Panasonic DMP-BDT210 Blu-ray 3D Player
Price: $200 At A Glance: Skype video calling • Reference-quality Blu-ray playback • Limited HDMI options
Building Blu-ray Bridges
Since the beginning of the Blu-ray format, Panasonic has been a leader in the price/performance segment of the market and my go-to recommendation for anyone who’s looking for excellence on a budget. From the top to the bottom of Panasonic’s line, you always seem to get stellar video with both Blu-ray and DVD playback—and typically a host of other great features as well.
The DMP-BDT210, a new $200 player from Panasonic’s 2011 lineup, once again proves the case. Not only does it deliver a superb picture, but it’s loaded with more cool features than a player at this price point has a right to lay claim to, including 2D-to-3D conversion, Skype video calling, a nice complement of online streaming services, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, and even a touch-free sensor to open and close the tray.
It’s interesting to see the lengths companies will go to to separate themselves from the pack with Blu-ray players. Lately we’ve seen a lot of new streaming media support from all the big contenders, but it’s pretty much become an even keel with streaming options across the brands. Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, and others have become the staple services you see in every player.
Facing this challenge, Panasonic has added some interesting bells and whistles to help make this player a standout. The new slim design has a faux carbon fiber body that gives it a very appealing look. The first thing you’re likely to notice, though, is the large sensor on top of the player. This touch-free sensor lets you wave your hand over the player to power it on and open the tray. This is a bit puzzling for me, since I never thought the buttons on a player’s front panel were that much of a hassle, and a lot of people use a remote to power on the player anyway. But, hey, whatever floats your boat. It might come in handy in a dark room.
I imagine this is the first step toward an eventual interface similar to Microsoft’s Kinect sensor for the Xbox that turns you into the remote and lets you operate the player without ever touching it or picking up a wand. For now, just be happy that you can wave at it and amaze your friends.
Another key feature is Skype video calling from the Blu-ray player with the addition of an optional camera. Several compatible cameras are available; Panasonic sent me the Freetalk 7181 ($130). Panasonic introduced Skype in some of its high-end HDTVs last year, but this is the first Blu-ray player I’ve seen from any manufacturer with this capability. I’m sure it will be a popular feature for Skype users and newcomers since the service is free and provides a great way to communicate with friends and family with full video. You can initiate calls right from the remote, record a video message for when you’re not around, or even answer calls from the device as long as you’re not watching a Blu-ray when it comes in.
Beyond these new features, the DMP-BDT210 is pretty much identical to Panasonic’s other recent smaller-profile players. The small form factor makes the rear jack panel a bit sparse; it lacks some of the connections that some other devices in this price range offer. You’ll only find one HDMI output (1.4a). If your A/V receiver doesn’t have HDMI 1.4 and you plan to use the player’s 3D capability, this could be a challenge. I would have preferred dual HDMI outputs to help integrate the player into a home entertainment system that lacks 1.4 switching so the video could go straight to the display and the advanced audio could go to the surround processor or AVR. The player also lacks a multichannel analog audio output, so you won’t have that option for hookup as a work-around. All you get is a stereo analog option or a TosLink digital output that’s limited to legacy audio formats.
The back panel has an Ethernet port if you don’t want to use the Wi-Fi connection; it also features dual USB 2.0 inputs, one on the front and one on the back. The player doesn’t have any built-in memory for BD-Live applications or for Skype messages, so you’ll have to rely on an SD card (not included) for those applications. This is another small disappointment considering how many players include at least 1 gigabyte of internal memory these days.
It Just Keeps Getting Easier
It was a breeze to get the DMP-BDT210 up and running. The player features a quick setup feature that gets the job mostly done with only a few tweaks needed in the full setup menus. As always, I disabled the player’s BD-Live capabilities to speed up performance with disc loading and enabled Panasonic’s quick start feature, which speeds up initial power-ups at the expense of adding power consumption.
Like all of the Panasonic Blu-ray players I’ve used, the DMP-BDT210 offers the standard complement of setup options for video and audio.
You can select output resolutions up to 1080p/24, and you can perform audio decoding for the latest formats in either the player (for output as multichannel PCM) or in your A/V receiver or processor via a bitstream output. The DMP-BDT210 can also re-encode the output audio to any of the legacy Dolby Digital or DTS formats if you have an older AVR that doesn’t support high-resolution PCM soundtracks or the latest HD formats.