Much will be made of the Panasonic DMP-BDT110's support for 3D Blu-ray, but that's old news – we're more impressed by the addition of Skype video calling to the feature list. Using the player and its optional camera you can shoot the breeze with other Skype users from the comfort of your sofa through the blissfully simple on-screen interface.
If you're not there when someone calls, an automatic answering message will play, plus callers can record messages onto an SD card (although this feature may require a software update). We love this service, but expect the necessary camera to add an extra £120 to the cost. Yikes.
Skype is integrated within the Viera Cast web portal, which sadly is still being used by Panasonic's Blu-ray players despite the introduction of a new and improved Viera Connect system on its TVs. Viera Cast's range of sites is starting to feel a tad limited next to the app-packed portals of Sony and Samsung's latest players, such as the Samsung BD-D8500.
Still, with YouTube on board you'll never be stuck for clips of ducks on skateboards, plus you can keep an eye on your stocks and shares with built-in Bloomberg. There's Twitter too, plus the on-demand movie site Acetrax and a bunch of sites intended for the European market.
You can stream media files (DivX HD, MP3, JPEG, WMV and AVCHD) from Windows 7 PCs on your home network, as well as recordings stored on network-enabled Panasonic hard-disk recorders. Lucky iPhone, iPad or iPod touch owners can even control the player through their devices, thanks to the dedicated Panasonic Blu-ray Remote 2011 app available from iTunes.
Of course, all these network features rely on you connecting to your router, but there's no built-in Wi-Fi. If it's a cable-free connection you require, you'll need to find another £100 for the DY-WL10 USB adapter. That causes a little friction if you've also bought the communication camera – with that taking up the rear USB port you've no choice but to have the Wi-Fi dongle sticking out the front.
Elsewhere you can play media files from USB devices and SD cards. From USB you can play DivX HD, MKV, MP3, JPEG and WMV, while MPEG-2, AVCHD, JPEG and MPO 3D photos and AVCHD are supported from SD cards.
That's a terrific feature list in anyone's book, but step up to Panasonic's DMP-BDT310 or BDT210 and you get extra goodies like High Clarity Sound, Digital Tube Sound, built-in Wi-Fi and the Touch-Free Sensor. In the BDT310 you also get two HDMI outputs.
This year's on-screen interface has had a major overhaul, and the new layout works a treat. The main menu uses bright, eye-catching icons laid out in a cross to mimic the remote's multi-directional controls. One press takes you to the function you require, making it blissfully simple to get from A to B.
When using the deck as a CD player it produces a better sound than you might expect. It may not have the audio tricks of the DMP-BDT310, but the BDT110 makes music sound clean and well-balanced, offering plenty of sonic detail and no distortion in the high frequencies.
Now we come to 3D playback. This year Panasonic has introduced 2D to 3D conversion, which transforms your old-fashioned 2D discs into 3D ones – in theory at least.
You can also tinker with the 3D picture and make it more comfortable to watch by adjusting the depth and screen type settings, both of which affect the way the left and right eye images are aligned. The other mode puts a diffused frame around the picture so it stops less abruptly when it meets the bezel. It's a little imposing though, eating up precious parts of the screen – film purists need not apply.