The Panasonic DMP-BDT320 has a tough act to follow: the company's budget Blu-ray players were the best-in-class last year, so the pressure's on for the company's 2012 arrivals.
The DMP-BDT320 is first out of the traps and, thankfully, it picks up where 2011's decks left off, producing a scintillating 2D picture and an immersive 3D one to boot.
Panasonic DMP-BDT320: Picture quality
Spin The Dark Knight and the opening cityscape shots of Gotham look superb and sharply drawn, with detail etched on every building as well as the Joker's purple suit and clown mask.
Skip a couple of chapters to the ambush on Harvey Dent's police escort and the dark Gotham skyline displays rich and luxurious blacks.
Details and textures on the dark SWAT uniforms are displayed without any problems and as the convoy moves along, motion is handled with minimal fuss.
Panasonic DMP-BDT320: Dramatic sound
The accompanying music score sounds bold, full-bodied and dramatic, and when the action hots up, the Panasonic produces an entertaining and explosive performance.
Weight, definition and control are all part of the player's sonic profile and when the Joker unleashes a couple of rounds from his shotgun the sense of realism has the viewer recoiling in their seat.
Panasonic DMP-BDT320: Convincing in 3D
Up the ante with Despicable Me in 3D and the 'BDT320 produces the goods. You can alter the intensity of the 3D image to a level that's enjoyable and easy on the eyes.
During the children's pitstop at the fairground, the depth of the rollercoaster looks great and all motion is handled with minimal fuss. The disc also showcases the Panasonic's vivid colour balance – it's rich enough but doesn't appear overblown.
Feed the player a normal DVD (Bruce Willis' Die Hard 2 is a fine blast from the past) and the Panasonic shows impressive upscaling ability.
Sure, the clarity of image and subtle details of Blu-ray can't be matched, but the 'BDT320 keeps a good grip on motion and its attempts to sure up edges and suppress noise are worthy of high praise.
Of course, content viewed through today's Blu-ray players isn't limited to discs. Use either the wired Ethernet connection or the built-in wifi and the 'BDT320 can access Panasonic's Viera Connect content and with it the likes of Netflix movies on demand and the latest version of BBC's iPlayer.
The interface is a little clunky compared to the slicker offerings from the likes of Samsung, but it's an improvement on last year's fare.
Panasonic DMP-BDT320: Touchpad remote
Panasonic isn't afraid to try new things on the design front and this year it's chosen to take a scalpel to the player's remote, merging buttons with a touchpad.
It's a nice idea in theory but this new-fangled approach does take quite a while to get used to, and it might mean spending a couple of seconds flicking over the manual!
Having shortcut keys to Skype, Netflix and internet (aka Viera Connect) is great. When it comes to navigating settings and disc menus, you have to employ a combination of button presses together with various swishes and taps on the touchpad.
A couple of times we our fingers were tied up in knots, but given time, operating it does become easier.
As well as redesigning the remote, Panasonic has dressed the 'BDT320 up in a glossier, slimmer, more desirable package.
A slick slot-loadin mechanism replaces the traditional drawer and just a couple of touch-sensitive control buttons adorn the top surface of the machine.
Panasonic DMP-BDT320: Verdict
The DMP-BDT320 will inevitably be compared with its traditional – and more expensive – sibling, the DMP-BDT500, which no doubt wins out in that comparison. The pricier player has extra power, evident in the added vibrancy of colours and the muscular authority of its sound.
Then there’s the Sony BDP-S790 – for only £30 pounds more, you get a brilliant player, with twin HDMI outputs and 4K upscaling on its list of talents.
Star ratings are, by necessity, a relative thing. Being up against two such talented players, the DMP-BDT320 does lose a star. But for its good looks and good handling with both picture and sound, the Panasonic DMP-BDT320 is still a great player at this price.
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