If you want a great performing, future-proof disc spinner and media streamer, the 2D and 3D-capable DMP-BDT460 is a fine place to start. Costing a reassuringly expensive UK£199 (AUS$279), the DMP-BDT460 has all the trimmings you might expect to find on a pricey deck such as this.
Build quality is a cut above Panasonic's cheaper decks, with a brushed metallic top to the 415 x 43 x 182mm chassis that houses some push buttons for standby, disc eject, stop and play. On the front is a drop-down flap across the entire face, which covers the disc try, a couple of USB slots and an SD Card slot.
However, it's what's around the back that marks this out as a step-up option. The DMP-BDT460 adds two HDMI outputs, essentially allowing anyone to upgrade to 3D without replacing an older non-HDMI AV receiver. This is something no other deck in Panasonic's arsenal (or any other brand's, for that matter) now includes.
That's not what makes the DMP-BDT460 special. We all know that the Ultra HD 4K era is coming, and in preparation the DMP-BDT460 includes some 4K upscaling. Big deal, you might think – so it should at this price. However, it's unique in adding 4K JPEG Playback, which on first thought doesn't seem like a fancy feature at all – after all, photos have been north of 10 megapixels for yonks.
However, since a Full HD telly actually only equates to about two megapixels, the jump to the eight-megapixel Ultra HD format means new photo software is also required. For the first time you can actually see the detail in pictures you took years ago. Just add an Ultra HD telly.
In keeping with that photo-centric feature, the DMP-BDT460 adds an SD Card slot, which no other Blu-ray player down Panasonic's 2014 range includes.
However, in terms of high-end home cinema the DMP-BDT460 does lack a few really high-end features that, once again, are unique to Panasonic.
Found on the step-up DMP-BDT700 are 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs, four 192kHz/32bit digital-audio converters and upgraded 4K Direct Chroma upscaling. The latter is probably the clincher, largely because it makes the DMP-BDT700 the only mass-market product that can offer 4K at 60 frames per second.
What the DMP-BDT460 does do is vastly improve on the smart TV interface that's offered on the UK versions of the DMP-BDT260 and DMP-BDT360. The DMP-BDT460 has Viera Connect, which in our test of the UK version included a front page of the BBC iPlayer, BBC News, Netflix, BBC Sport, MySpace, YouTube and iConcerts. The second page adds CNBC Real-Time, PlayJam Games, SHOUTcast Radio, Dailymotion, Euronews, Aupeo radio, Twitter, Facebook and a web browser, while a link to Market includes myriad other apps.
However, UK users might wonder where the likes of Amazon Instant, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand Five are.
For a high-end machine, the remote is puny, with all but the main navigational buttons designed for elves. However, it works fast and controls a relatively simple user interface well. There are also control buttons on the top of the box.
However, there are a few rough edges. Despite the DMP-BDT460 being able to detect when it's connected to an Ultra HD 4K TV and upscale accordingly, it's not possible to put it into 24p 4K mode while a Blu-ray disc is playing.
Any attempt to toggle the 24p option from off to on gets this baffling message – "Please select 24p(4K)/24K output to "24p" or "24p(4K)" in Setup". There's really no excuse for language like that on a product that claims to be 'smart'. I had to perform the cardinal sin of exiting the film to make the setting change.
Colours, contrast and detail are all strengths during 12 Years A Slave on 2D Blu-ray, with not a jagged edge or motion artefact in sight. DVDs are upscaled well and even the 2D-3D conversion impresses, though a blast of 3D from a Blu-ray disc of Pacific Rim is more impressive, offering plenty of crosstalk-free depth effects. There is a depth adjuster on hand that goes to some extremely impressive lengths, but doing so does introduce crosstalk. It's therefore best avoided.
So what about Ultra HD 4K? Let's start with the only native 4K it's possible to view on the DMP-BDT460 – photos. They do look spectacular from the DMP-BDT460 when it's attached to an Ultra HD telly. The detail is just magnificent, but it's the dynamic range of colours and contrast that most impress.
If 4K JPEG Playback is a success, so is the DMP-BDT460's 4K upscaling. Let's not get carried away – it's not magic – but it did drag enough detail from Pacific Rim to make it highly watchable on a 55-inch Ultra HD 4K telly. Most importantly, it removes jagged edges and artefacts around moving objects.