Panasonic DMP-BDT320 3D Blu-ray Player Review

AVForums takes a look at Panasonic's stylish mid-range Blu-ray Player

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Panasonic DMP-BDT320 3D Blu-ray Player Review
SRP: £279.00

Introduction

Panasonic's Blu-ray player range for 2012 goes from the entry level BDT120 up to the audiophile BDT500, with the mid-range BDT220 and BDT320 sitting between them. In our recent review of the BDT220, we found a competent 3D Blu-ray player that crammed a lot of features into a relatively small package. Despite all this functionality, the player itself had a rather spartan appearance and its plastic construction resulted in a slightly noisy operation. As the next model up, the DMP-BDT320 offers exactly the same capabilities in terms of Viera Connect, built-in WiFi, DLNA compliance and Smartphone remote control but also includes a more stylish design with a disc slot rather tray. The BDT320 is differentiated from the BDT220 in two other areas, the BDT320 includes 'digital tube sound' for improved audio quality, as well as a new touch pad remote control. So let's see how the BDT320 compares to its cheaper sibling and if the differences justify the higher price. This particular BDT320 was provided for review by TPS and a few modifications have been made, which we will discuss in the main section of this review.

Styling/Build/Connectivity

The design of the BDT320 is far more stylish than the cheaper BDT220 and with its central disc slot is immediately reminiscent of Samsung's Blu-ray players. The glossy black metal finish and the angled designed of the chassis offers an attractive and contemporary look and as soon as you pick up the BDT320, another difference becomes apparent – it’s far more weighty than the BDT220. The player has a well built and solid feel, with the additional weight giving the BDT320 a slightly more expensive appearance. The dimensions of the chassis remain slim, measuring 430 x 27 x 179mm and whilst the width of 430mm is typical of an AV product, a depth of 179mm is about half the average, so you might struggle to position the BDT320 between two other products on your equipment shelf. However, the added mass results in a far quieter performance than when compared to the BDT220.

Along the top front ledge of the chassis there are some basic controls, with an on/off button on the far left hand side and the play/pause, stop and eject buttons on the far right hand side. The disc slot is positioned in the middle, with the display on the left hand side and a pull down flap on the right hand side. Behind the flap there are two slots, one for a SD card and the other for a USB drive.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320

The connections are all located at the right rear of the player and are fairly basic, consisting of a single HDMI output, along with a LAN socket, a composite video out using an RCA connector and stereo analogue out, also using RCA connectors. There is an optical digital output and a connection for a communication camera (TY-CC20W or TY-CC10W) for use with Skype. What you don't get is component video outputs (thanks to a jittery film industry who are locking the stable door long after the horse has bolted) and no 7.1 audio outputs. Finally, at the left rear of the player, is the two pin connector for the mains power lead.

Unlike the BDT220, which comes with the standard Panasonic Blu-ray remote control, the BDT320 comes with a new touch pad remote. Clearly Panasonic has recently been attending the "if it ain't broke, break it" school of thought because this new remote is a disaster. The only actual buttons on the remote are On/Off, Internet (VIERA Connect), Netflix, Skype, Home, Return, Option, the colour buttons and a new one called Keys. Everything else is done through the touch pad, which might make scrolling through some of the internet features easier but makes even the most simple disc navigation task a nightmare.

When playing a disc for example you need to press the Keys button and then select the desired control on the onscreen virtual keypad using the touch pad. To press enter you need to tap the touch pad which doesn't always work and entering text is incredibly time consuming and the only way of getting rid of the onscreen virtual keypad is to hit return on the remote. After only a few minutes of attempted use we had thrown this lemon away in frustration and resorted to using a standard Panasonic Blu-ray remote that we happened to have lying around. It comes as no surprise that TPS offers owners of the BDT320 the chance to buy a normal remote for a small additional fee. Aside from touch pad remote's ergonomic issues, we fail to understand why Panasonic bothered with the new remote when you can use your smartphone or tablet as a control anyway.

Setup/Menus

As with the BDT220, the BDT320 uses a central HOME page that allows you to access other menus or content from there. The is an option to customise the HOME page for up to four users, including selecting the wallpaper, an icon and a user name, as well as registering your smartphone as a remote control. Once in the HOME page you can either move up to enter the networked features, down to watch video, left to look at pictures and right to listen to music; if you press the enter button you access the Setup menus. The video, photos and music can be accessed from whichever storage media they're held on, whilst the network option allows the user to access Panasonic's VIERA Connect internet portal or their media server.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

In Setup, there are the Player Settings submenus, the first of which contains all the Picture options, including the Picture Mode and the Picture Adjustment controls, although these can only be accessed in the User picture mode. We used the User mode with the Picture Adjustment settings left untouched, which appeared to be delivering a unmolested image, which is all we really want from a player. The controls available in Picture Adjustment are Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour, Gamma, 3D NR and Integrated NR. These are the same controls you'll find in your display, which is where you should be making any adjustments, so leave the controls on the BDT320 alone.

Other controls within the Picture submenu include Chroma Process, which delivers chroma upsampling to a compatible TV and whilst we couldn't see a huge difference there appeared to be slightly less colour banding in some scenes so we left it on. The Detail Clarity and Super Resolution controls are both essentially sharpness features which we left off because once again we want the player to output the 1080p signal from a Blu-ray without any unwanted processing. The HDMI Output option allows you to select the HDMI Video Format (resolution), the 24p Output, the HDMI Colour Mode, the Deep Colour Output and Contents Type Flag. There are also controls for NTSC Contents Output, Still Mode and Seamless Play.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

The next submenu relates to Sound and includes options for setting the Sound Effects, Dialogue and Dynamic Range Compression, all of which are best left off. Then there is Digital Audio Output where you can select which audio signal to output, the BD-Video Secondary Audio and the HDMI Audio Output. You can choose to send your Dolby/DTS/MPEG audio as either Bitstream or PCM but note that setting BD-Video Secondary Audio to 'On' and sending your lossless audio bitstreamed will result in it being sent in its lossy format. Next we have the PCM Down Conversion, which allows you to output audio at 192kHz or 96kHz as 48kHz if necessary. Then there is Downmix for multi-channel to 2-channel stereo, Audio Delay and 7.1 Audio Reformatting which will play 6.1 and 5.1 surround encoded audio at 7.1 when set to auto. Finally there is High Clarity Sound feature, which is supposed to improve sound quality by turning off the video signal for HDMI output.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

The 3D submenu allows the user to setup 3D BD-Video Playback, 3D AVCHD Output, the 3D Type (side by side, frame sequential etc.) and the 3D Playback Message (best left hidden or it gets annoying). There is also a control for manual settings such as Distance, Screen Type, Frame Width and Frame Colour, which shouldn't be used if the 3D content has been encoded correctly. There is also a 2D to 3D conversion feature but this remains what it will always be, a total gimmick not worthy of serious consideration. Finally, there is a control called Graphic Display Level which adjusts the position of the Option menu etc. The Language submenu, as the name suggests, allows for the selection of the language used for Soundtrack Preference, Subtitle Preference, Menu Preference and the On-Screen Language.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

The Network submenu includes an option for Easy Network Settings, which helps you set up the built-in WiFi but there is also a more detailed option called Network Settings. Setting up the wireless connection is very easy and the BDT320 includes WiFi Direct (WiDi) which means it can connect with similar devices without the need to go through a router. In here you can select between LAN or Wireless connections, set up the IP Address/DNS Settings, Proxy Server Settings, the Network Service Settings (VIERA Connect), Network Dive Connection (DLNA), Remote Device Operation (needs to be on for smartphone control) and BD-Live Internet Access.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

After Network, there is another submenu called Ratings which given the limited number of options could probably have been included with the Network submenu. In the Ratings submenu there are options for setting the DVD and BD ratings, as well as the Network Service Lock. The final submenu is System which includes all the controls for Easy Settings (basic setup), TV Settings (Aspect Ratio, TV System, Screen Saver, On-Screen Messages, VIERA Link), Unit Settings (Front Panel Display can be set to Auto which dims the display during playback which is handy), Quick Start, Remote Control, Firmware Update, System Information, DivX Registration and Default Settings.

Features

The BDT320 comes with WiFi built-in, so you can connect directly to your wireless network but if you don't have one then you can connect to your router or network using a LAN cable. Once you have set up your network connection, you can then begin using the BDT320's internet capabilities, which Panasonic call VIERA Connect. The platform that Panasonic use on their BD players is essentially the same as last year's TV platform. Whilst this is an improvement on last year's BD players it does mean that some features found on this year's TVs, like the Web Browser, are missing.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

However there are still a decent number of applications including the ubiquitous BBC iPlayer, Skype (although you'll need the previously mentioned camera attachment to use it), as well as Twitter and Facebook. In addition you get BBC News, Euro Sport, YouTube, AceTrax, CineTrailer, Dailymotion, Euronews and new additions like Netflix, where you can watch movies and TV shows on demand. We had no problems using all these features and we were quickly watching AVForums videos on YouTube. Another addition is the slimmed down VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games, although there is no payment feature.

Panasonic DMP-BDT320
Panasonic DMP-BDT320

Besides having a wide choice of apps, the other important elements of an internet platform are that it is easy to access and responsive. In this sense VIERA Connect was a success because it was simple to launch, you just press the Internet button on the remote, and whilst it was reasonably responsive, it isn't as fast as Panasonic's latest TVs. Our only complaint about Panasonic's internet platform is that in order to move from one page to the next, you have to select MORE or BACK, rather than just going directly to the next page but this is a minor quibble. We downloaded the BD Remote app and found it was easy to connect and simple to use, providing an effective way of controlling and communicating with the BDT320. Certainly if your current TV doesn't have any smart features, the BDT320 is an effective way of adding these features without the added expense of a new TV.

As far as connectivity goes, the BDT320 is fully DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over your home network and you can also access content via disc, USB or SD card. In terms of file support the BDT320 is a big improvement on last year and can handle a greater range, including AVCHD, MPEG, DivX HD, MKV, MOV, MP3, MP4, AVI, FLAC, JPEG and MPO. We had no problems playing back any of the above files using a USB drive, SD card or disc media (CD, DVD, BD), as well as AVC HD, MOV, MP3 and FLAC files wirelessly over our network.

As we mentioned previously, the BDT320 provided for review by TPS had been modified and as a result it was capable of multi-region playback. The default setting is Region B for Blu-ray and Region 2 for DVD but it is easy to change it by entering a specific code on the remote. The mod allows you to mix and match, so for example you could have BD Region A and DVD Region 2 by pressing 1 and 2 after entering the code. If you want to go to BD Region B and DVD Region 3, you just enter the same code and then press 2 and 3. Although in reality the region code verification for DVDs has been disabled, so the BDT320 should play any region DVD regardless of what is set. It would be sensible to leave the DVD region set to 1, just in case you have ant RCE discs. We tested the BDT320 with Region A and B Blu-rays, as well as Region 1,2 and 3 DVDs and they all played without any problems. The modification also has other advantages, it deactivates the UOP (User Operation Prohibition) for DVDs to allow you to skip forced trailers etc. and it also deactivates PUO (Protected User Operation) on Blu-rays which also allows you to skip any forced content.

3D Playback

As we have often pointed out, given the digital nature of a 3D Blu-ray, as long as the player is behaving itself the results over HDMI should be the same regardless of the price of that player. We used the BDT320 in conjunction with the Sony VPL-VW1000 that we were reviewing at the time and we're happy to report the player did a very capable job with 3D Blu-ray, resulting in no undue artefacting and allowing the Sony to deliver some truly amazing 3D images.

1080p Playback

As with 3D, any player should be capable of an equally impressive performance when delivering 1080p24 over HDMI and needless to say, the BDT320 displayed 1080p24 encoded Blu-rays without introducing any issues. The player also had no problems handling 720p Blu-rays encoded at 50Hz or 60Hz. As long as you selected the Cinema picture mode, there appeared to be no unwanted processing going on with 1080p content and as a result, the suitably unadulterated 1080p output looked great.

1080i Playback

There is greater opportunity for a player to add value when it comes to 1080i content and just like the BDT220, the BDT320 took both the edge and source adaptive deinterlacing tests from the Spears and Munsil and the HQV discs in its stride. The BDT320 also handled both the edge adaptive deinterlacing and cadence detection duties very well and fine details were largely retained under movement and the player was able to lock on to both the PAL 2:2 film cadence and the NTSC 2:3 film cadence - which is good news if you intend to use the player's multi-region capabilities.

480i/576i Playback

This is another area where the player itself can actually improve image quality and overall we liked the BDT320's scaling engine. In actual testing we found there wasn't any detail being taken away from the image and well transferred material looked very nice indeed. The BDT320 also had no problems with both PAL and NTSC discs and again it was able to correctly detect the 2:2 and 2:3 which again is good news if you intend to take advantage of the regional coding modifications.

Subjective Audio Tests

When it comes to the audio performance, the results are far more subjective but the chances are that anyone buying the BDT320 will use it as a digital transport, sending the audio as bitstream via the HDMI output. In this sense the BDT320 worked very well, seamlessly sending a number of different audio formats including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, to a suitably capable amplifier. There were also no problems using the onboard decoding of the BDT320, allowing it to send these same soundtracks as PCM to any amplifier that couldn't do the decoding internally. The BDT320 also had no problems sending the audio from CDs and DVDs, either as bitstream via the optical out or via the HDMI output as bitstream or HDMI.

Given that there are no analogue 7.1 outputs on the BDT320, the audiophile credentials of the player are limited, despite Panasonic's claim that it includes 'digital tube sound'. You can send the audio from CDs or downmixed multi-channel via the analogue stereo outputs but these didn't sound any different to the same tracks being passed to the amp digitally. There is the High Clarity Sound feature, which turns off the video DAC in the chipset for playback over HDMI and turns off the video output completely for audio playback. Panasonic claim this will reduce electrical interference and thus improve the audio over HDMI but considering it's a digital signal we were sceptical. Needless to say in A/B tests comparing the audio with the feature turned on and off, we could hear no difference in the sound quality. Frankly, if you are looking for a player with genuine audiophile credentials, you would be better off considering at the BDT500.

Disc Load Times

From a dead start the BDT320 takes 16 seconds to get to the home page but the BDT320 includes Panasonic's Quick Start feature and when this is enabled, the load times are very fast. In fact it was only 1 second from pressing the on button to getting to the home page. The time it took to actually load a disc and reach the copyright notice ranged from 20 to 30 seconds depending on the disc. However, getting to the actual menu page could often take much longer, although in fairness this is the fault of the disc encoding and not the BDT320.

Energy Consumption

In line with all of Panasonic's products this year, the BDT320 comes with some fairly serious green credentials and the energy consumption numbers were incredibly small. In standby without Quick Start enabled the BDT320 measured zero on our meter which means the energy consumption was lower than 0.5W but with Quick Start enabled it was a little higher at 5W. However, even when in operation the BDT320 used 7W when on and was only using 9W when actually playing a disc, so Panasonic appear to be delivering on their promise of energy efficient products.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Impressive video playback
  • Fast load times
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Viera Connect
  • Extensive file support
  • Good networking capabilities
  • Stylish and solid construction
  • Responsive menus
  • Excellent energy efficiency
  • Multi-region modification

Cons

  • Connections are basic
  • Touch pad remote is a disaster

Panasonic DMP-BDT320 3D Blu-ray Player Review

The BDT320 sits just above the BDT220 in Panasonic's new Blu-ray player range and as such includes a £30 price premium. The only real differences between the two are the better build quality and more attractive styling of the BDT320, the 'digital tube sound' and the touch pad remote. So the question is, do these changes justify the additional cost?

In terms of the build quality and design the BDT320 is definitely an improvement on the cheaper model and as a result it feels more substantial. Whether or not you prefer the central disc slot over a disc tray is a matter of personal but there's no denying that the BDT320 is attractive to look at. The added benefit of the improved construction is that the BDT320 is far quieter in operation when compared to the slightly plastic BDT220.

The BDT320 comes with a new touch pad remote control that is possibly one of the most il-conceived ideas of recent times. The touch pad is fine for moving around certain internet content but makes even the most basic controls for Blu-ray playback a total nightmare. The logic behind Panasonic's decision to create this remote is even more bizarre when you consider the smartphone control app does it all far better. In fact this so-called 'premium' remote is so bad, it's actually a reason to not buy the BDT320.

The setup is identical to the BDT220 and thanks to the built-in WiFi, connecting the BDT320 to the internet and your home network is very easy. The BDT320 also includes WiFi Direct (WiDi) so that you can connect directly to similarly capable devices without going through your router. The inclusion of VIERA Connect allows access to a host of applications, including new additions like Netflix, as well as the VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games. As far as connectivity goes, the BDT320 is fully DLNA compliant and can stream all the most common files over your home network and you can also access content via disc, USB or SD card.

The BDT320 offered excellent load times, especially in Quick Start mode and the energy efficiency was excellent with the player only drawing 9W in playback. Actual playback over HDMI was excellent and with 2D high definition content the BDT320 delivered excellent images that remained free of any unwanted processing. The same was true of 3D content and the resulting images were equally as good and free of any noticeable artefacts. When it came to standard definition content the BDT320 was just as capable, delivering nicely scaled images without blurring or ringing.

The audio performance of the BDT320 was exactly the same as the BDT220 over HDMI and since most people will use either player as a digital transport, there is no real audio advantage to buying the BDT320. For the record, the BDT320 it is not able to play SACD, DVD-A or HDCD discs. Our review sample was provided by TPS and had been modified to play Blu-rays and DVDs from multiple regions. It was easy to change between regions by entering a simple code, we tested a number of Blu-rays and DVDs from different regions and can report that the modification worked flawlessly.

In the end the DMP-BDT320's audio and video performance is identical to the cheaper BDT220 and it doesn't offer enough improvements to justify the additional cost. In fact, in the case of the new touch pad remote, it actually represents a retrograde step and we'd recommend buying the BDT220 and spending the money you save on some discs.

Scores

Picture Quality

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
.
6

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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