While the new 2012 Panasonic DMP-BDT220 is an entry level 3D Blu-ray player, don’t lower your expectations. This model packs in an impressive set of features at a $150 suggested retail price ($135 at Amazon). It also shares the same internals for audio and video processing as the more expensive DMP-BDT320 and DMP-BDT500. However, if you have a HDMI-equipped receiver with support for the latest audio codecs (Dolby Digtal Plus, TrueHD and DTS Master Audio), the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 is a great choice.
To start, consider this an early acces review. Yes, anyone can go out and buy the unit today. However, I get the feeling the BDT220 was released before it was supposed to. The promised
iOS and Android remotes featured on the packaging are not available yet (iOS remote is now available). According to Panasonic, they will be released this spring. Some of the default settings on the unit also need some tweaking. Most of the other 2012 Panasonic Blu-ray players have just started shipping as well. As a side note, I did not test any of the 3D features of this player.
Hardware and Remote Control
The BDT220 is a fairly compact Blu-ray player. While it measures almost 17 inches across like many home theater components, it only measures about 7 inches in depth and 1.5 inches in height. On the top of the unit are buttons for power and opening and closing the disc tray. If you press the “open/close” button, the disc tray cleverly flips open the front-panel revealing a number of ports and controls including a USB 2.0 port, SD memory card slot, and playback controls.
On the back of the unit is an HDMI connector, digital optical out, RCA connectors for audio and video as well as an ethernet port. The unit also supports 802.11b, g and n wireless as well as Wi-Fi Direct. There’s also a port to attach a video camera. The video camera is used for the included Skype app as well as facial recognition for user profiles. The higher end BTD500 adds 7.1 analog audio outputs and a second HDMI port. At the bottom of the post is an unboxing video.
The remote control is very similar to the unit that shipped with last year’s units. Its compact form factor makes it easy to handle. There’s also a dedicated button for Netflix. The BDT320 and BDT500 include upgraded versions of the remote with a touchpad.
Menus and VieraCast
The user interface is a bit more refined and colorful versus the 2011 models. It’s still easy to use and fairly intuitive. One new feature is support for user profiles. Each user can have their own specific audio and video settings. What’s cool is that user profiles are activated by using the smart phone remote or facial recognition if you attach a supported video camera. If you don’t have either one of those, you can simply press one of the color coded buttons on the remote to access your profile.
Overall, I was pretty impressed with its Blu-ray performance. Blu-ray discs loaded FAST! (especially compared to my Pioneer BDP-320)
Disc Load Times:
- 2009 Star Trek 22 sec to first screen (and then an endless stream of previews!)
- X-Men: First Class: 22 seconds to first screen, 43 seconds to start first preview
- The Dark Knight: 13 seconds to first screen / 1:04 movie starts playing
As with many Blu-ray players, there’s no resume function. However, if you hit the STOP or HOME button on the remote, it requires you to reload the title. So, be careful! The exception being X-Men: First Class which supports a resume-like function.
For BD-Live, there’s no on-board storage. Instead, you’ll have to buy a SD memory card. Given the price of memory, it’s silly they couldn’t include some on-board. On the other hand, while an SD card only costs a few dollars, there’s no BD-Live content I’ve seen where I would run out and buy the memory card.
To evaluate picture quality, I originally spent some time using the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray calibration disc. While I did run some tests from that disc, it’s the first time I’m using it so I don’t know if I’m interpreting the results correctly. For this review I’m going to just rely on my own two eyes. Using that standard, the picture quality from Blu-rays was incredible. This was without doing any calibration of the player. Colors were brilliant, video was smooth. I didn’t notice any artifacts in the picture. DVD quality was superb. The player had no problem upscaling content. Even my old copy of The Fifth Element looked good.
As I ran through my set of Blu-ray discs, I noticed the audio lacked some of the punch and dynamic range of other Blu-ray players. According to my Onkyo receiver, the BDT-220 was outputing regular Dolby Digital or DTS. For some reason, even if I manually selected the Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio audio track, it wouldn’t output it. It turns out there’s a problem with the unit’s default settings that’s easily fixed. I’m sure we’ll see a firmare update addressing this. Go to Setup-> Audio. Turn off “BD Secondary Audio”. Tada! Exprience the glory of lossless audio that is Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio.
Netflix and Streaming Services
The 2012 Panasonic 3D players offer a wide selection of streaming services including: Netflix (with 1080P and Dolby Digital Plus support), Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, VUDU, Pandora, WSJ Live and You Tube among others. I’ve already written an in-depth review of the player’s Netflix and Amazon Instant Video capabilities. I’ve also been told by my sources that an update to the Amazon Instant Video player is in the works but no specific timing was given.
The VieraCast main menu also got a small facelift. This version also gives you the ability to customize the placement of icons on the screen. I like Panasonic’s Vieracast interface versus the other TV app interfaces on the market. To me, the VieraCast inteface is simple and easy to navigate.
VieraCast has its own settings menu separate from the unit’s main set up. The one setting that you should check is “Adjust Screen Size”. I had to reduce the image size on my Samsung HDTV.
DLNA client and local playback
It’s actually one of the nicer DLNA user interfaces I’ve seen. In particular, it’s the only one I’ve encountered that provides direct access to the file shares on my DLNA server. However, it doesn’t have as wide a range of video codec support like other streaming players out there. Furthermore, the unit had problems playing files from Handbrake that have played without a problem on the Roku and other devices (another firmware fix?).
In addition to DLNA support, this Blu-ray player can also directly connect to file shares on the network. Unfortunately, its challenging to use since you have to supply the IP address of the file share you’re connecting to.
You can also play media either via the SD card slot or through USB attached storage. From attached storage, the player supports AVHCD, MP4, MPEG and MKV video files. This year’s unit also adds the ability to play FLAC audio files in addition to MP3 and WAV files.
Panasonic has put together a fairly impressive Blu-ray player. While it’s a little disappointing that Panasonic would release the unit with a few unfinished touches, it’s still a great unit overall. Not only does is it a great job with Blu-rays and DVDs, it’s also a fully-loaded streaming device. Given it’s price, it’s a great value for your living room.