Panasonic DMP-BDT310 £260
4th Apr 2011 | 14:20
Panasonic adds Skype and 3D conversion to its flagship Blu-ray player
Panasonic DMP-BDT310: Overview
The Panasonic DMP-BDT310 is the Japanese company's latest flagship 3D-ready Blu-ray player, taking everything that was great about last year's DMP-BDT300 and jazzing it up with a bunch of new features for 2011.
It sits at the top of a range that also includes the entry-level, non-3D DMP-BD75, plus two lesser-spec'd 3D decks, the DMP-BDT110 and DMP-BDT210.
Some of the tastiest new tech relates to 3D playback – you get a whole bunch of 3D picture adjustments and 2D-to-3D conversion, which has previously only been available on Samsung's 3D-ready TVs.
The BDT310 has a couple of other fresh tricks up its sleeve – it allows you to make Skype video calls from the comfort of your armchair and can also be controlled using an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch with a free app.
These new talents join an already fit-to-burst feature list, which includes DLNA networking functionality, internet access and the usual array of picture processing power developed at Panasonic Hollywood Labs.
However, it's not only the feature list that's been revamped for 2011. All of the players have been compacted down into an impossibly slim casing (measuring just 35mm high), which not only makes them easier on your AV cabinet but also makes less of an impact on the environment due to the reduction in packaging.
What's more, the DMP-BDT310 has been blessed with another funky new cosmetic feature – the Touch Free Sensor. Simply wave your hand over the top-mounted sensor and the disc tray opens, and another wave shuts it. Superficial it may be, but it's undeniably cool too.
The sleek black deck also features an unusual diagonally dappled texture on top, which shimmers in the light. The front panel sports an SD card slot, which is designed for BD Live storage and MPEG-2, JPEG, MPO and AVCHD playback, plus a USB port that supports DivX HD, MKV, MP3, JPEG and WMV.
The biggest talking point on the rear panel is the presence of two HDMI outputs. That makes it possible to enjoy 3D pictures and HD audio soundtracks simultaneously if your AV receiver lacks HDMI v1.4 inputs. It's a feature we loved on the BDT300 and we're pleased to see it return. Of course, if your AV receiver boasts HDMI v1.4 inputs then the second output is of little use.
Elsewhere on the back you get USB and Ethernet ports, optical digital audio, analogue stereo and composite video outputs. Multichannel analogue and component video outputs are missing but aren't a great loss.
Panasonic DMP-BDT310: Features and performance
Chief among the new 3D-related features is 2D-to-3D conversion, which works with any 2D Blu-ray or DVD and was included off the back of 'significant consumer demand'.
Anyone who's seen the retrospectively converted 3D version of Clash of the Titans will know that this sort of technology isn't always successful, but given the right material it could be a worthwhile inclusion.
By the admission of Panasonic's Chief AV Engineer Tony Itani, its 2D to 3D conversion is 'conservative' so you're not going to get the same immersive depth and layering as real 3D – indeed we were straining to see much extra depth with our Inception disc.
But with the 2D Avatar disc, for example, the results are much more impressive.
It's joined by a range of 3D modes such as Screen Frame, which adds a diffused border along the sides of the picture. This softens the hard edge where the image meets the bezel, which, according to Panasonic, some people find uncomfortable to watch, although it's not something we had ever considered before it was pointed out. You can change the width and colour but whatever you do the frame is distracting. If you don't like it, you don't have to use it.
Other tweaks allow you to alter the depth of the 3D effect and the screen type, which affects the way the left and right images are composed on screen. However useful these adjustments turn out to be, we should applaud this level of flexibility.
Another new addition to the feature list is Skype, which allows you to make video calls from the comfort of your sofa.
Given the growing number of people using this VoIP service it's a canny inclusion, and works brilliantly thanks to the bright 'n' breezy user interface and nifty features like an auto answering message and the ability for callers to leave video messages on SD card when you're not there (with an upgrade available from April). The only downside is that you have to fork out around £120 for the TY-CC10W communication camera.
Networking of the more anti-social type is also possible on the DMP-BT310 thanks to its DLNA support and built in Wi-Fi. You can stream music, video and photos from Windows 7 PCs and NAS drives on your network, as well as recordings stored on Panasonic DIGA recorders.
And if you've got an iPhone or iPad, then you can control the DMP-BDT310 using your Apple device with a free app (which should have been released by the time you read this). It works with Gesture and Scrub, and even lets you carry out a couple of functions the real remote won't. You can also access content from networked devices through your iPhone.
The Viera Cast internet portal also makes a reappearance, although it's a shame that it hasn't been upgraded to the improved Viera Connect. Viera Cast's range of content is starting to feel a little tired, with key sites (YouTube, Picasa, Twitter, Bloomberg) being outnumbered by content aimed at the German and French markets. Desolée, ca ne m'interesse pas.
There's a couple of audio features peculiar to this model. Digital Tube Sound aims to replicate the warmth of vacuum tube amplifiers, with six different settings to choose from. Meanwhile High Clarity Sound simply shuts down analogue video circuitry so it doesn't interfere with the audio signals.
Finally on the features front, Panasonic has introduced a brilliant new operating system, which is one of the most intuitive we've encountered. Icons on the main menu are laid out in a cross, corresponding to the left, right, up and down controls on the top-notch remote, and a single button press takes you to the relevant option.
In performance terms the DMP-BDT310's picture quality is sublime, particularly when viewed on one of Panasonic's plasmas. The depth and density of 2D images makes them seem instantly rich and cinematic, plus the image is crammed with the sharpest detail possible.
But switch to 3D and the wow factor increases – the smoothness and clarity with which the BDT310 handles Avatar's Full HD images is truly masterful, sucking you right into the achingly beautiful Pandoran landscapes. Crosstalk and blurring are simply not an issue, and despite the dimmed glasses the radiant colours and sizzling detail manage to punch right through to your retinas. Gorgeous stuff.
Part of the reason for its success is the Adaptive Chroma Processing at work inside the player, which upsamples colour information from 4:2:0 to 4:2:2 and makes colours look a little cleaner and more faithful than some other Blu-ray players – in turn helping to deliver a deeper and more believable 3D effect.
Sonically the DMP-BDT310 is surprisingly good by Blu-ray player standards. Music sounds crisp and open, without leaning too heavily on the top-end frequencies, and there's a healthy dose of bottom end punch. Digital Tube Sound is also a welcome feature, lending an extra layer of depth, although it won't be to everyone's taste.
Disc loading is faster than last year's DMP-BDT300, loading up discs in around half the time.
Panasonic DMP-BDT310: Verdict
Although the DMP-BDT310 is expensive compared to some rival flagship players (particularly when you add the cost of the Skype camera), it certainly crams in a lot for the money. The feature list is extraordinary, throwing in everything from Wi-Fi enabled networking and Skype functionality to iPhone control and 2D-to-3D conversion – and that's before we've even mentioned Blu-ray playback.
That said, the 3D conversion isn't always effective, and it's a shame the new-fangled Viera Connect hasn't yet filtered down to Panasonic's Blu-ray decks. But any such concerns are wiped away when you clap eyes on the deck's immaculate 2D and 3D pictures and hear its surprisingly good CD playback.
The DMP-BDT310's incredibly generous feature list, which leaves no stone unturned, and the excellent picture performance with 2D and 3D discs. It's also a cinch to use thanks to the attractive new operating system while the compact casing and Touch-Free Sensor make the external design highly appealing. Two HDMIs is a bonus too.
It's relatively expensive. Viera Cast needs more compelling content to match Samsung and Sony's offerings, and 3D conversion isn't particularly convincing. And as much as we love Skype, the price of the communication camera is a big ask.
If you can raise the funds, the DMP-BDT310 will reward you with an avalanche of cutting-edge features, knockout 2D and 3D pictures, and a brilliant operating system