Great basic Blu-ray player with many features

Jan 23, 2012 (Updated Jan 23, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lots of features, good picture quality, very good user interface

Cons:Apps can be a little sluggish, remote not laid out ideally

The Bottom Line: If you want a cheap, basic player, this one should be very high on your list.

My Blu-ray collection is growing so I thought it would be nice to get another player for the bedroom in addition to the PS3 I already have in the living room.  My wife and I also use Netflix streaming a lot.  This player was $80 and it included the 3D version of Avatar for free, so I figured why not?  After using it for about 3 months, I have to say I'm very impressed with it.  Though it is Panasonic's bottom of the barrel Blu-ray player for this generation, it doesn't skimp on features.  The only feature I can see people wanting that this player doesn't have is Wi-Fi built in, but for this price, I wouldn't complain (though you can get an add of Wi-Fi dongle later).  Speaking of features, here are a few highlights of what the player can do:

- 3D capable
- Play Blu-rays, DVDs, CD including various recordable disc formats
- Play media files from network, SD card, USB drive, or burned discs
- Viera Cast, lots of different apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, sports, weather, etc...
- USB port can be used to add a Wi-Fi dongle or Skype camera, in addition to external media
- HDMI, ethernet, optical SP-DIF and analog out, on the back.  2x USB ports, one in front and one in back.  SD card slot in front.

General player quality
The player is small and very compact, especially height and depth-wise.  Very light-weight, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing.  The entire front panel folds down, either manually or automatically when the disc tray opens.  This keeps the front finish look very sleek and modern.  Only the power and eject buttons are accessible with the front cover closed.

Though it has lots of other features, first and foremost it is a disc player.  Blu-ray discs load quickly, just as quick as my PS3 (I can't tell a difference, but I didn't put a stopwatch to it either).  It's only connected via HDMI to a smallish 32" 1366x768 (1080i) TV so I'm not gettnig the full 1080p.  Even so, I can tell a clear difference when playing Blu-rays, and upscaling DVDs for that matter, on this player than my old Panasonic 480p DVD player; this player looks much better.  And by the way, the player's HDMI connection detected the 1080i setting on my TV correctly and automatically selected the correct output.

Again, because of my TV's limitations, I can't try 3D movies and only played 2D, but it is worth mentioning, there is a feature in the player that converts even 2D movies to 3D... not sure how well this would work though.

I unfortunately can't go into too much detail about picture quality since as mentioned earlier it's only connected to a 1366x768 TV, but you wouldn't be getting a player of this caliber for video-phile purposes.  I think for what it is, the playback quality is great.  Audiowise, it can stream all the latest types of audio (as of late 2011) including Dolby TrueHD.

User Interface
The user interface is very easy to use.  You can easily navigate with the 4 way directional button to play various media, setup the system, and use the apps.  It's reasonably responsive, but I did notice a little lag here and there.

Back to the UI, like i said it's easy to use, but the apps (Viera Cast) menu is kind of an eye sore to me.  Not that it's not polished and 2011 looking, but they tried to make it look cool and give a 3D depth look to it, like the intro to the Star Wars movies where the text is scrolling back "into" the screen.  Why couldn't they just keep it consistent with the other menu items and keep it flat 2D looking?  Just a little annoyance.

One nice user experience features is that as long as you're connected to the internet, it will also automatically check for firmware updates.  Pretty impressive to me seeing how this is just a simple "disc player".  I've already updated the firware automatically twice in the past 3 months, so it seems Panasonic is somewhat ontop of the game in terms of fixing bugs or adding features for now.  By the way, the player defaults to use DHCP for its network connections so you just plug it into your home network and it is ready to go for online stuff.

Lastly, there are dedicated buttons on the remote for some of the most popular apps like Netflix and Skype so you can switch to them easily without going through the Viera Cast apps menu.  I greatly appreciate the Netflix one!

Recordable Media
For the most part, I've had good success with recordable media.  Only two out of the dozens of burned DVDs (DVD+R and single and dual layer) I've tried in this player had issues playing, so I'd chalk those two up as quality of the writing process.  For what it's worth, I have other burned DVDs on the exact same brand, and batch, of recordable media play fine... only those two were exceptions.  I have not tried recordable BD-R.  CD-Rs also play without issues.

Playing Media Files
I haven't tried many different media types, but I have tried MKV files at 720p, pretty high bitrate (1+ Mbps) using a USB memory stick, and it plays flawlessly, pause, fast forward and rewind all work.  Note that the USB drive must be FAT32 format which limits you to 4GB files.  I'd imagine the same would have worked fine if I used a disc.  The only thing that I'm a little curious about is playing media files over a network connection via a DLNA compatible server, which I don't have, but I'd assume the same files that work off a USB/disc will work over DLNA too.

The menu to select a media file to play is a little odd though.  While it can traverse nested folders, it does not show the folders in the same view as the media files.  You need to switch to the folder view to enter a folder, not sure why they did this.  But overall, I'm very satisfied with the media playback feature of this player.

Viera Cast (apps)
I saved what I thought was the best for last.  As mentioned earlier, my wife and I are heavy Netflix users.  Next to the PS3 Netflix app interface, this is my favorite one, even better than Windows Media Center and the XBOX360.  It is a little on the slow side for button responsiveness, especially using the search function, but it is not something that is excessively annoying.  Entering numbers and letters via the remote control is a little tiedious, like surfing the web on a dumbphone without a full keyboard.  But once you get your login setup and your queue loaded, you get a great Netflix player.

I saw a bunch of other apps like Amazon, weather, sports, Hulu, Vudu, Facebook, Twitter, etc... but I either don't have an account or would rather just visit the sites on my iPhone or computer for ease of text input.  I did try Youtube though, and it was very usable like the Netflix app, including the ability to play videos full screen.

Cons / quirks
This list is short:

- Viera Cast button is directly above UP button.  I have on numerous occasions accidentally started Viera Cast when I meant to press UP.
- No dedicated subtitle button?  What kind of remote is this?  This has got to be the biggest thorn in my side about this player, if anyone finds it, let me know!
- Apps are a little sluggish but still very usable.

I am extremely happy with my purchase and I'm glad I held off a few months before writing this review because I only recently tapped into a lot of the extra features of this player like media playing off USB and recordable media playing.  It's almost like having a mini HTPC in the bedroom.  Quality is excellent considering it is the lowest end player (and cheap!)  Only a few minor issues mentioned above make this player less than perfect in my eyes, but I will still give it 5 stars because there is no option to give it 4.9 stars on epinions.  If you want Wi-Fi, I would recommend just getting the BDT-210, which is almost identical, but with Wi-Fi built in... the add on dongle for this player is not worth the money IMO.  Oh and with the free Avatar 3D Blu-ray disc, this player was really a no-brainer purchase for only $80 in the fall of 2011.

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