Always a purveyor of high-end rather than budget Blu-ray decks, it's no surprise that the majority of Panasonic’s 2011 output is 3D-ready. 3D support is handled by Panasonic’s DMP-BDT310, DMP-BDT210 and DMP-BDT110 decks, and while this DMP-BD75 model is resolutely 2D, don’t make the mistake of calling it entry-level.
Its alarmingly small exterior (it measures just 430 x 35 x 179mm and weighs a mere 1.6kg) at last brings Blu-ray into line with the now default slim, narrow designs of DVD players.
DLNA networking is probably the headline act, though it’s not a wireless affair - an Ethernet port sits on the unit’s rear, alongside a simple collection of ins and outs for Composite video, HDMI, and stereo phonos. Along the front you’ll also find a USB slot with ambitions to play all kinds of digital music, photos and video files. What is missing from this deck is any home cinema-friendly audio connections; we didn’t expect to find a complete set of 7.1 analogue outputs, but the lack of optical digital audio is a shame - and something that immediately relegates the DMP-BD75 for anyone without the latest HDMI-equipped AV amplifiers who wants to make use of Blu-ray disc’s lossless audio. Not surprisingly, audio isn't this machine’s strongpoint; its performance is best described as adequate.
There are other omissions. It’s common to find an SD Card slot on Panasonic appliances, but not here. Wired Ethernet is very often inappropriate or impossible in many living rooms, effectively wiping-off the DMP-BD75’s DLNA features for some; Panasonic don't currently provide a Wi-Fi dongle.
All that is less a whinge and more some context, since this budget deck is nevertheless a tad beyond the £80 you can spend on a supermarket cheapie. However, the extra outlay immediately bears fruit when we switch-on the DMP-BD75. It’s not just the stunning picture quality (more on that below), but also a completely refreshed operating system.
After a few years stuck with an increasingly stale GUI, Panasonic’s designers have at last got their fingers out and produced a logical, relatively attractive and speedy interface for the player’s main functions. It's based on a simple cross system that sees an icon for setup surrounded by shortcuts to DLNA Media Server, photos, music and videos. After moving the cursor to select, you then get a choice of source for your files.
DLNA, aka “Media Server”, does indeed provide the DMP-BD75’s high point, but it’s not quite as polished as we’d hoped. Connecting to a broadband router quickly, our sample immediately downloaded the latest firmware (but only after asking), and we set about streaming some media from a PC and Mac on the same network.
Sadly, the file support - as per usual on Panasonic products, sadly - via DLNA is limited to just JPEG, MP3 (no WMA support despite claims to the contrary), DivX (AVI) and AVC HD (MTS and M2TS variants), the latter produced by Panasonic’s HD camcorders.
Though all of these files are handled well, that’s pretty scant return. It’s a similar - though not identical - tale with the DMP-BD75’s USB slot. This time, AVC HD files can't be played, but DivX HD (MKV) files are supported. The latter is laudable for a 2010 deck, but as near to total file support as is practical is the only way to be on a 2011 model. Also note that without a second USB slot or built-in storage, BD Live business must be conducted on via this slot, too.
From standby, the DMP-BD75 took just 19 seconds to load The Tourist, while changing discs took a mere 12 seconds. Once up-and-running the DMP-BD75 brings every drop and detail of Venice into view, with little or no marks, fizzing or jagged edges. Some colourful anime via My Neighbours The Yamadas shows-off this machine’s skill with colour saturation, with the disc still retaining a solidity and punch even when thrown onto a projection screen.
DVD is upscaled well, but what really surprised us was DivX playback, which is utterly indistinguishable from a high grade DVD. This deck has real quality when it comes to playing-back optical discs of all kinds - no question. But there are others out there with access to online content hubs that offer more bang for your Blu-ray bucks than this middle-of-the-road offering.
Nicely designed as a small package and delivering some top-notch Blu-ray images, this mid-range 2D deck is nevertheless bettered by similarly priced models from the likes of Sony, which add Lovefilm and BBC iPlayer goodness. If you're after a solid and dependable Blu-ray player there’s few better than this Panasonic, but if your digital ambitions stretch beyond playing-back the odd DivX file or photo collection we suggest you look elsewhere.