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Panasonic DMP-BDT220 review:

Panasonic DMP-BDT220

Panasonic Viera Connect streaming services

Panasonic's Viera Connect has an excellent collection of streaming-media services. Video services are particularly strong, with a good selection of both subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus) and VOD (Amazon Instant, Vudu, CinemaNow) apps. There's no Flixster for UltraViolet support, which is available on Samsung and Sony players, but I'm not convinced that UltraViolet will be all that important. Pandora and Internet radio will be good enough for most people on the music side, but support for at least one subscription music service would be nice. There are a ton of social apps too, but those generally aren't that useful when viewed on a TV.

While competitors like Samsung and Sony are in the same ballpark in terms of sheer number of apps, their UIs both have design issues that make them less attractive. If you're looking for a streaming-friendly Blu-ray player, Panasonic is the way to go.

Panasonic DMP-BDT220 back panel
Basic Blu-ray ports, plus a USB port for a Skype camera.

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 Panasonic can also play back a variety of digital media files over its USB port, its SD card slot, or over your home network using DLNA. I tested a mishmash of digital video and audio files, with largely disappointing results. While it played back an MKV file with no trouble, neither DivX or Xvid files played back, nor did any ripped DVDs. That's frustrating, but not a dealbreaker in my book, since all Blu-ray players are mediocre local-media streamers at best. If you're a heavy torrenter or digital music streamer, you're better off with a more specialized device.

Rounding out the features list is 2D-to-3D conversion, but I've never seen that functionality work well, so I wouldn't put much stock in it. There's no onboard memory, but most manufacturers are omitting that feature too. That's fine by me, as it was only needed for the (nearly useless) BD-Java features. The only "extra" feature worth caring about is the SD card slot on the front panel, which is nice for quickly viewing images from a digital camera.

Performance: Perfectly average
Performance may be the most important criteria for HDTVs and speakers, but it's almost irrelevant when it comes to choosing a Blu-ray player. Last year, we found that all major manufacturers' Blu-ray players had nearly identical image quality, and so far in 2012 the players show similar performance in terms of speed, too.

I still put the DMP-BDT220 through its paces to check Blu-ray image quality, DVD image quality, disc-loading speed, and Netflix image quality. Blu-ray and DVD image quality were unsurprisingly excellent, as you'll find on any modern Blu-ray player. Netflix streaming quality was also great, looking as good with HD content as any other player. Because many buyers complained about problems with last year's DMP-BDT210's Netflix streaming, I watched several programs, but didn't see any major issues, aside from occasional lip sync problems that occur on all Netflix devices. (I didn't have problems with Netflix on my review sample of the DMP-BDT210 either.)

The DMP-BDT220 (like all recent Blu-ray players) loads movies considerably faster than the Sony PlayStation 3, and it's slightly faster overall than its 2012 competitors. That's largely due to a superfast quick-start mode, which enables it to go from off to playing a movie in under 10 seconds. On the other hand, the Samsung BD-E5700 and LG BP620 players aren't that far behind and are faster in other areas; the DMP-BDT220 is particularly slow when skipping chapters. Still, if I had to pick a player for myself based on speed, I'd go with the Panasonic because of its quick-start mode.

If you want all the testing details, check out CNET's 2012 comprehensive Blu-ray chart, but the main takeaway is that Blu-ray player performance just isn't that important as a distinguishing feature. You're better off picking a player based on which model has the features you want and is easiest to use.

What about Panasonic's other Blu-ray players?
Panasonic offers several Blu-ray players, but none quite as attractive as the DMP-BDT220. Here's how the line breaks down:

DMP-BD77 ($90 list): Wi-Fi-ready (requires dongle) + basic streaming
DMP-BD87 ($120 list): Wi-Fi + basic streaming
DMP-BDT220 ($150 list): Wi-Fi + Viera Connect
DMP-BDT320 ($200 list): Wi-Fi + Viera Connect + touch-pad remote + slot-loading drive
DMP-BDT500 ($350 list): Wi-Fi + Viera Connect + touch-pad remote + dual HDMI outputs + 7.1 analog audio outputs
DMP-BBT01 ($270 list): Wi-Fi + Viera Connect + touch-pad remote + slot-loading drive + ultraslim design

Built-in Wi-Fi and the full Viera Connect suite of streaming services are worth paying for, but extras like the touch-pad remote, slot-loading drive, and dual HDMI outputs are generally not worth the extra money. Note that the basic streaming package on the DMP-BD77 and DMP-BD87 only includes Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, and YouTube.

Our pick: Best Blu-ray value for 2012
The Panasonic DMP-BDT220 is the best overall Blu-ray value, although you could save money if you don't need Wi-Fi by getting an Ethernet-only model like the LG BP220 ($87 street price). However, the lack of Wi-Fi really limits your options in the future if you want to move the Blu-ray player to a secondary room, like a bedroom or den, which might not have Ethernet. Unless you have a special need for Flixster or DivX playback, the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 is the Blu-ray player to get.

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