This slick Blu-ray deck claims Ultra HD status by upscaling Blu-ray to 4K, but is it worth your cash? Read on for our Panasonic DMP-BDT330 review
The sleek Panasonic DMP-BDT330 Blu-ray player is all set for the dawn of Ultra High Definition thanks to a video scaler that can output 4K images. It's a trick that even the more expensive Panasonic DMP-BDT500 cannot perform and one that, let's be honest, few are going to use.
It's lucky then, that this mid-priced machine also packs some useful smart apps, a handy SD Card slot and achieves premium picture quality.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330: Features
While upscaling 1080p video to fit 4K TVs with roughly four times as many pixels is the headline feature, only those lucky few with UHD TVs will see the benefit. The other features that set the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 apart from immediate rivals like the 4K-scaling Samsung BD-F7500 are an ability to convert 2D content (from any source) to 3D and an SD card slot.
The Viera Connect portal is unique, of course, but the apps themselves, like Netflix and BBC iPlayer are common to most of the so-called smart Blu-ray players.
Wi-Fi and DLNA connectivity for streaming from the web and other devices are similarly common features, while the decoding of lossless multichannel soundtracks like DTS HD Master Audio, is taken as read.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330: Connectivity
With an SD card slot and two USB connections at the front and two HDMI ports to the rear, you'd have to say that this deck is well connected.
Despite DLNA and Miracast wireless connectivity on board, sometimes, you can't beat the simplicity of shoving the SD card from your camera straight into your BD player. Frustratingly, neither of the USB ports recognised our external HDD, although USB thumb drives worked fine.
The second HDMI port will be invaluable to anyone with a legacy AV receiver that pre-dates HDMI version 1.4 switching and, therefore, cannot take 3D and lossless audio through the same cable.
So the only audio output missing is an analogue connection. Those looking for such a 7.1-multichannel output will find it on the step-up Panasonic DMP-BDT500, which is designed to attract the audiophile.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330: Usability
Thanks to the refreshed and rather fast GUI, the DMP-BDT330 is easier to use than the old DMP-BDT300. The home page is almost startlingly crisp and minimal by comparison, offering you just five options, pick one of these and you're whisked to the next set of related options.
Advance to the Viera Apps portal and it all goes a bit three-dimensional as you click deeper into the pages of apps. It's logical enough, but the more linear menu system of, say the Sony BDP-S5100, involves less button pushing.
The only change on the trusty remote control is a dedicated Netflix button. This is either a great shortcut, or irritating waste of a key, depending on whether or not you have a subscription.
It has to be said, the Netflix service is good and well implemented here, but that button used to take you to the whole app selection, now three clicks away.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330: Performance
As we have come to expect from Panasonic, Blu-ray playback is as good as you'll get from a mid-range machine like this, with 3D content faring especially well.
The lavish extended Blu-ray release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey makes a fine test disc and it unfurls before you in 3D with remarkable depth and detail here. Where characters are sharply resolved seemingly in front of the screen, the scenery remains equally sharp just behind with no real loss of contrast when compared with the 2D version.
Black levels are strong and whites appear bright and free from video noise. Some might prefer bolder colours from their Blu-ray, but the Panasonic is actually being realistic in its slightly muted reds and greens. And there's always the option of switching the picture mode to User and turning up the colour a little.
Even DVDs are upscaled very smoothly to give a less smudgy appearance on a Full HD TV. We will reserve judgement on the 4K scaling ability until we've lived with the technology for a little longer, but the theory is that the scaler in this deck will outperform the one built into your UHD TV. Just remember that scaling is no substitute for the real thing, however good it claims to be.
Sonically, we have no complaints either. High-resolution multichannel tracks are decoded perfectly and audio format lovers will be impressed by its handling of FLAC files.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330: Verdict
4K scaling and an SD card slot set the Panasonic DMP-BDT330 apart from its peers in terms of functionality, while the additional HDMI and USB ports are also a welcome surprise at this price point.
The new user interface is still a little long winded and it's frustrating that the USB ports won't read from an HDD, so there's room for improvement here. So what seals the five-star deal is not the Ultra High Definition compatibility, but the DMP-BDT330's reliable 1080p picture performance.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330 release date: out now
Panasonic DMP-BDT330 price: £200