfully played AVI, MKV, MOV and MP4 video files. Audio support is equally comprehensive, covering MP3, FLAC and WAV. It should be noted though that there’s no album art support forthcoming.
However, when it comes to network playback you’ll need to get your hands dirty. While the player can see DLNA devices on a LAN, all attempts to play our test files met with failure.
The solution is to map any network drives manually to the player. This is done by digging deep into the menus and then adding each NAS device by IP address, shared folder name and requisite logins.
Quite how Panasonic thinks the average user is going to cope with this routine is beyond us. As it happens, once done the player has no trouble streaming exactly those same file extensions playable from USB. Even subtitles on AVIs are supported. But as a user experience, it sucks. Network streaming should be automatic and seamless.
The deck offers full access to the VIERA Connect online portal. Panasonic has invested a good deal of effort into making this a worthwhile online destination, with plenty of streaming IPTV on tap.
In addition to heavyweight attractions such as BBC iPlayer and YouTube, there’s also Dailymotion, Acetrax, Euronews, CNBC, Ustream, Aupeo!, Shoutcast and Netflix. Indeed, Netflix is deemed so important it even gets a dedicated button on the remote control.
For socialites, there are also Facebook, Skype and Twitter clients, plus image browsing via Picasa. More free content sources can be added from the connected VIERA Market (CineTrailers is well worth grabbing).
Usability and performance
Panasonic has refined the delicious directional user interface it introduced last year.
Once again you can customize the home page with a wallpaper, only this year there’s a Multi-User mode which allows four individuals to have their own customised home page (so a total of four wallpapers can be uploaded). Quite why you would want to have individual user modes on a BD player is a little perplexing, but to each their own.
The remote zapper is perfectly useable, but there’s an app if you’d prefer to run things via your phone or tablet.
Image quality is terrific. Panasonic’s boffins have been squeezing ever more detail from Blu-ray discs since the advent of the UniPhier chipset in 2007. Now into its fifth incarnation, this extremely powerful processor delivers astounding clarity.
Texture is tangible and colour fidelity outstanding, thanks to this year’s new innovation: Adaptive Chroma Processing. 3D Blu-rays appear equally good, although the chances of appreciating exactly what the player is capable of through filtered eyeware and ghosting LCD panels is remote.
1080p DVD upscaling is top notch. Deinterlacing impresses and there’s a 24p mode for the format for the first time, good news if you have a large legacy disc collection. Loading times are fast, too.
This player needs just 50 seconds to take a JAVA rich Blu-ray from tray to onscreen menu. Less challenging discs are ready to roll in approx. 30 seconds.
If you’re looking for your BD player to double as a credible audio source then you might be better off considering this deck’s bigger brother, the DMP-BDT320, which offers more advanced audio processing. That said the DMP-BDT220 is unlikely to disappoint in regular use.
The fact that Panasonic has added FLAC compatibility is a welcome bonus. Used as a conduit from a music server (duly mapped of course) the DMP-BDT220 proves extremely effective.
While the DBP-BDT220 has a seductively low price, it’s by no means a budget proposition. Panasonic has produced a high-performance Blu-ray player that doesn’t disgrace itself when partnered with equipment from higher up the food chain.
The brand has also done a particularly good job with the user interface, which is sharp and intuitive. There are catch-up TV and streaming video services aplenty on the VIERA Connect portal, with BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Netflix prominent amongst a broad selection of services. Some may similarly be excited about the provision of Skype.
We also applaud USB playback support for popular audio videos codecs. Those with HDDs stuffed with MKV files and FLAC music rips no longer need feel ostracised.
We’re less enthusiastic about the hoops that Panasonic asks users to go through if they want to play those self same files from a NAS device. Having to manually map IP addresses and folder share names seems deliberately obtuse. The majority of buyers who snap up this deck won’t know where to begin. That said, once this is done the player’s a formidable media hub.
Thunderously good picture quality for the cash is the best reason to bag a DMP-BDT220. Precise imaging and effortless colour rendering will make the most of your Blu-ray discs. Throw in access to a growing selection of content on the VIERA Connect net portal, via integrated Wi-Fi, and the deal should be sealed.
For the most part this is an easy player to use, however the deck’s network LAN streaming complexity is an unwelcome geek-trusion into the user experience. Wasn’t DLNA and UPnP meant to sort this stuff out?
- Comprehensive file playback
- Great user interface
- Excellent picture
- No Super Audio CD
- Messy network streaming
The Panasonic DMP-BDT220 provides plenty of reasons to migrate from DVD. Despite the odd foible, we think it’s well worth short-listing.
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