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As we noted on the DMP-BD75, this year’s Panasonic players boast a gorgeous new operating system, which operates with level of slickness that finally gives Sony’s Xross Media Bar a run for its money.
Hit the Home button on the remote and the great-looking menu appears, sporting a cluster of large icons arranged in a cross that correspond with the direction keys on the remote. So a single button press takes you to that function (or to the next submenu), and it moves to the next screen in a flash. It’s absolute genius and a million times easier to use than last year’s GUI. You can also customise this main menu by uploading a photo from the USB port or SD card slot, although the default graphics are attractive enough as they are.
DLNA operation is simple enough. It doesn’t take long to pull content from connected PCs and the basic top-to-bottom lists are easy to comprehend, although we’d love a search feature – after all, scrolling through a music library containing over 16,000 songs is pretty time consuming.
The other onscreen displays are designed with a real sense of logic and simplicity. The Skype interface, for example, uses bold primary colours and massive bubbly icons down the left-hand side, plus the screen is refreshingly uncluttered. It takes ages to set up an account though, due to the inevitable awkwardness of entering text using the remote. We tried making a couple of calls, which is really easy to do, but they weren’t in. We’ve seen it in action though, and the video quality is excellent, making this a very worthwhile feature overall.
Other useful menus, such as Option, Status and Display, provide quick access to key functions and information while watching a movie. The Display menu contains several tweaks, including a range of picture presets (Normal, Cinema, Soft, Fine, Cinema, Cartoon) and a User mode that lets you adjust contrast, brightness, sharpness, colour, gamma and noise reduction.
These are joined by some other picture enhancements, including Chroma Process, Detail Clarity and Super Resolution. On the audio side are Dialogue Enhancer and a Sound Effects menu that offers Night Surround (for low-volume listening) and Re-master, which attempts to boost the clarity of high-frequencies.
A couple of final operational points – the remote has been rightfully been left alone, keeping the same logical layout, large buttons and foolproof labelling as last year’s zappers. The only problem we found was that the Home button is too near the right direction key, which caused a few accidental visits to the main menu. Helpfully, Viera Cast, 3D settings and Skype all have their own direct-access buttons.
And Panasonic has make great strides when it comes to booting up and Blu-ray disc loading – Terminator Salvation takes a respectable 40 seconds to load, while the 3D version of Avatar takes around 30 seconds. Not bad.