New dog’s tricks

Danny Phillips gets to play with a feature-rich, new generation 3D Blu-ray player with Skype connection and refined sound. And he’s loving it

Ever the innovator, Panasonic has stuffed a shed load of new techno-tricks into this year’s Blu-ray decks and the DMP-BDT310 is the most advanced of the lot.

The manufacturer has dressed the deck in funky new apparel, including mind-bogglingly slim bodywork and an alluring dappled top panel. The cherry on the cake, however, is the new Touch Free Sensor, which allows you to open and close the disc tray simply by waving your hand over the player.

Whichever way you connect, the deck can be used as a DLNA client, streaming a wide range of music and video formats from Windows 7 PCs and NAS drives on your home network, as well as programmes sitting on the hard disks of Panasonic DIGA recorders elsewhere.

You can also access Panasonic’s Viera Cast, which offers a similar lineup of sites as before (YouTube, Picasa, Twitter, Dailymotion, Bloomberg) in a familiar layout.

And there’s one significant addition to the roster – Skype. Using this Blu-ray deck and the optional TY-CC110W communication camera plugged into the rear USB port, you can make video calls to Skype users anywhere in the world. If someone calls while watching a movie, a ringtone alerts you and an LED lights up on the front panel.

And how about the new iPod/iPhone/iPad remote control feature, which allows you to grapple with the player’s every feature using a free app on your Apple device? Neat.

New tricks

Debuting this year is 2D-to-3D conversion for Blu-rays, lending a third dimension to any 2D disc or DVD. Plus, there’s a range of 3D effect adjustments, including one that’s sure to polarise opinion.

I’m talking about the screen frame feature, which adds a border to the sides of the 3D picture in an attempt to soften the hard edge where it meets the bezel – a problem I didn’t think needed solving. You can make the border wide, medium or narrow and change the frame colour to red, black, grey or blue. It’s a nice idea, intended to provide a more comfortable viewing experience, but I found it a little distracting, eating up parts of the picture in the process. Most cinephiles would consider that sacrilegious. But if you don’t like it, simply don’t turn it on.

You can adjust the perceived depth of the 3D effect, and choose between ‘flat’ and ‘round’ screen type settings – the latter adjusts how the left and right-eye images are aligned in order to remove any discomfort where the image meets the bezel.

It’s not just flashy new features like these that set the BDT310 apart from its predecessors, Panasonic has also spruced up the user interface, using a Home menu so intuitive it could teach Sony’s Xross Media Bar a thing or two. Icons representing various functions are laid out in a cross; simply hit the corresponding direction key on the remote and it zips straight there.

All of the menus it links to, from Settings to DLNA content displays, are presented in a jazzy-yet-logical fashion, while the foolproof remote poses no operational problems at all.

3D par excellence

In action, the DMP-BDT310 is the consummate 3D performer, capable of pictures so deep and absorbing that when spinning up the 3D version of Avatar, they make reality seem desperately disappointing.

Panoramic shots of the forest and mountains are laid out in clear, composed layers that genuinely appear to stretch back into the distance, plus there’s sharply resolved detail across the entire image and exquisitely nuanced colour reproduction. This is helped along by the deck’s PHL-developed Adaptive Chroma Processing. Viewed on Panasonic’s TX-P46VT20 plasma, there’s no motion blur or crosstalk to sully the image either.

I checked out the 2D-to-3D conversion and it’s a bit of a mixed bag – some material looks terrific, such as the sequence in Inception when the scenery starts to explode, with layers of shattered stone and glass scattering around the screen. It’s also great with the 2D Avatar disc, breathing layered life back into the flattened picture.

But without such clear visual cues, it struggles to generate the relevant depth; through much of Inception you can’t tell any difference. The other problem is the amount of ghosting in the picture, which gives it a slightly shimmery, disorienting look. Far better to watch 2D discs in their native form and allow the deck to dazzle you with meticulous detail, rich colours and smooth movement – qualities confirmed by a near-flawless run-through of the Silicon Optix HQV disc.

Sound improvements

On the audio side, the BDT310 adds a couple of features not found on the cheaper DMP-BDT110, such as High Clarity Sound and Digital Tube Sound. The former turns off the analogue video circuitry to reduce electrical interference, while the latter aims to mimic the warm sound of vacuum tube amplifiers (six different types, no less) and the results are more enjoyable than you might expect.

Overall then, the DMP-BDT310 is a formidable Blu-ray player, boasting the same classy 2D and 3D picture quality of its successful predecessor, but cranked up further with a terrific GUI and several new features


HCC VERDICT

Panasonic DMP-BDT310
Price:
£230 Approx

Highs: Exquisite picture quality; operating system; generous features; Touch-Free sensor
Lows: Hit and miss 3D conversion; Viera Cast content; Screen Frame feature

Picture: 5/5
Sound: 4/5
Features: 5/5
Overall: 5/5


Specifications

3D: yes
Upscaling: yes To 1080p with P4HD
Multiregion: no Region B BD/R2 DVD
HDMI: yes 2x v1.4
Component: no
Multichannel analogue: no
Digital audio: yes Optical
SACD/DVD-A: no/no
Dolby True HD/DTS HD decoding: yes/yes
Dolby True HD/DTS HD bitstream: yes/yes
Profile 2.0: yes
Dimensions: 430(w) x 35(h) x 185(d)mm
Weight: 1.6kg
Features: 2D-to-3D conversion; 3D effect controls (distance, screen frame, screen type); built-in Wi-Fi; Ethernet; 2x USB port; SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot; iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch remote control with free app; Viera Cast; Skype video calls (with optional camera); DivX HD, MKV, MP3, XviD, JPEG, MPO, AVCHD support; DLNA certified; 1080/24p output; Deep Colour; x.v.Colour; Viera Link; Chroma Process; Detail Clarity; Super Resolution; Digital Tube Sound; 96kHz Re-master; Night Surround; Dialogue Enhancer; High Clarity Sound; 7.1 channel Audio Reformatting; picture presets and user settings