Unsurprisingly, 3D will continue to dominate home cinema in 2011, with a flood of 3D TVs and Blu-ray products hitting the market as the year unfolds. Indeed, Panasonic's new range of Blu-ray players includes four 3D-ready models, such as its flagship DMP-BDT310.
But it's worth remembering that not everyone has the desire or the budget to embrace the 3D revolution, which is why Panasonic also provides a couple of non-3D models, including this DMP-BD75.
This entry-level player has been stripped of the headline-grabbing features of its 3D stable mates, its focus shifting to the brand's proven picture prowess, with a lower price tag to match.
Panasonic has made a concerted effort to downsize dimensions in order to reduce the amount of packaging, making the BD75 so slim you could almost slip it in your wallet.
Art deco it's not, but the understated black styling is undeniably tasteful, and the aluminium bodywork is surprisingly robust. Just a couple of buttons adorn the fascia, alongside a USB port in place of the usual SD card slot and a basic display panel.
The rear panel also screams 'entry level'. All you'll find there are HDMI, composite video and stereo audio outputs. These are pretty much all you need if you own an HDMI-equipped AV receiver, but those who need a separate digital audio output, or multichannel analogue ports, should look further up the range.
There's also an Ethernet port, which on Panasonic's more expensive players enables you to explore the new Viera Connect cloud internet service and Skype functionality. Here it's limited to DLNA networking (dubbed Media Server), BD-Live downloads and firmware updates.
There's no Wi-Fi support at all on the Panasonic DMP-BD75, neither built-in nor dongle-fed. Still, it's encouraging to see networking filtering down to even the cheapest players, as the ability to stream music, video, photos and recordings stored on DIGA recorders is always a bonus (although you need a Windows 7 PC to use it here).
The USB port on the front panel provides another way of playing digital media. As well as supporting the usual suspects – MP3, JPEG and DivX HD – it also handles MKV. But it didn't want to know our AAC, WMV or WMA files, plus, we could only hear the audio for AVI. The USB port is also used for storing downloaded BD-Live content. So, if you're a regular downloader, get used to having a USB stick protruding from the front.
The onscreen interface has also been given a new lick of paint for 2011, including a radical rethink of the navigation system. While there was nothing hugely wrong with the brand's previous menus, this is a distinct improvement.
The added immediacy and logic bring it closer in spirit to Sony's Xross Media Bar, as seen in models such as the BDP-S570.
Icons are laid out in a cross shape, and the relevant menu is selected simply by hitting a direction key or Enter. The icons are cute and the colour scheme is bright and bubbly. It's a dream to use and poses no problems when streaming, surfing media folders or tweaking the settings. Among these settings are picture presets and a user-defined mode where you can adjust colour, contrast, brightness and sharpness.
The remote takes an 'ain't broke, don't fix it' approach, keeping the same compact shape, button layout and clear labelling as last year's zappers, while providing a dedicated button for the Media Server feature.
Panasonic has also shaved a chunk off last year's disc loading speeds on the DMP-BD75: it gets Terminator Salvation from tray to play in 40 seconds, with less stubborn discs firing up in 30.
And in terms of performance, the DMP-BD75 offers everything you expect from a Panasonic Blu-ray player, particularly when it comes to picture quality. Its tried and trusted on-board image technology delivers deep, vivacious colours and sublimely sharp detail. It paints the lush high-definition landscapes of Pandora throughout Avatar with such intensity that you can't resist being pulled into the picture. And with close-up shots of faces or CG creatures, the deck doesn't miss a single pixel.
The Silicon Optix demonstrates what a smooth operator the DMP-BD75 really is, particularly for an entry-level deck. Neither our Film nor Video Resolution loss tests showed a single sign of strobing, the edges of the moving white bars on the jaggies test patterns are as smooth as a baby's bum, and the rows of seats during the pan across Raymond James Stadium look steady and composed.
HD audio soundtracks are as crisp as you'd expect over an HDMI connection, and our Tech Labs' analogue audio jitter test suggests it's a solid CD player too – although subjectively we thought performance was unspectacular.
If you're in the market for a basic Blu-ray player that serves up eye-popping pictures, and you have no need for bells and whistles, then you could do far worse than plump for the DMP-BD75.
But most AV enthusiasts will surely be tempted by the more exciting treats offered higher up Panasonic's 2011 range. An extra £100 gets you built-in Wi-Fi, access to the Viera Connect portal and, of course, 3D playback.
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