Before the Purchase
I’ve been wanting to replace my aging Pioneer BDP-120 for quite a while now. It had served me well for several years but was rather clunky, had no streaming abilities, a shitty remote, and on occasion would freeze during playback or would not shut off properly which would cause me to unplug the unit to reset it. Needless to say that annoyed the shit out me so I figured it was time for it to go. The other major factor contributing to my desire to replace the unit was it’s constant need to have its firmware updated; even though the unit had an ethernet port you couldn’t update it that way. Since updating the unit via ethernet was out, you were forced to update via USB thumb drive which wasn’t very difficult but it was an inconvenience since the only USB port was on the backside of the unit and I had to feel around for it unless I wanted to try and move everything around. I like to keep myself informed on anything and everything Blu-ray related and if money was no object I’d be updating my home theater systems yearly. Since I’m not a millionaire, I mostly just keep informed on new players and features because I like to know what’s going on with Blu-ray and I get asked pretty regularly for advice and recommendations about what brands to buy, what features to get, and what brands to avoid. There were four different Blu-ray players that I had narrowed down my search. There are several factors that went into how I narrowed down the field of possible choices:
- I always try to stay with main brands because I firmly believe in “You get what you pay for.” I stay away from any brands I don’t recognize or brands that I know are no longer being made up to their old standards such as Philips and Magnavox which are now owned by Funai.
- Quality & Reliability
- Almost every player from non-shitty brands should give you great video and sound quality. When the format first launched picture and sound quality differed a lot from brand to brand but that issued has stabilized and now you won’t find much difference between the similarly priced units. With that said, some review sites say you can see a difference between some medium priced players, like what we’re discussing today, and players from brands like Oppo which are considered the Mercedes Benz of Blu-ray players.
- Goes hand and hand with brand, sites such as Consumer Reports give breakdowns on reliability and repairs of major electronics brands. Even if their reports aren’t 100% accurate it doesn’t hurt to stay away from brands like Memorex and RCA.
- At the time of this writing most Blu-ray players are capable of Wi-Fi but many still do not have it as a built in option. Many players still require a Wi-Fi dongle that is usually sold separately for approximately $75 or more. I prefer not to have to deal with dongles so I only looked at players with built in Wi-Fi.
- Streaming services and internet applications are extremely popular and add a whole other level of usefulness to your Blu-ray player. Neflix is a given on almost every player with streaming services but there are a lot of different services such as Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu Plus, VUDU, Crackle, CinemaNow, YouTube, MLB TV, Pandora, Napster, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and many more. Deciding which services are available on each player and how important those services are too you can be daunting if these services are an important factor in your decision.
After careful consideration of these factors I narrowed down my choices to four Blu-ray players:
- Panasonic DMP-BDT210 - A trusted brand in my eyes. I have one older Panasonic Blu-ray player that I’ve had for almost three years that has worked great and has never given me any problems. I also have a Panasonic TV in my living room for over a year that I absolutely love and have had no problems with. I wasn’t as impressed with the streaming options available as I was with other players (see the Sony BDP-S580 below) but Panasonic is a proven brand in my home and I’d rather have a quality player I can trust than fancier players that might turn out to be a mess in other areas. The biggest problem I read about whenever I read anything about the player was a lot of people said they could not get Netflix streaming to work. I decided to give it a try anyways and return it if I had any similar problems… more on that later.
- Sony BDP-S580 - I was very tempted to go with this player. It had the most streaming options available and Sony has a good reputation of making good quality products and providing prompt firmware updates for its players. Most reviews were good aside from people complaining about Wi-Fi connection issues which I take with a grain of salt because I think a lot of it is user error. My big bugaboo with the player was it’s interface, specifically the Netfix interface, which is a customized interface that Sony came up with. I didn’t like what I saw, it had extremely small icons and didn’t seem very user friendly versus the Netflix interfaces with other competing players.
- LG BD670 - I recommended one of last year’s models for my Dad for his main home theater room. He thinks the streaming services work great and the interface is slick and easy to use. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray playback leaves something to be desired because the image sometimes freezes, the player sometimes says a brand new disc is unreadable, and it’s firmware updates are infrequent so if a disc doesn’t work your stuck till LG releases a new firmware update.
- Samsung BD-D6500 - I hate the design of the player. Samsung still considers silver sexy even though almost every other brand goes with all black. Most reviews were decent but some user reviews complain about Wi-Fi connection issues and Samsung’s Smart Hub interface wasn’t exactly getting a lot of rave reviews either.
As much as I love Blu-ray, streaming services are becoming a bigger and bigger part of my home theater experience. I already own a Logitech Revue with Google TV so I already have access to Netflix, Amazon VOD, Pandora, and many more streaming services. The Revue however isn’t perfect for ever situation and is blocked by a lot services like Hulu Plus so I wanted a Blu-ray player that could augment the services that I already have and act as a good back up in case the Logitech Revue has any issues. The Samsung and LG were pretty easy to eliminate from contention because of some of the issues above so the race was down to the Panasonic and the Sony. In the end the Panasonic won out mostly because I trust the brand and even though the player wasn’t as impressive feature wise as the Sony, I didn’t realistically see myself using some of their extra streaming services.
- Panasonic DMP-BDT210
- Width 17″
- Length 7″
- Height 1 1/2″
- Pioneer BDP-120
- Width 16 1/2″
- Length 10 1/4″
- Height 2 1/4″
Hooking up the system was easy enough; hook up the power cord and the HDMI cable and you’re all set. The real fun begins when you power up the system and begin the onscreen setup, the video/audio setup is a snap but after that it gets a little more drawn out. It’s not difficult but it is tedious because you have to enter in all your passwords for the Wi-Fi information via keypad. This is not done in the traditional text message way but instead you have to scroll through the alphabet using the directional pad. I didn’t experience any trouble connecting to my home network and I haven’t lost the connection at all to my knowledge. Immediately after connecting to my home network I was prompted to perform a firmware update, it took 10-15 minutes to update the player which sucked since all I wanted to do was explore the system but I’m super impatient. After that, the big job is signing in or signing up to all the streaming services. What was a nice surprise is that Hulu Plus (and MLB.TV) was recently added to the the DMP-BDT210′s suite of streaming services. Not even Panasonic’s website mentions Hulu being a part of the Viera Cast line-up and that service was one of the services that the Sony BDP-S580 had that I really wanted and was disappointed that I would miss out on. It makes me glad that I updated the firmware right away because otherwise I might have missed out on Hulu for a while.
- Panasonic vs. Pioneer Times
- Disc Tray Open Time from Power Off position
- Pioneer: 5.5 seconds
- Panasonic: 4.8 seconds
- Movie Load Time (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, brand new, just released last week)
- Pioneer: 1 min. 38 seconds
- Panasonic: 55 seconds
- Turn Off Time
- Pioneer: 19 seconds
- Panasonic: 15 seconds
Another cool feature is the “Touch Free Sensor” located on the top of the player. It allows you to swipe your hand over the top of the unit to turn on and open the disc tray and then swipe your hand to close the tray. It’s a gimmicky feature that doesn’t really enhance the performance of the player much but I have to admit I thought it was pretty cool especially when you’re trying to find the eject button in the dark. This player also features 3D and Skype but at this time I don’t have a 3D TV or the Panasonic Skype camera so I can’t comment on those features. If I get either of those items I will update my review to reflect those additions.
My biggest complaint about the player is the controls are a bit sluggish. I’ve gotten frustrated several times already when I’ve pressed a button and nothing happens and I have the press the button two or three more times before the unit responds and then it reacts to all three clicks. It doesn’t happen often but it’s frustrating however it might be something that is corrected in a future firmware update.