Panasonic DMP-BDT320 £229
21st Mar 2012 | 12:35
A touch-remote and Viera Connect augment this great Blu-ray player
Overview and features
Over £200 is an awful lot to pay for a simple Blu-ray player, but Panasonic has loaded the DMP-BDT320 disc spinner with a host of extras and made it something of a streamer.
Now fitted with the same Viera Connect interface that adorns its plasma and LED-backlit LCD TVs, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 is stuffed with Netflix, Skype and BBC iPlayer, all of which are controlled by a swanky touchpad remote (more about that later).
The Panasonic DMP-BDT320 isn't the brand's flagship Blu-ray deck. That honour goes to the DMP-BDT500, although for most users this is the pinnacle, features-wise.
A mere 27mm in height and only 179mm deep, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 fits nicely into an AV rack, although any distinctiveness from other components is limited to the 45-degree angled sides. Otherwise this is gloss black all the way, albeit with a slightly mottled top surface.
Those with an aging AV receiver without HDMI inputs won't like the look of the Panasonic DMP-BDT320's rear, which sports just a single HDMI output.
Component video outputs have also been lost on this year's batch of Blu-ray players (from all brands - thank a nervous Hollywood for that one). But analogue video remains in the form of a down-and-dirty composite video port, which is presumably for anyone with a CRT TV accidentally buying the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 thinking it's a DVD player.
Audio is via either some left and right phonos or the digital optical audio out.
Unless your Wi-Fi connection is flaky, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320's Ethernet LAN port will be redundant - there's a Wi-Fi module built in.
So too will a second USB, which is exclusively for plugging in a Panasonic TY-CC10W Communication Camera - sold separately - to bring Skype video calling to this deck's Viera Connect smart TV interface. Although hardly vital, it's an impressive accessory that boasts four unidirectional microphones and a 1280 x 720-pixel image.
More useful is Wi-Fi Direct, which makes it possible to link smartphones to the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 without the need for the broadband home network. For now it's terribly niche, but most CE devices will feature Wi-Fi Direct within a few years.
Viera Connect, making its debut on Panasonic Blu-ray players this year, is oddly called 'Network Service' on the home screen. This year sees Netflix joining Acetrax to cover movie streaming. And BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Euronews, CNBC, UStream, Aupeo, PlayJam, SHOUTcast radio, DailyMotion, Picasa, Twitter and Facebook aren't far away.
There's a link to a marketplace, too, although it's a slimmed-down affair that doesn't enable payment for apps.
For now it's a mixture of one-trick games such as chess and poker, and mostly acts as a storage vault for apps you don't actually want to clutter up the home screen.
We downloaded Penalty Shootout from the marketplace, but found it almost impossible to play the game using the trackpad remote, since numbers were needed to select an area of the goal to aim at.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT320 can also indulge in home networking and digital file handling.
Aside from spinning 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 manages a plethora of other formats. The usual DVD and CD purchases are no problem, but that disc tray goes further by playing AVCHD, DivX and MKV video, FLAC and MP3 music and JPEG photos.
Removable media is on the menu, too, with slots for both USB flash drives and SD cards hidden behind a small flap on the player's right-hand extremity. The latter is primarily for BD Live purposes, although all flavours of SD cards up to 64GB are supported.
From SD the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 claims support for JPEG photos and MPEG2/AVCHD video only, while from a USB stick we managed to play MP3 and even FLAC music, as well as AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4 and MPEG videos.
The deck picked out some impressive detail from some MP3 and FLAC files, but didn't recognise WAV or WMA files. Over DLNA the results are poor; we were only able to play AVC HD and MOV video files, as well as MP3 and FLAC music files.
Given that the touchpad remote is the only real upgrade from little brother the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 lives or dies by its usefulness.
First impressions weren't good. Upon first use it seemed to have a mind of its own, but once we'd judged its sensitivity we were able to cope with its simplicity - you swipe into an icon for whatever you want to do.
The user interface gives either a left, right, up, down or middle choice, so just a simple swipe - or tap for the middle instruction - is needed.
It's all fairly straightforward, although the picture, sound and settings menus still appear to be designed best for hard-button remotes, and swiping this way and that in quick succession will be tricky for some to get used to. It's a crash course in hand-eye coordination.
There's a 'Keys' button above the touchpad that brings up a virtual version of a traditional remote control. The trouble is, not only does it involve four different virtual screens, it can also only be switched off by recourse to the 'Return' button below the trackpad.
Worse, those Keys panels are the only way to navigate within a Blu-ray disc, which relegates the trackpad to a novelty act for non-Blu-ray uses only.
Besides, those Keys screens are much like the free app available for this Blu-ray player, and in truth, you're just as well served by that app as you are by this expensive touchpad controller.
We're really not sure who the Panasonic DMP-BDT320's touchpad remote is aimed at. People without smartphones? Do they still exist? If they do, a touchpad controller isn't going to be on their list of wants from a Blu-ray player.
Despite it being a button-light affair, the touchpad remote does boast shortcuts to both Netflix and Skype. We'll skip over the latter - we've covered it before, and our review sample didn't arrive with a Skype webcam.
Netflix is this year's must-have app, it seems, despite there not actually being that many movies available on the platform.
Netflix is part of a Viera Connect interface that's little changed from last year's Panasonic TVs.
Aside from the 'Internet' shortcut on the remote, there's no way of reaching Viera Connect - odd, that - but it's easier to control, using the trackpad, than perhaps any other part of the user interface.
Largely because of the touchpad remote's presence, the Viera Connect interface is simplicity itself to skip around, although it can be a tad slow.
Overall, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320's central user interface is good looking, with the chance to add digital photos as wallpaper, although the five provided are all bright, breezy and thoroughly modern-looking.
After loading and playing a Blu-ray disc in under 40 seconds, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 impresses with its core picture quality.
New for 2012 is an increase in vertical colour data, and it's certainly true that the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 outputs highly accurate, warm tones and awesome contrast.
Also making its debut is Adaptive Chroma Processing, which helps extract a high amount of detail, serving 2D images on the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 well.
It also produces some impressive 3D images, as viewed on a Panasonic Edge LED-backlit TV with active shutter glasses. Everything about the images is just so pristine, stable and thoroughly engaging.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT320's P4HD chip manages reference-level DVD upscaling, although that can't be said about 2D to 3D conversion, which reaches its usual level of being occasionally convincing.
It's a technology that has little chance of working for more than fleeting moments, though it does work with an impressive number of sources. Actually engaging 2D-3D mode while watching an HD trailer for 2012, for instance, proved long-winded, but rather impressive in a short, special effects-laden burst.
An impressive all-round performance aside, we're struggling to find a good reason to buy the Panasonic DMP-BDT320, which is only a very slight step-up from the DMP-BDT220.
Slimmer by a whopping 11mm, the only addition of any real note is that touchpad remote control. It lacks full 7.1 analogue output, which is reserved for the DMP-BDT500, as is a second HDMI output.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT320's user interface is verging on brilliance - we love its sheer simplicity and customisation options. The digital file support is good, too, with MKV and the usuals all handled well.
We don't underestimate the usefulness of built-in Wi-Fi, while Viera Connect is fast matching up to rival smart TV hubs from Sony and Samsung, despite being here in lite form. Most of all, we like its 2D Blu-ray pictures, which is what it was clearly invented to excel with.
Despite being in the age of the touchscreen, the decision to include - and charge extra for - a trackpad-style remote control seems both hugely logical and completely pointless. We got used to the thing after a while and enjoyed skipping around the delicious user interface, but the fact that it doesn't work during Blu-ray playback means that the whole concept fails where it's best suited.
It's one of only two complaints we have, the other being DLNA streaming that doesn't support many file formats at all.
Stuffed with goodies on a Wi-Fi-powered Viera Connect, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 handles a plethora of digital files and indulges - albeit in a somewhat muddy manner - in DLNA home networking.
A super-slim Blu-ray player that needs only Wi-Fi to perform a host of tricks, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 boasts excellent 2D and 3D Blu-ray coupled with reference-level DVD upscaling. This makes for a deck that has few flaws.
Whether or not the inclusion of a trackpad-style remote control makes this slightly slimmer deck a worthy upgrade from its little brother, the DMP-BDT220, is doubtful.
But as a standalone Blu-ray proposition, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 is a top-notch all-rounder that oozes class.
Blu-ray players around the £200 mark are actually pretty scarce, though anyone not interested in the touchpad remote could go down a model to the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 and not miss out on the good stuff.
Similarly styled is Sony's BDP-S590, a 3D-ready deck featuring Wi-Fi, DLNA streaming and smart TV features, though the brand's Sony BDP-S790 will break new ground by upscaling Blu-ray to 4k resolutions. Samsung's BD-E6100, a 3D Blu-ray player with built-in WiFi, Smart Hub and 5GB of cloud storage, should also be worth a look.