Okay, it’s not COMPETITION TIME yet, but it will be on Monday when you will have the chance to win the actual Skype- and WiFi-compatible Panasonic Blu-ray player I’m about to review. It does Blu-Ray 3D, BTW.
So brace yourself for excitement and read on to find out what you’re in with a chance of winning.
First off, let’s preface this by saying my experience with Blu-Ray players is confined to the Philips BDP3000 I have at home, so that’s what I’m going to compare it with.
So the Panasonic is about half the height of the Philips, very light and very pretty. Access to controls, the player, an SD card slot for downloading Blu-Ray content from the Internet and a USB port are through a flap at the front, which when open makes the player not quite as pretty, but it’s an acceptable trade-off. HDMI and composite video outputs are on the back, as is the optical digital socket. For Internet access for firmware updates and Blu-Ray live content, you’ll need to have a wired network – the Ethernet port is on the back, too – unless you buy the Wireless-n LAN adaptor and stick that in the back, too.
Set-up’s very simple. Once you’ve connected everything up and powered on the player, you’ll run through a series of simple on-screen menus and checks that should set up TV screen ratio, on-screen language and your Internet connection in just a couple of minutes. Interesting extras include a fast-start mode that naturally uses more power than off does but as the name says, let’s you start up quickly; there’s a USB port for playing pictures, music and DivX/MKV videos off USB drives up to 2TB in size; if you have the compatible HD camera, you can also use your player’s Internet connection to make Skype video calls; and if you have DLNA server, such as Windows Media Player under Windows 7, you can watch that content over your home network as well.
Compared to the Philips, the Panasonic is much of a muchness when it comes to Blu-Ray playback. Speed of start-up is about the same, the remote control is as responsiveness and intuitive. The Panasonic does come with Blu-Ray 3D compatibility, but unless you have a 3D TV (which I don’t), the Panasonic won’t even try to play back any 3D discs you might have – so, sorry, I couldn’t test that aspect.
Picture quality is excellent with Blu-Ray content, about as sharp as the Phillips. Where it does beat the Phillips is in ‘up-resing’ DVD content – while the output’s still not as good as Blu-Ray or even the up-resing on my old Philips DVP-5960 DVD player, it’s notably crisper and has less noise than the Phillips.
BD Live playback and download is less buggy and irritating than the Philips, although you will need an SD card for that (cleverly, the slot is located on the front, unlike the Philips’ USB slot). You also don’t get annoying onscreen messages about BD-Java playback, etc. This thing just works.
One area of disappointment (for some at least) is in terms of multi-region DVD playback. In contrast to a lot of DVD players and even Blu-ray players, there are no easy hacks to make this multi-region (no magic code to type into the remote control). Instead, you have to get a ‘chipped remote’, which will set you back some cash. So if you have any non-region 2 DVDs, you’ll need to get them as region 1 or Blu-Ray, or keep your old player around, unless you fancy outlaying for a new remote. It also won’t play Photo CDs, DVD-Audios, VCDs or SVCDs, although will happily handle DVD-Rs, DVD-RW, DVD-R DL and +R/+RW/+RW DL DVDs.
But on the whole, for something that’s £180 RRP (£120 in Tesco or £170 on Amazon), this is really rather good. It’s a little annoying that wireless LAN and Skype are all extras, but you gets what you pays for and £120 gets you a Blu-Ray 3D player with decent DVD up-resing and a reasonably intuitive remote control and onscreen menu.
Anyway, tune in Monday to see how you can win this baby.