Panasonic's New Blu-ray Player Worth the Wait... And the Trip.
Last Friday Senior Editor Tom Norton and I were treated to an up close look at Panasonic's new DMP-BD50 Blu-ray Disc player at Panasonic's Hollywood Lab facility. And I'm thrilled to report, at long last, that there's a standalone player that can be recommended without any significant functional caveats.
Now obviously we haven't yet put this player through its paces in our own test systems yet, but it appears to be all that the DMP-BD30 was and more. And most importantly, unlike every other standalone BD player out there it overs all of the major bases well enough that it can be recommended for just about anyone with any system.
It not only ouptuts Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as native bistreams, it also offers full onboard decoding of both lossless formats for those who haven't bought a new AVR or pre/pro in the last six months. In addition to having secondary decoders for streaming PIP/Bonus View functionality, it's also BD-Live equipped so it's good to go with Blu-ray's foreseable future of interactivity. They should just call this thing "good to go."
Panasonic made a point of A/Bing the new player against its first-gen DMP-BD10 on matching 750 series 1080p plasmas with two copies of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest running in unison. Tom and I confirmed that the two plasmas' picture settings were identical. Both payers were outputiting 1080p/60. The new player indeed looked smoother and more natural, especially with subtle motion like ripples across the ocean, and yet it was subtly but noticeably more detailed. Difficult details like fine film grain and rendering fog banks against a dark background looked less digital and more convincing.
Some other interesting details emerged as well. The Uniphier video processing chip used in the player will process a 1080p/24 output from film-based standard definition DVDs, something we've only seen from a few Toshiba HD DVD players. With a display that can operate at a frame rate that's a multiple of 24 the result is smoother motion.
The BD50 also take a novel, and perhaps slightly confusing approach to meeet the hardware requirements for BD-Live playback. BD-ROM Profile 2.0 specifies a network connection and 1GB of "local storage" for content downloaded from the Internet. The BD50 meets this spec only when an SD Card at least 1GB in size is loaded into its SD slot. The card isn't included with the player.
SD media is pretty cheap- as I write this Amazon has 2GB cards for under $10. So, I don't think the cost will give people much pause. But I do hope the user manual or some lit available with the player will make it apparent to consumers that they need the external media to take advantage of BD-Live functionality. I'm not worried about our readers, who will be in the know as soon as we publish a review. But the guy who takes a BD50 home from Best Buy and sees the BD-Live logo on the player and a BD-Live logo on a disc he buys might need some help figuring out that he needs an add-on to take advantage of that functionality.
But, for those who are still living in a state of fear and loathing when it comes to having a game console in their home theater system, this player is nothing but good news. The DMP-BD50 will be in stores in a few weeks at a price of $699. While many people have written to me that they don't care about the interactivity options, the point is that you shouldn't have to choose. Finally, you don't have to.