Mark Henninger reviews Panasonic's latest UHD/4K upscaling Blu-ray player, featuring UHD/4K playback of JPEGs and dual HDMI outputs.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT460 costs a little bit more than budget-oriented Blu-ray players, but it justifies its price with a rich feature set and snappy performance. Before I get into the user experience, I'd like to complement the overall appearance and build quality of this unit. Even though it's plastic, the DMP-BDT460 has an upscale appearance thanks to a brushed-metallic finish and a one-piece faceplate that hides the disc drawer, USB port, and SD card slot. It's a clean, modern design that wouldn't look out of place in a stack of high-end AV gear. I certainly won't knock Panasonic for using plastic, considering that the far more expensive Kaleidescape Cinema One that I demoed for couple of months is also housed in a plastic chassis.
Panasonic's DMP-BDT460 looks good. The front faceplate flips down when the disc drawer opens.
A few weeks ago, I began the review process on a Panasonic TC-65AX800U UHD/4K TV. Since it's the first UHD/4K device I've used for any extended period, it provided a window into the joys and challenges facing early UHD/4K adopters. Lack of content is a real issue, especially when it comes to television and movies. Things are better if you have a PC, thanks to YouTube, video games, and photo slideshows.
As I spent some time with the AX800U, I quickly realized that photo slideshows are one of the best uses for UHD/4K. Unlike movies, where the limited motion resolution of LCD panels interferes with how much detail you can really see during an action scene, still photos allow the viewer to see UHD/4K in all its glory.
Today's Blu-ray players are workhorses, serving as the foundation of countless home-entertainment systems. A good Blu-ray player is still a must-have for any home-theater setup, even as streaming video gains in popularity. Even though I’ve tried many of the latest dedicated streaming devices—Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google, Chromecast, and Roku—I continue to use a Blu-ray player as my primary source for cloud-based AV content.
Blu-ray offers pristine 1080p image fidelity, but it can be a pain to deal with discs—especially when using a sluggish player. Some Blu-ray players are quite slow when it comes to disc handling, but unless you have a Kaleidescape system or a Blu-ray changer, dealing with physical discs is a necessity. To that end, I've come to appreciate Blu-ray players that offer fast loading times and otherwise snappy performance.
Aside from a Kaleidescape Cinema One system that I reviewed a few months back
, my primary Blu-ray player is a Sony BDP-S5100. I also have a copy of CyberLink PowerDVD 14 on my HTPC, and in the past, I've used a PS3 as my Blu-ray source. Among those options, the DMP-BDT460 is the best performer when it comes to speed of operation, and overall, it strikes me as a slightly nicer AV appliance than my Sony.
From the startup to disc loading to menu access, the Panasonic player did not waste any of my time. Granted, the Kaleidescape Cinema One pulls off a neat trick, bypassing all the ads and warnings typically found at the beginning of Blu-ray discs and getting the viewer straight into the movie. But that the capability comes at a hefty premium: $3000 for the Cinema One, which is over 15 times more expensive than the Panasonic player.
Despite my recent declaration that I "gave up" on Blu-ray discs
, the truth is I still occasionally watch them. On the other hand, I don't go out of my way to watch a Blu-ray instead of a streaming format. I appreciate the extra bit of quality that Blu-ray squeezes out of many movies, yet I also enjoy the convenience of browsing a large catalog of films online and the instant gratification that comes with streaming an impulsive movie selection.
Modern Blu-ray players often act as media portals, and that flexibility keeps me from using streaming-only platforms such as Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV—it's redundant. I've used each and every one of those devices at some point or another in the past year, yet I keep going back to my trusty S5100 to access cloud-based content because it offers Vudu, Netflix, and Amazon streaming—the services of greatest importance to me.
I was psyched to try out the DMP-BDT460 in the role of online streamer. That's when I discovered what I consider a major omission: There is no Amazon app. That's a big deal for me because I am an Amazon Prime member, which buys me access to a sizeable library of high-quality streaming content. If I want to watch an older movie, the first place I check is Amazon Prime, because Amazon's HD streams typically outperform Netflix HD in terms of image quality.
I expected to find an Amazon app on this screen, hopefully Panasonic adds it in the future.
Fortunately, the DMP-BDT460 does include Vudu, the streaming service I use most frequently. There are plenty of additional apps available in Panasonic's Marketplace, including a couple of adult apps. The interface itself is very clean and easy to navigate, and customizable. I prefer it to Sony's interface, which is borrowed from the PS3 and requires a lot more scrolling to find an app. Both Vudu and Netflix stream in 3D, a plus for fans of the format.
Panasonic's marketplace offers a healthy selection of apps.
One feature I wish the Panasonic had is the capability to play 4K Netflix content, because the app in the AX800U UHD/4K TV I'm reviewing currently does not support 4K Netflix content. Moreover, if I can go off on a tangent for just a moment, my dream is a Blu-ray player that could tap into a UHD/4K stream and downscale it for 1080p playback. It's just a hunch, but I suspect those streams would truly rival Blu-ray discs in terms of picture quality, on 1080p displays.
One of the more significant hardware features offered by the DMP-BDT460 is dual HDMI outputs, which allows the player to work with AVRs, soundbars, HTiBs, and other audio systems that don't support 3D or UHD/4K pass-through. You simply run one HDMI cable directly to the TV and another to the audio system; you can also set the secondary HDMI output so it is audio only. This feature came in handy for me, since my receiver is not UHD/4K compatible. The player also offers an optical S/PDIF output.
Pictured here are the twin HDMI outputs on the DMP-BDT460, along with the LAN port and the optical S/PDIF output.
Normally, it is not necessary to have UHD/4K output on a Blu-ray player, even if you already own a UHD/4K TV, because most UHDTVs offer built-in upscaling. Moreover, the truth is that upscaling doesn't improve image quality; it can only preserve what's already there. However, the DMP-BDT460 offers a pretty cool UHD/4K capability—it can display JPEGs in full UHD/4K resolution. Most upscaling Blu-ray players downscale JPEG images to 1080p first, and then re-upscale them to UHD/4K. This Panasonic preserves all the original detail contained in modern digital photos. It even includes an SD card reader, making it easy to view photos shot with a digital camera in all their glory.
Cameras with 8-megapixel and higher resolution have been around for a while; many people have a significant collection of imagery at those resolutions, which they've never seen at full res. I have hundreds of thousands of such images, shot over the last decade and a half. This Panasonic makes it very easy to capitalize on photo collections by putting together slideshows, and the results look stunning. In fact, slideshows are one of the best uses I've seen for UHD/4K. With still photos, it makes sense to approach the screen and marvel at the micro details that you can see when 8 megapixels are visible at once. Even photos from high-end smartphones, such as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S4/S5, looked sharper when viewed in UHD versus HD. However, photos taken with modern large-sensor digital cameras really show off what UHD/4K resolution can look like—16-megapixel JPEGs from my Sony NEX-6 looked more resolute than any UHD/4K demo videos I've seen.
The UHD/4K JPEG playback capability also works with USB drives, cameras connected via USB, and files burned to disc. The whole process of loading and viewing a slideshow takes mere seconds, and the player is very responsive to commands.
The DMP-BDT460 also did a great job playing 1080p video via USB as well as from an SD card, with fast and easy navigation of files and responsive playback controls. I was less impressed with the speed of browsing DLNA media on my PC, but at least that function worked as expected, providing full access to all of my DLNA-accessible photo, video, and music collections.
Another feature that helps the Panasonic stand out is support for Miracast, which enables screen mirroring with Android tablets and smartphones. The feature even gets its own button on the remote control, and the quality of the mirrored image was very good with minimal latency. It's a handier feature than I expected it to be, especially when it comes to quickly showing off photos and even video clips from my phone.
Speaking of the remote control, Panasonic's is neither the best nor the worst I've seen, but it's definitely not a highlight. It is a bit short and stubby, and it lacks backlit buttons. The buttons themselves are rather small and tightly-packed; perhaps the greatest annoyance is how close the Netflix button is to the up button on the directional pad. I keep launching Netflix by accident, although I'm sure if I used the remote for long enough, my fingers would learn which button was which. Anyhow, the remote does the job, but it definitely suffers from being a bit too small.
There's a lot going on button-wise in this compact remote.
When it comes to actual Blu-ray playback, it's hard to find a player that messes things up, thanks to HDMI. As far as I can tell, this Panasonic is faithful to the source material. It displays resolution and contrast test patterns properly, and Blu-ray playback is smooth and glitch-free. If you want better picture quality, you probably have to buy yourself an Oppo BDP-103D with built-in Darbee video processing.
To me, the more important quality in the Blu-ray player is how resistant it is to read errors caused by scratches and fingerprints. To test that, I created a disc out of a copy of The Bourne Legacy, using my greasy thumbs and some sandpaper. It closely resembles discs I've received from Netflix in the past, but the first minute of each chapter will play on my Sony BDP–S5100 without a problem. To test the Panasonic, did the same thing, playing the first minute of each chapter. The DMP-BDT460 stumbled at the beginning of chapter 5; it was a brief stumble, just a second or so when the frame froze, and then the video kept playing as normal. I skipped back a few times and the issue recurred, so I attribute it to a read error. Aside from that glitch, the Panasonic handled the mangled disc just fine. Still, it's worth noting that the Sony did not stumble at all. I let the movie play for almost an hour, and aside from that one glitch, the DMP-BDT460 did not falter at all. I'd feel confident watching a rental disc on this Panasonic Blu-ray player.
This is my reference disc I created to test for testing scratch and fingerprint resistance.
With a retail price of $180, the DMP-BDT460 costs a bit more than your typical off-the-shelf Blu-ray player from a major electronics manufacturer, but it's packed with features and offers robust performance. The omission of an Amazon app is a bit mystifying, but the player more than makes up for that misstep with other capabilities, including Miracast, dual HDMI output, and UHD/4K JPEG playback. It looks slick, and it loads, plays, and deals with Blu-ray discs in an expedited fashion compared to players I've used in the past. If Blu-rays are your primary movie-watching medium, and you want a robust, full-featured player, then the DMP-BDT460 is definitely worth your consideration.
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