Every major manufacturer of Blu-ray players now has at least one that can upscale discs to Ultra HD (UHD) resolutions, but that does’t mean they’re the latest and greatest.
While it’s got smart TV apps and networking on top of cutting-edge upscaling, there’s something decidedly old-fashioned about Panasonic’s DMP-BDT330.
Gone is the touchpad remote control we enjoyed in the brand’s 2013 TVs, though the same whizzy, if simple-looking, user interface remains. Here we’ll have to master its gesture-based trickery with an olde worlde remote.
And while it’s hardly dinosaur-like, the Panasonic DMP-BDT330’s widgets, catch-up TV app and on-demand movie services are hosted within last year’s Viera Connect screens. The latter scenario is quite normal for Panasonic, whose Blu-ray players do tend to lag behind in terms of usability.
There’s even a concession to the app-obsessed age on the remote, in the form of a huge red Netflix button. It’s positioned dead centre, right above the navigational keys, replacing a Viera Connect button from 2012’s TVs, while nearby are shortcuts for the Panasonic DMP-BDT330’s sticky web browser (don’t bother) and Miracast (Wi-Fi Direct links to Android phones and tablets).
Simple, but the language used by Panasonic to refer to smart TV services on the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 has changed, with apps now kept behind the rather dreary-sounding Network Services tab in the on-screen menus. We’re guessing it’s to differentiate it from the awesome My Home Screen now found on various Panasonic smart TVs, such as the Panasonic TX-L55ET60.
In Network Services you’ll find the likes of BBC iPlayer, iConcerts, YouTube, Acetrax, CNBC Real-Time, Euronews, Daily Motion, Aupeo, PlayJam Games, Twitter, Facebook and a link to the Marketplace to download more apps, too. We’re not sure about the advert for PayPal though.
In terms of hardware we’re a little disappointed about the £249.99 (around US$385 / AU$415) Panasonic DMP-BDT330’s lack of analogue audio outputs, though we do like its SD card slot. It’s a boon for photographers, though it only plays photos and video files, not music. That slot is under a mirrored flap on the front, which is strikingly V-shaped at the wings.
Also under there is a brace of USB slots, which is decent return – especially as BD Live rumbles on as a feature on Blu-ray players – though we don’t see why at least one of them couldn’t be included on the back, out of sight.
Hidden away are the Panasonic DMP-BDT330’s key ins and outs, which comprise two HDMI outputs – one of which can be tuned to audio-only for attaching to a home cinema system – alongside an optical audio output and wired LAN, though the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 has Wi-Fi, too.
Audio can be output as PCM or bitstream over HDMI, with DTS Neo:6, DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital True HD the pick of the surround sound formats supported.
What we do like about the Panasonic DMP-BDT330’s user interface is how quickly it works. The remote may look old, but it whizzes through the menus – which are so, so easy to understand – like no other Blu-ray player we’ve used.
Fully exploring and testing the Networking area, we managed to play MP3, M4A, AAC, FLAC and WMA music files from a PC and a USB flash drive, though note that Samsung Blu-ray decks now support the APE format, too.
With video files we managed to stream the usual AVI, MP4, MPEG-4 and AVC HD files, though MKV files are only supported via USB storage. A photo slideshow is possible via streaming, USB or from an SD card.
It’s also possible to create different user profiles for the Panasonic DMP-BDT330, though it doesn’t seem to stretch much further than choosing a basic wallpaper (which can be your own photos, if you like) and icon (ditto). It’s not a patch on the face recognition systems of the latest Panasonic TVs.
Put into the slightly more power-hungry Quick Start mode – which puts it on standby, rather than turning it fully off – the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 loads and begins to play Blu-rays, DVD and CD discs in 13, 9 and 13 seconds, respectively, though the reading and playback process can sound a bit clunky.
Disengage Quick Start and those figures drop to 18, 10 and 17 seconds, which aren’t very different. Crucially, a CD doesn’t play automatically, so you can’t so easily use the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 as a makeshift instant hi-fi while the TV’s switched off.
There isn’t a better mainstream Blu-ray player for pictures than the all-digital Panasonic DMP-BDT330. 3D looks free from crosstalk and has plenty of depth; the opening sequence of Hugo has never looks as good.
Next comes our Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2D test disc, which didn’t show up any judder or flicker on its way to pristine, clean high-definition detail and strong colour.
Incidentally, the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 does have a choice of Normal, Soft, Fine and User picture modes, though if you’d rather tweak some basic sliders for contrast, brightness, sharpness and colour yourself, only User enables you to do this.
If the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 is set to output in 24fps mode (here’s where UHD/4K becomes an option, though we weren’t able to test it), it will do the same to DVDs as it upscales.
The results are awesome, with artefacts in DVDs glossed over in a clean and thoroughly detailed way. Clever stuff. Poor quality YouTube videos get the same smooth and clean treatment.
Ultra HD upscaling is in and faddy touchpad remotes are out on this impressive Blu-ray player, but its smart TV dimension is a tad 2012.
Blu-ray pictures are dreamily awesome, both from 2D and 3D modes, while DVD upscaling in 24fps mode comes hugely recommended, too.
It’s very difficult to get lost or confused while using the Panasonic DMP-BDT330. Navigating the admittedly rather basic structure of the GUI is so easy, and once you realise that apps are stored in Network Services, you’ve cracked the only sight issue. The UHD upscaling feature adds some future-proofing, though it has little purpose in the here and now, where most TVs aren’t yet compatible.
The remote is old and lacks a shortcut to the apps grid, while the smart TV interface is last year’s look. We were’t able to stream either MKV or AVC HD video files over a home network, and nor could we find a smartphone/tablet app for the Panasonic DMP-BDT330. We miss 2012’s touchpad remote, too, though only slightly.
We’re not convinced that there are better options if you want to introduce smart stuff to your living room, but this Panasonic Blu-ray player is nevertheless a great all-digital option. It’s the easiest to use of any Blu-ray deck we’ve tested, and though it lacks some apps in among a rather old-fashioned GUI, it’s also the fastest working.
We’ve got no complaints about Blu-ray playback, either in 2D or 3D, while DVDs and online video are skilfully upscaled. However, since there are no analogue outputs we wonder who the Panasonic DMP-BDT330’s key feature – Ultra HD/4K upscaling – is really aimed at.
More proof that this deck has a 2012 core spec comes from the fact that Panasonic’s DMP-BDT500 continues as the range-topper for 2013, adding analogue audio outputs. Another 2012 marvel, Sony’s UHD-upscaling BDP-S790, continues too, though there’s some new competition from the equally UHD-capable Samsung BD-F7500. We’ve already reviewed the latter’s step-down option, the Samsung BD-F6500.
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