After the online content hubs of last year, is the next big thing in Blu-ray players iPhone control? It seems a bit harsh on the squillions of Android phone owners, but Panasonic has fitted its latest high-end 3D Blu-ray deck with an iPhone app as well as Skype video calling and a wave-controlled disc ejection system.
The latter isn’t some kind of hydro electric powered system but something rather more twee; you wave your hand across the top of the machine and the disc tray opens. Unfortunately the sensor is in the middle of the top of the machine (a mottled black plastic design that’s different to the brand’s lower-end Blu-ray players, 3D or otherwise) so unless you put the BDT210 on display for all to see, this feature is largely worthless. In an AV rack the feature is best deactivated, though it does work a treat, taking about half a second from sensing your hand wave across the top to the actual tray opening. Happily, discs load in 14 seconds.
Designed to accompany Panasonic’s VT30, GT30, ST30 or DT30 3DTVs, the BDT210 is second in Panasonic’s 3D Blu-ray line-up only to the higher-end BDT310. That particular deck adds a couple of HDMI outputs for lossless audio and 3D viewing.
Elsewhere the specifications and performance are identical to the BDT110; newly refreshed onscreen menus, the Viera Cast suite of online services (which includes Acetrax movies and Skype video calling - see below), DLNA networking (DivX (AVI), WMV, AVC HD video, JPEG photos and MP3 music), SD Card slot (AVC HD playback and BD-Live storage), USB slots (for attaching a Skype camera or playing MP3, DivX (AVI), DivX HD (MKV), JPEG 2D or MPO 3D photos). The moderately successful 2D-to-3D conversion is also on board.
What the BDT210 adds over the BDT110 is Wi-Fi built-in, that touch-free sensor tray, and iPhone app control. A free download from the Apple store, the Panasonic Remote 2011 app includes a page for gesture control of the new “swipe” GUI design for 2011, a mock-up of the hardware remote, and dedicated screens for Blu-ray playback. There’s even a “shuttle” screen for scanning through discs using a simple drag and hold rotation movement. We were even able to customise the app so a single shake of the iPhone performed any number of actions from standby or open tray to 3D mode or a launch of Viera Cast. The app includes a shortcut to Skype, but also one to NetFlix; this is obviously a US-centric application, but it otherwise works flawlessly on these shores.
Perhaps it is a good idea to use an iPhone or iPod touch if you have one since the supplied remote control is a tad too small, and not a patch on the brand’s excellent TV remotes.
In among the smaller buttons is one labelled with the distinctive blue logo of Skype. Having made the jump from PC to phones, dear old Skype now appears on your TV … at last!? Ever wished you could make phone calls from your sofa, complete with video? Nor us, though this futuristic cliché has come to pass already - and it’s actually quite fun.
We made calls to several friends around the world, with brilliant voice results - and pretty good pictures, too. The video is presented in the middle of the TV screen, though there is a fullscreen option. The call quality depends on your sound system, of course (5.1 phone calls, anyone?), but you will have to purchase the camera to even attempt Skype calls. The TY-CC10W Communication Camera is steep at £120+, but is at least very well made; a rugged design clips on to the top of a TV and trails a USB cable to the BD210. The camera and four-way microphone both prove to be excellent. Usefully, there’s also an Auto Answering Video Message function that takes messages while the TV is switched-off, with a “video mail” function advertised as “coming soon”.
The quality of 2D and 3D video is excellent, and identical to that found on the BDT110 (see separate review for more details). 2D-3D conversion also stars on the BDT210, a feature we were often impressed by. We’re still not convinced it’s ever going to be anything other than a novelty to help convince shoppers to buy 3DTVs and glasses, but it does add a little extra to an existing Blu-ray collection. In our test disc Casino Royale panoramic views and even slow-moving sequences with lots of background failed to impress, but a close-up view of a crowd of people looked awesome. Sadly, those moments are few and far between and we found our eyes quickly tiring before switching back to 2D.
With integrated Wi-Fi for added convenience and a brilliant iPhone/iPod touch app, Panasonic goes way beyond its excellent 2D and 3D pictures. Stuffed with extras such as Skype video calling (though latter only if you buy a £100+ camera), Panasonic has created a great value deck that even manages to convert 2D to 3D in an almost convincing manner.