Given the almost inevitable death of the disc in favour of downloading and streaming, the big brands are busy fitting their Blu-ray players with digital diversions - and Panasonic is no different.
Its new mid-range Blu-ray deck, the BD65, sports Viera Cast - an online portal that gives access to YouTube, Picasa (and perhaps, soon, Skype and LoveFilm) - but at its core this is a high-def disc spinner extraordinaire.
Bolstering that claim is Panasonic’s PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus picture processing circuitry, that has kept the brand at the forefront of the Blu-ray player market since its inception a few years ago. It gives Blu-ray movies a clarity and fluidity that’s quite astonishing, though in truth it’s increasingly hard to find fault in the picture quality of any Blu-ray deck above the £100 mark. And though it’s pictures that the BD65 is all about, this deck’s lack of audio outputs doesn’t hamper its sound; accurate bitstream sonics were fed to our home cinema, with plenty of subtle sound effects sent through the BD65’s optical audio output.
Until recently Panasonic was the only brand to host SD card slots in its products, and it could be about to get its reward; next-gen SDXC cards that will (eventually) stretch to an astonishing 2TB of storage can be inserted into the BD65’s front-loading slot, as well as regular SD cards.
There is no built-in storage on the BD65, so that SD card slot comes into its own if you’re at all interested in BD Live content. In fact BD Live will only be accessible if a SD card of at least 1GB in size is inserted. It’s no drama, but you’d think that a deck costing almost £200 could build-in a little storage. With basic manufacturer support such as this, it is no wonder that BD Live doesn’t get the attention it used to.
What is more disappointing is that the SD card slot only plays photos and high-def footage from a camcorder (which not surprisingly is in the AVC HD format used by Panasonic’s HD camcorders).
More useful is the USB slot, which can take memory sticks storing photos, MP3s and DivX, though certainly not all files - we had mixed success with a batch of test DivX files. With many Blu-ray and DVD players, and even TVs and Freeview boxes now able to play DivX HD files, the BD65’s rather basic arsenal of digital media compatibility is a shame.
It’s worth mentioning the BD65’s polished performance with (an albeit limited number of) digital file types. The onscreen menus are smart, simple and responsive, with slick controls for scanning through video and music.
Viera Cast is equally impressive; a 3D treatment of graphics coupled with fast loading times makes YouTube and Picasa a joy to use - even searching is a cinch - though this service needs to be bulked-up if it’s to be a major reason to buy a Panasonic Blu-ray player. You can connect to Viera Cast and BD Live using Wi-Fi, but only if you get hold of a Panasonic DY-WL10 USB dongle for £79.99, which seems a little steep.
A major criticism of Blu-ray machines is their speed - or lack of - but Panasonic has finally overcome this frustrating problem. During our tests the DMP-BD65 loaded a Blu-ray disc in a tad over 10 seconds from a standing start.
With full marks for picture quality this super-slim, super-fast Blu-ray player is left looking only reasonable value for money. Its treatment of digital media and the novel Viera Cast portal are exemplary, but a lack of both file support and broadband TV choice reduces the BD65’s versatility.