Review Round Up: $250 3D Blu-ray Players Page 3

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Panasonic DMP-BDT100

Key Features
$250 Panasonic.com
• Wi-Fi-ready (requires optional wireless LAN adapter)
• Streaming options include Netfl ix, Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Pandora, Picasa Web photo albums, Bloomberg stocks, and weather (Twitter expected in late 2010)
• Movie, music, and photo playback via USB; movie/photo playback and BD-Live storage via SD card
• DTS Neo:6 encoding option for 2-channel audio (up to 7-channel output)
• DivX VOD
• 5 picture presets plus adjustable User setting
• Connections: HDMI, component-, and composite-video; optical digital audio; stereo analog audio; LAN; USB port; SD card slot
• Dimensions + Weight 17 x 13¨M8 x 8 in; 4. lb

When Panasonic’s initial 3D Blu-ray player, the DMP-BDT350, was first released, one smart, forward-thinking feature in particular vaulted it head and shoulders above the competition: a second HDMI jack alongside its main HDMI 1.4 output. The reason why this was important is that all A/V receivers at the time lacked HDMI 1.4 connections and thus were not able to pass 3D signals from Blu-ray 3D discs. With the Panasonic’s dual HDMI outputs, however, you could connect one cable directly to a 3D TV and a second to your A/V receiver, an HDMI link being necessary to route the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on Blu-ray Discs to many A/V receivers.

I had originally planned to review the DMP-BDT350 for this test, but that player was out of stock at most retailers by the time I started writing, so I instead called in the company’s newest model, the DMP-BDT100. Although the BDT100 lacks the BDT350’s dual HDMI outs, it’s a worthy, if comparatively stripped-down, successor. On the feature front, the new Panasonic BD player is Wi-Fi-ready, requiring an optional wireless LAN adapter to hook into your home’s wireless network. Its media-streaming options include several big-name staples like Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and Pandora. As for 3D support, along with passing Blu-ray 3D signals to a 3D TV, it can also output 3D in the checkerboard format used by 3Dready DLP projection TVs.

As with the LG player, the Panasonic’s exterior is fairly standard. Flip down the front panel and you’ll find stop and play control buttons along with a USB port and SD card slot. (The USB port supports playback of video, photo, and audio files, while the SD card slot handles video, photo, and BDLive functions.)

Panasonic’s chunky remote control lacks backlighting, but with the exception of the Viera Cast button bunched with smaller controls on the remote’s top half, the keypad is well arranged. All menu access buttons are grouped around the navigation cursor, where they can be easily located. As with previous Panasonic Blu-ray players, pressing the Display button calls up a series of information screens, including ones that show video encoding and soundtrack formats for the disc’s primary and secondary (picture-in-picture) tracks. Other menu options that can be called up via the Display button include the Picture and Advanced settings. Picture provides five presets plus a User setting with a wide range of adjustments, including gamma and two noise-reduction modes. And the Advanced settings menu offers up a range of other picture-tweaking options, including Chroma Process (enables upsampling of color information beyond the Blu-ray Disc format’s 8-bit recording), Detail Clarity (adjusts fine picture detail), and Super Resolution (enhances picture detail with DVD playback).

PERFORMANCE
The Panasonic’s operation was relatively zippy. It took 10 seconds from power-up for the player’s menu to show up on the screen. And disc loading took around 13 seconds from the moment I dropped a movie in the tray to the moment the first frame of video appeared. Its 2x forward-reverse-scanning mode, meanwhile, offered very smooth image quality. All Blu-ray tests that I ran on the BDT100 passed with no problem — not a surprise since this player pretty much offers the same high-quality video processing as the BDT-350.

And my Blu-ray 3D discs all played without a hitch. (I appreciated the menu option for turning off a warning screen preceding playback that essentially says watching 3D might make you vomit.) I also thought I saw fewer incidences of “crosstalk” (overlap of left/right images) with the Panasonic when viewing Blu-ray 3D titles on the Sony TV I used for this test. But crosstalk is a difficult thing to quantify, so I’m going to have to hedge that statement somewhat.

The BDT100’s DVD performance was also very good. The player passed all tests except for the one that checks for 2:2 pulldown detection, although that shouldn’t pose a problem with most movie discs. While the player’s Super Resolution feature tended to make DVD pictures look weirdly over-enhanced and grainy, its Detail Clarity adjustment had a subtle and pleasing picture-sharpening effect. In fact, I liked it so much that I left Detail Clarity switched on for both DVD and Blu-ray viewing.

BOTTOM LINE
Panasonic’s budget 3D Blu-ray model may lack some of the frills found on its immediate predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent player. Its media-streaming options could be considered somewhat limited as compared with the competition, but it has Net. ix and Pandora — the two most important ones. Also important: The DMP-BDT100 delivers the video goods with all manner of Blu-ray Discs and also offers superior-quality DVD upconversion and gimmick-free picture-enhancement modes. Maybe that will be enough to make us forget that second HDMI jack.

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