Panasonic's Viera Connect offers a wide variety of video services from subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus) to VOD (Amazon Instant, Vudu, CinemaNow) apps. The BDT230 makes up for the omission of Flixster on last year's model and this should please. Pandora and Internet radio will be good enough for most people on the music side, but support for Spotify would be nice. There are a ton of social apps too, but those generally aren't useful when viewed on a TV.
As well as the cosmetic qualities, Panasonic has slimmed down the selection of connections on offer. Gone are the analog outputs (yay, no composite! Boo, no stereo!), but the HDMI and optical audio jacks remain. Whisked away like a political dissenter in the night, however, is Skype, with the dedicated USB port and app missing from this year's model. At the front of the player is a small flap that hides a single USB port and an SD card slot.
For the past few years, the performance of most Blu-ray players has been virtually identical, and based on my testing of the Panasonic versus its main rival Sony I can say this trend has continued.
The Panasonic demonstrated it was a capable upscaler of DVDs, and every bit the equal of our reference player, the Sony PlayStation 3. It easily passed both the suite of test patterns and the real-world playback of the "Star Trek: Insurrection" DVD. In the opening rural scenes of movie the camera pans over a bridge and houses and on lesser players this will result in jaggies. The Panasonic presented the scene flawlessly.
On the less tricky Blu-ray tests, the BDR230 passed most of our synthetic benchmarks, only demonstrating a brief and erroneous issue with the Chroma Multiburst test: a solid black square where there should have been intricate red and blue lines. Playing back the test a second time it was fine.
Moving to both films and video content on Blu-ray demonstrated that even the trickiest material wasn't a problem for this player, which managed to resolve both reds and tight, lined patterns without breaking up or causing moire.
Internet services: While I didn't use every single app, most of the streaming interfaces appear to be up-to-date and this was particularly true for Netflix, which will no doubt be the most used. In our startup test, the Panasonic and Sony were identical in the amount of time it took to load the Netflix menu: 20.96 seconds, averaged out of three tries.
While most apps were responsive I did notice some sluggishness in the YouTube interface, which could be network-related but seemed to have more to do with the animations and large art of the preview panes. Clicking on one video actually brought up the next one in the side-scrolling list after a moment of lag.
Miracast: Our experiments with Miracast weren't all that successful. First, you'll need to stumble around in the menus to find where to connect to a player, and it took us several goes to get it right. It also didn't work with a wired connection, which doesn't make sense as networked components should be treated equally, regardless of whether they're wired or wireless. Once we had it running, it didn't work very well anyway: video was only a fraction of a second behind, which is great, but audio lagged by several seconds on several different video sources. Without the ability to set lip sync, this made watching video very frustrating.
The Panasonic BDT230 works well and it's small enough to slot easily into most home theater setups. It works well and has a wide selection of services, and image quality is as good as you'd expect of a modern Blu-ray player. But with so many solid options available, there's little reason to settle for a Blu-ray player that's going to bombard you with ads.