Review: Panasonic DMP-BDT370



Review: Panasonic DMP-BDT370

Introduction

All hail the Netflix button. Is there a smart TV or a smart Blu-ray player on sale in 2015 that doesn’t have a big white-and-red button with the streaming service’s logo emblazoned upon its remote control?

That’s exactly what the Panasonic DMP-BDT370 has, and much more besides.

Though its latest TVs are graced with an all-new Firefox OS that stars Netflix, Amazon Instant et al, the DMP-BDT370 gets a much more basic smart TV platform, but it retains those essentials.

Panasonic DMP-BDT370

What the DMP-BDT370 is really all about though is 4K.

In the gap between 4K TVs becoming ubiquitous in stores and the availability towards the end of 2015 of Ultra HD Blu-ray players, the DMP-BDT370 has only a narrow window to impress us with its soon-to-be-surpassed 4K upscaling capabilities.

However, this top-of-the-range 3D Blu-ray player also dishes out some features for photographers, including support for 4K photo display and for 3D photos.

Performance

Selling for £130 at launch – but spotted online for as little as £85 – the DMP-BDT370 is far bigger than the step-down DMP-BDT270 model it’s an upgrade on. Measuring 415 x43x182mm, its mirrored front flap hides a couple of USB slots, while on the rear is a digital optical audio output alongside a HDMI output and an Ethernet LAN slot, though there’s also a Wi-Fi module on board.

Panasonic DMP-BDT370

Aside from apps, wireless goodies include networking and, for Android users, Miracast for screen mirroring.

The DMP-BDT370 supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks, though if you’re after analogue audio outputs, you’ll have to head for Panasonic’s flagship Blu-ray player from 2014, the DMP-BDT7000, though Panasonic is also still selling the DMP-BDT460, which has an SD Card slot and dual HDMI outputs.

The basic OS (and it is really basic) is structured around choosing between Video, Photos, Music and Network, which is a novel way of doing things. It’s only on the next page that you choose between USB or Blu-ray as the source.

Network is code for ‘smart stuff’, and takes you to another screen with a choice between Home Network and Network Service, which is clunky language indeed. Choose the former and there’s a three-way between Media Renderer, Miracast and the DLNA Client.

Network Services is Panasonic’s name for the DMP-BDT370’s rather dated-looking smart TV pages.

The DMP-BDT370 hosts plenty of must-have apps. Aside from the trailed Netflix app, the bright, colourful grid-like pages of what used to be called VieraCast play host to the likes of the BBC iPlayer, Amazon Instant, BBC News, Netflix, BBC Sport and YouTube. All are ranged around a Blu-ray window at the centre.

Panasonic DMP-BDT370

A second and third pane holds CNBC Real-Time, PlayJam Games, Dailymotion, euronews, Twitter, Facebook, Aupeo personal radio, SHOUTcast Radio and a web browser. All of those pages also include a link to the Panasonic Market, which holds various other apps.

The web browser is nothing to get excited about, though it has been streamlined. It’s split into three areas – History, Tabs and Bookmarks – though entering search terms is via a pop-up virtual keyboard, and moving around pages, requires hitting the remote’s navigation buttons about fifty times just to move an inch or two. There is some attempt at speeding things up using the fastext colour-coded keys, but otherwise it just underlines how poor a match web browsers and TVs are.

Picture quality

Judged purely on disc-spinning and upscaling Blu-ray discs to fit a 4K TV, the DMP-BDT370 is hard to fault.

It’s important to understand that 4K upscaling isn’t something the user has to activate; if the DMP-BDT370 detects that it’s being hooked-up to a 4K TV, it will upscale automatically. For the most part this works really well, with my Gravity test disc looking far sharper when viewed on a 55-inch 4K TV than TV channels broadcast in HD.

The opening sequence of Gravity, with Earth as a backdrop, looks softer than native 4K, which does tend to excel with wide-open vistas and nuanced colours. However, at no point during the rest of Gravity was I desperate for a native 4K version, which suggests that the DMP-BDT370 is doing a good job.

Jagged edges were rare, and though there is the occasional judder, the DMP-BDT370 always provided exceptional contrast and colour. The story continued with a DVD; though the softness becomes very noticeable, it was displayed with impressive clarity.

3D playback is a little more disappointing. Viewed on a 55-inch 4K TV supporting the passive 3D system, images were clean but appeared to break-up a little, exposing its (relative) low-resolution origins.

If the DMP-BDT370 upscales 2D Blu-ray spotlessly, it does less well with 3D Blu-ray.

Meanwhile, 2D-3D conversion, a feature unique to the DMP-BDT370 in Panasonic’s crop of Blu-ray players for 2015, is the usual mix of unwanted and ineffective. The effect the DMP-BDT370 creates from standard 2D Blu-ray discs does, at times, look like native 3D, though just as often the parallax is all over the place and there’s depth visible where there shouldn’t be.

It’s not perfect, but the DMP-BDT370 is a fine Blu-ray disc spinner, and delivers on its 4K upscaling promise.

Verdict

Is 4K upscaling, 3D support and a dated smart TV OS enough for a Blu-ray player to succeed?

With Ultra HD Blu-ray players incoming, that’s hard to argue, but there’s no doubting the core talents of the DMP-BDT370 as a pure disc spinner fit for the 4K future.

We liked

4K upscaling is hard to fault, as is 2D and 3D playback on a Full HD telly.

Edges are well defined, colours and contrast are awesome, and there’s plenty of app action going on with Netflix, Amazon Instant and (in the UK), the BBC iPlayer all featured.

While it’s not the best smart TV system around – it’s been surpassed by Panasonic itself on its latest Firefox OS TVs – it perhaps deserves a dedicated button on the remote control. That would help complement what is a very simple user interface to navigate.

On digital file handling, the DMP-BDT370 is competent in an old-fashioned kind of way. A bunch of regular HD and SD videos in the AVI, MP4, MKV, MPEG-2 and AVC HD video formats all played without hassle, as did an impressive array of audio files. MP3, M4 and WMA were expected, but the DMP-BDT370 also plays lossless music files such as WAV and FLAC music files.

I also liked the idea of installing – at the touch of a button or two – your own photo as a backdrop to the otherwise rather drab-looking Home page.

Panasonic DMP-BDT370

4K JPEG photos looked great on the DMP-BDT370, as did some 3D photos taken in the MPO format using a Panasonic compact camera.

We disliked

As the flagship deck for 2015, the DMP-BDT370 needs more features to persuade me that’s it’s worth the hike from the near-identical DMP-BDT270.

I would like to have seen a smaller physical size and perhaps an SD Card slot on the front alongside the dual USB slots. Besides, 2D-3D conversion isn’t an add-on worth paying for.

The huge Netflix button, while understandable, is ill-judged. Not only will it make users of Amazon Instant jealous, but its placement just above the navigation buttons on the DMP-BDT370’s remote is too close. It’s so close to the ‘up’ button that it’s far too easy to mis-press. Before you know it you could be binging on one of the hundreds of awful movies on Netflix when all you wanted to do was to check a setting.

Besides, that remote control is way too small.

A shortcut to the smart TV pages would have been much better, though that’s another gripe; apps on the DMP-BDT370 are hidden too well and the language used in the OS is oddly formal.

I also had an issue with 4K file support; there is none. I tried to play a bevy of 4K files, including uncompressed MOV, MP4 and TS files all stored a on a USB stick. All I got in return from the DMP-BDT370 was ‘cannot play this title. Video resolution not supported,’ which underlines that this is not, in fact, a 4K deck at all.

Luckily, almost all Ultra HD 4K TVs themselves – which the DMP-BDT370 is surely destined to partner until the arrival of dedicated 4K Blu-ray players – can already handle such files.

It’s also worth noting two slight niggles. The DMP-BDT370 is noticeably loud during playback, while the second USB slot under the flap on the front is overkill.

Final verdict

The DMP-BDT370 is as accomplished with Blu-ray – upscaled to 4K and otherwise – as it is underwhelming in so-called smart features. It’s also got a rather confusing position in the Panasonic hierarchy.

The stiffest competition for the DMP-BDT370 comes from within Panasonic’s own line-up for 2015. Compared to the step-down DMP-BDT270, the DMP-BDT370 adds only an extra USB slot on the front, 4K JPEG playback and 2D-3D conversion.

For those two features, there’s a big increase in the physical size and, of course, the latter has a higher price. Oh, and the chance to buy a silver version, the DMP-BDT371, in addition to the black model we reviewed.

It’s a fine deck judged purely on picture quality, but I’m not convinced that the DMP-BDT370 does enough to be considered the flagship model of 2015.

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