If I had to recommend just one Blu-ray player for 2012, it would be the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 ($130 street price). It's in the sweet spot of Panasonic's Blu-ray lineup, with built-in Wi-Fi and an excellent set of streaming-media services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Vudu, MLB.TV, and Pandora. And while competing players from Samsung and Sony offer just as many streaming apps, they're hamstrung by awkward user interfaces.
The DMP-BDT220 also has a few other perks, like 3D compatibility, 2D-to-3D conversion, and Skype, although the front-panel SD card slot is probably the most useful. Altogether, the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 is the best current value in the Blu-ray player category, earning an Editors' Choice Award.
The DMP-BDT220 has one of the sleekest looks from the outside, with a long front panel devoid of buttons. The panel automatically flips up or down when you open or close the disc tray, so it's not a nuisance in normal use, although if you plug in a USB drive, the panel stays down and the look is unattractive.
Nearly every TV-based interface I've used is cursor- and icon-driven. Move the cursor to the icon you want, hit the Enter button, and away you go. Panasonic's interface breaks that convention by displaying a menu that replicates the remote's D-pad. There's no cursor, just press the direction you want and you'll jump to the next screen.
The Viera Connect interface uses a cursor and icons, and the home screen is wonderfully simple. It's a basic grid of icons, displaying seven different apps at once. Nothing fancy, but it's easy to use. Even better, you can customize which apps show up on the home screen.
In addition to the preinstalled apps on Viera Connect, there's an app store called Market. You can install additional apps from here, and although the selection isn't great, there are a few apps that are worth adding. Overall, the Viera Connect experience seems significantly more well-thought-out and integrated than any of its competitors.
Around back there's a basic set of ports, including an HDMI output, optical output, and Ethernet jack. There's also a USB port called "communication camera" that's used for connection with Panasonic's Skype camera. The DMP-BDT220 doesn't have dual HDMI outputs like Panasonic's step-up DMP-BDT500 or Samsung's flagship BD-E6500, but they're not that useful anyway. You can always use the optical audio output for audio (without losing much, if any, sound quality) if you have an older non-HDMI receiver.
The included remote is a good one, with dedicated buttons for Netflix, Viera Connect, and Skype. Playback buttons are well-positioned and the play button has a helpful tactile nub so you can find it by feel. The only problem is the positioning of the home, Internet, and pop-up menu around the directional pad. Those buttons are similar in shape to the directional buttons, so I ended up pressing them accidentally a few times.