The DMP-BDT700 is Panasonic’s latest flagship Blu-ray player, a throwback to the format’s early days when decks were big, beautifully made and aimed at enthusiasts. But hopefully without the slow disc loading times...
This is not the sort of player you bung in your trolley at ASDA. Not only does it boast features and sockets missing from most budget spinners; it’s also staunchly focused on performance, with THX certification and superior audio circuitry. Naturally a premium player like this doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re serious about home cinema then it could be money well spent.
The DMP-BDT700’s solid, heavy construction is impressive, a world away from the flimsy plastic of most budget players. It’s not quite up to the industrial standards of OPPO or Cambridge Audio, but this is Panasonic’s best-made Blu-ray player since 2012’s DMP-BDT500.
Style-wise, Panasonic has gone for moody minimalism. The deck is black from top to toe, with brushed top and side panels lending a sense of elegance. It’s virtually free from clutter, thanks to a brushed-aluminium fascia that covers up the disc tray, SD card slot and USB port, while buttonry is restricted to a row of touch-sensitive controls on top. A clear LED display shines through a window in the front panel.
The rear panel is anything but minimal. Twin HDMI sockets allow you to output pictures and audio separately – useful if your AV receiver doesn’t support 3D or 4K passthrough. Although the sort of person buying a £550 Blu-ray deck will probably have a pretty up-to-date receiver.
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Even better news for owners of cutting-edge 4K TVs is that the main output is HDMI 2.0, which can handle 4K at 60fps (HDMI v1.4 topped out at 4K 30fps). That means you can use the built-in 4K Direct Chroma Upscaler to upscale Blu-ray discs to 4K 60p on a compatible TV. You can also view 4K JPEGs directly, side-stepping the usual process of downscaling them first and then upscaling them again.
It’s also good to see a set of 7.1-channel analogue outputs on the back. This means the player can decode 7.1-channel Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio tracks internally and pipe the decoded PCM to your amp’s analogue inputs. That’s useful for older amps without HDMI inputs.
The line-up is completed by optical, coaxial and analogue stereo outputs, plus an Ethernet port that provides a more stable alternative to the built-in Wi-Fi connection.
State-of-the-art socketry is the just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll also find a wealth of network functionality, including DLNA file streaming, Miracast and an Internet portal that offers a variety of online apps. It’s basically the same line-up of network features as cheaper Panasonic players like the DMP-BDT360.
Panasonic’s selection of Internet apps is disappointing. There are some big names here like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, but until Panasonic adds stuff like ITV Player, 4oD, Demand 5, Now TV and Spotify it’ll continue to play second fiddle to Samsung and LG. There’s a plethora of games and frothy lifestyle apps available to download in the Market menu, but nothing worth writing home about.
On the flipside, the sort of premium players you find at this price are usually light on smart content, so Panasonic has an advantage in that respect.
You can stream files from PCs, NAS drives and smartphones on the same network as the player. It supports MKV, XviD, AVCHD, WMV and MP4 video files, as well as FLAC, MP3, WAV, AAC WMA, WAV and JPEG – provided your DLNA server also supports them. Hi-res FLAC files are supported up to 192kHz/24-bit. You can also play these files from USB flash drives, while AVCHD, MP4, JPEG and MPO are supported from SD cards.
Other features include 3D playback (with 2D to 3D conversion) and Panasonic’s usual gamut of sound modes – Dialog Enhancer, High Clarity Sound (which turns off video circuits to stop them interfering with the audio signal), Digital Tube Sound, Night Surround and Re-Master.
The DMP-BDT700’s new Home menu looks more sophisticated than Panasonic’s cheaper players. The switch to a black background with a row of tiles running through the centre is clear and classy, although it lacks the one-touch navigation that makes the DMP-BDT360 such a slick operator.
From the Home menu you can jump straight to Videos, Music or Photos on disc, USB or SD card. Select ‘Home Network’ and you can explore DLNA servers, while the ‘Network Service’ option is your gateway to Internet content.
Select any of these and the subsequent menus are standard Panasonic fare, using large boxes, chunky text and a grey/yellow colour scheme. It’s simplistic, but makes everything easy to follow. The DLNA/USB playback menus are nicely presented. When browsing a music library, cover art is displayed alongside each track in the list, although only metadata is displayed while playing.
Panasonic hasn’t changed its Internet Apps menu for years, but it could do with an update. It splits the apps across a series of pages, seven per screen. Thankfully the only apps worth using are all shown on the first page, but it’s cumbersome to use – hopefully Panasonic will revamp it next year to reflect its TV smart menus.
We’re impressed by the deck’s smooth operation, which allows you to skip through menus and search Blu-ray discs with no delays. The Wi-Fi connection is stable, too, streaming bandwidth-hogging web videos without a hitch.
Press ‘Option’ during playback and you can view the disc playback options or the Playback Information Window, which displays the audio/video bitrates and formats.
It also lets you make image and sound tweaks on the fly, and picture perfectionists will be delighted by the deck’s thorough range of adjustments – one of the features that earn it the THX seal of approval. Among the options are adjustments for luminance, colour and sharpness, block, random and mosquito noise reduction and bandwidth limitation for brightness and colour.
You also get seven picture presets, including new Retro Cinema, Fine Cinema, Live and Animation modes, plus two presets that optimise the image for different displays (TV or projector). Adjustments can be saved in two memory settings.
The remote is a step up from Panasonic’s usual handsets. This one is long, elegant and robust, bearing the same brushed finish as the player, which is a really nice touch.
The remote's button layout is as good as we've come to expect from Panasonic, with a direction pad placed dead centre and related keys dotted around it. The buttons are large and clearly labelled, and we love the inclusion of dedicated keys for nearly every feature and menu. But the best news is that it’s backlit, making it easy to navigate in the dark.
Forget the features and design; the true appeal of the DMP-BDT700 lies in its promise of ‘uncompromising’ performance, and on that score it doesn’t disappoint. Let’s not beat about the bush – its Blu-ray picture quality is absolutely stunning, particularly if you spend a little time tweaking the extensive image settings beforehand.
We kicked things off with the RoboCop remake and from the start the deck serves up bold, luscious visuals. Pat Novak’s OTT virtual studio is peppered with vibrant tabloid colours and deep, inky blacks in the background, while Omnicorp’s strip-light illuminated labs look crisp and striking.
The deck has no trouble picking out subtle shading and variations in colour tone that give the façade of three-dimensionality. Skin tones and other subtle hues look realistic, and we applaud the deck’s ability to maintain the integrity of bright and muted colours within the same shot.
Excellent contrast makes every scene look rich and punchy, particularly brightly-lit exteriors. The DMP-BDT700 also has a keen eye for detail – the dusty buildings, cracked roads and battered signs of the ED-209-patrolled Tehran streets are crisply rendered.
Its presentation of Pixar’s Monsters Inc. is equally jaw-dropping. It pulls out subtle details like strands of fur and the texture of bricks in the background as Mike and Sully stroll to work, while bright colours blaze from the screen. The movie also highlights the deck’s expert handling of fast movement – there’s no judder as Sully and Randall leap from door to door on the conveyor belt.
This stability also pays dividends when watching 3D fare like The Hobbit. Armies of bustling creatures and layered scenery retain their clarity as Peter Jackson’s camera smoothly plummets through the caverns of Goblin Town, showing few signs of blur. Obviously your 3D TV has to be singing from the same hymn sheet, but the BDT700 does everything it can to ensure an immersive 3D experience.
The DMP-BDT700 also has the talent to make lower-quality sources look terrific. We randomly threw our The Adventures of Baron Munchausen DVD in the tray, and when upscaled to 1080p the movie’s ornate sets, outlandish costumes and whimsical colour palette punch from the screen. It’s not spotless, but much better than most budget players. If you want to breathe new life into your DVD collection, this is the player for you.
We also streamed SD shows from BBC iPlayer, ropey old WMV clips and various YouTube videos, and in each case the images are smooth and watchable, despite the inevitable presence of noise in the picture.
For a slightly more scientific evaluation we loaded up the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray to see how the deck copes with the weird video cadences and tricky test patterns. It didn’t put a foot wrong with any of them. We also checked the deck’s disc loading times using the stubborn Terminator Salvation disc and from an open tray it started playing the video content in just over 30 seconds, which isn’t particularly fast but acceptable. Discs with less Java content to chew over will start up much faster.
The DMP-BDT700 is a very capable audio performer too. Fed to our Onkyo TX-NR818 from the deck’s 7.1 analogue outputs, Hellboy II: The Golden Army sounds sensational. As Hellboy squares up to Nuada at the climax, there’s a crisp, attacking tone to the carnage, plenty of detail in the mix and beefy bass behind every punch and explosion.
The deck also passes muster as a CD player, using its high-quality digital-to-analogue converters to deliver expressive, well-balanced playback through the analogue stereo outputs.
With its robust, elegant design, cutting-edge features and stunning picture quality, the DMP-BDT700 is worth every penny if you’re serious about home cinema.
Detailed picture tweaks, THX certification, generous connectivity and high-quality construction elevate it above the budget masses, while picture and sound quality are phenomenal. It’s also easy to use, fast in operation and a slick DLNA streamer. Internet content could be better, but that’s the only real negative.
We’re not saying it outperforms players such as the OPPO BDP-105D and Cambridge Audio BD752, but these decks will make a much bigger dent in your bank balance. Panasonic’s effort is more realistically priced, without compromising on performance or features, and for that reason it’s a cracking purchase.
Panasonic targets hardcore home cinema fans with a superb THX-certified Blu-ray deck that puts the emphasis on build quality and performance, while throwing in plenty of cutting-edge features.
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