Performance and picture quality
With Ultra HD Blu-ray just months away, shouldn’t those with Ultra HD 4K TVs sit tight?
Patience could pay dividends, but aside from the little matter of 3D and 4K, the search is on for a last-gen Blu-ray player that can upscale to 3840 x 2160 pixels without breaking the bank. That’s exactly what the Panasonic DMP-BDT270 is attempting.
Selling for £99 (US$ 120, AU$ 152), it packs 4K upscaling, 2D and 3D disc playback, digital file support and a dual core processor into a surprisingly small and low-priced product.
Measuring just 43 x 312 x 180mm, the BDT270 has a mirrored black frontage and a metallic roof, with decent build quality. It’s half the size of a Blu-ray player from only a couple of years ago, and sits easily on an AV rack.
Some basic navigation buttons are included on the top, while the front houses a single USB slot for either feeding media or recharging 3D specs. On the rear are the mere basics: an HDMI output and an Ethernet LAN slot for wired networking, though the BDT270 also has WiFi and, for Android users, Miracast connectivity.
There is also support for Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks.
In short, the BDT270 does just about everything short of offering analogue audio outputs.
What is most striking about the BDT270 is both how old fashioned its user interface looks, and how much it ignores Blu-ray.
Video, Music, Photos and Network (clunky language for smart TV apps) are arranged around a central Setup option, with the remote control’s directional keypad all that’s needed to navigate. It’s quick, it’s simple, but it’s in need of a fresh design.
Also showing the march of time is the BDT270’s smart TV dimensions, which amounts to little more than a Netflix button on the remote control and a separate hubscreen of apps. The latter used to be called VieraCast, and it still should be for nothing has changed.
Apps on the first page include the BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, Netflix, BBC News, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and an advert for Panasonic Viera TVs. The icons for these apps are massive, colourful and very easily to skip through. In the centre of the screen is a live video window, which continues to play whatever you’re watching while you navigate apps.
Skip to further pages of VieraCast and the choice of apps drops off immediately. Page two contains Dailymotion, Euronews, CNBC Real-Time, PlayJam Games and a setup page. There are even blank app-gaps here, though it’s easy enough to bring forward apps lost in the third and fourth pages, including Facebook, Twitter, SHOUTcast Radio and a web browser.
On most pages there’s also a link to visit the Panasonic marketplace, which gives you access to more apps (TuneIn, Deezer, CineTrailer, Aupeo), though the shopping area – where Panasonic used to sell 3D glasses and accessories – is graced only with a "we regret to inform you" message about its demise.
Whether the inclusion of a huge white Netflix shortcut button on the remote is a good or bad thing will depend on your subscriptions, but those who depend on Amazon Instant Video will be slightly frustrated at having to delve far into the BDT270 to launch the app. The remote is otherwise simple, yet functional; it doesn’t glow in the dark, but the disc navigation buttons are blue, the directional keypad is well laid out and, best of all, all the buttons are relatively large.
The Panasonic remote control department does it again.
There are two ways to play a Blu-ray disc from the Home screen; choose video, then choose Disc instead of USB, or just press the Play button on the remote. Simple stuff.
The opening sequence of Gravity in 3D (remember that?) is rendered with extreme skill by the BDT270, with the upside-down space shuttle drifting into view with intense realism. Our test screen was a 65-inch 4K TV, on which edges appeared to be upscaled well, with no jaggies visible. I did notice the occasional judder when the astronauts floated quickly by and when the Earth’s surface came into sharp focus, though the debris sequence was always comfortable to watch. Colours and contrast were superb throughout.
Switching to a 2D version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the level of detail appeared to be even higher on a 3840 x 2160 pixel panel, with the BDT270 upscaling from Full HD to Ultra HD.
I was also able to compare a trailer for Marco Polo in Full HD from the BDT270 and from Netflix in 4K on an Ultra HD TV. The former did not compare with the latter for depth and detail, but at no stage did the BDT270’s upscaled version look soft. The BDT270 struggled to make a DVD passable on a 65-inch 4K screen, but then the maths is massively against that happening given that DVD’s 720 x 480 pixels equals 0.3 megapixels to Ultra HD’s 8 megapixels.
The BDT270 knows what it is: a stopgap to a "proper" Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and it’s priced accordingly.
While some of the other major AV brands (notably Samsung with its pricey BD-J7500 are attempting to dress-up 4K upscaling as a luxury future-proof feature when it’s nothing of the sort, Panasonic’s BDT270 marries the tech to an ageing, though acceptable smart TV app interface and chucks in WiFi and a Netflix button.
For most homes, that’s job done, though the product’s tiny size and its 3D features tick another couple of boxes for good measure.
Picture quality from all sources – including Blu-ray upscaled to 4K quality – is immaculate, with defined edges, plenty of contrast and well saturated colour. The user interface on the BDT270 is rather basic, but easy to use, with the dated smart TV app pages at least containing the key apps most people want – Netflix, Amazon Instant and (in the UK) BBC iPlayer.
In our test the BDT270 supported AVI, MP4, MPEG-2 and AVC HD video, MP3, M4A, WMA, WAV and FLAC music files, and JPEG photos. The latter can be displayed in 3D, which is a nice effect, while the slideshow feature is also handy.
There’s also a chance to jazz up the rather dull front screen by creating a wallpaper from any photo.
The BDT270 isn’t slow, but it’s hardly super-charged; in swapping from VieraCast back to the Home screen, the BDT270 thinks about it for a few seconds too long. Aside from the lack of support for MKV, the BDT270 does make you work for digital media.
Not only do you have to choose Music, Photo or Video on the front pages of the Home screen, but even after you do you then have to go hunting through the attached USB stick/HDD for specific files. Could it not detect all video files on a source, or all music files? It could, but it doesn’t.
This manual process was fine a few years ago; it’s not now.
Nor does the BDT270 support any kind of digital 4K material, which is rather odd considering its claims to be a 4K deck. In our tests both TS and MP4 files fitted with 3840 x 2160 pixel material failed to load. The latter even froze the BDT270 completely.
Panasonic’s flagship Blu-ray player initially feels like anything but. Despite having 4K upscaling, 3D and both Netflix and Amazon apps included, little has changed to its user interface. Though it’s smaller than any Blu-ray player we’ve yet seen, the BDT270 looks and feels much like Panasonic Blu-ray players from three or four years ago.
Dated? Yes. Good value? Absolutely.
With Ultra HD Blu-ray just months away, this nicely priced deck fills a gap without breaking the bank, with picture quality equal to any Blu-ray player I’ve seen. The BDT270 issues pin-sharp upscaled Blu-ray discs without making a fuss, with clean, colourful images from all sources that are good enough for any 4K TV.
Add some basic networking, (slightly clunky) digital file playback and Miracast for Android phones and the BDT270 makes itself useful while we await the native 4K era to commence. With Blu-ray discs never looking soft even on a giant 4K screen – and with first-generation Ulra HD Blu-ray machines bound to be pricey – the BDT270 could be a wise investment.