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.

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COMMENTS
That guy's picture

"it overs all of the major bases" ?

Shane's picture

It is BD-Live and Bonus View capable, offers both bitstream output and onboard decoding of TrueHD and DTS-HD MA. It is the only standalone player that offers all of these features. Every other player makes you choose among some of these features, and sacrifice others.

Mark's picture

Does the PS3 offer both bitstream output and onboard decoding of TrueHD and DTS-HD MA?

Mark's picture

Further on the sound:Should a player transmit DD+, TrueHD or DTS-HD in their native bitsteam forms without conversion to PCM first? Is this the most ideal situation?

Shane's picture

The PS3 offers onboard decoding of TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, converting both to PCM for output over HDMI. But it does not offer bitstream output.Ideally, it would be best if a player offers both, as that's the most flexible approach.We haven't had enough experience yet with decoding in AVRs or pre/pros to determine if there are any sonic advantages to this.The potential advantage is potential reduction of jitter, which is a real phenomenon that PCM is prone to. However, I've been listening to TrueHD and DTS-HD MA via PCM on the PS3 and it sounds awesome.A disadvantage in decoding in the AVR or pre-pro is that you won't be able to pick up sound from secondary audio like commentaries, PIP streams, etc. I don't to a ton of that, but when I do it's nice that I don't have to go into the setup menu and change the audio output settings.

Chris's picture

Can you comment on how responsive it is? e.g. how fast it loads disks, especially BDs using Java? I don't see myself buying a standalone unless it's a fast as a PS3.

Shane's picture

It's the same as the BD30 in that regard. The really tough Java discs load in about one minute, or a little less. On the other standalones these discs can take 2-4 minutes.It's faster than the other standalones I've used, and it's what I would term acceptable. It's in line with the third-gen HD DVD players, which are fine.But, it isn't as fast as the PS3 and like Chris I'm not anticipating swapping out my PS3 for a standalone yet.

Shane's picture

Let me add one thing though. The BD30 is again much faster and more sure-footed than the other standalones with things like skipping chapters and scanning backward and forward, but here again the PS3 is far faster. The BD30 had that second or so of lag that I often thought it didn't accept my command and entered it again and skipped two chapters instead of one.In fairness, the BD30 is an acceptably responsive player. But the PS3 is really just that much faster.

Mark's picture

thanks shane,will be reading with great interest on what is the best solution in regards to decoding in AVRs or pre/pros to determine if there are any sonic advantages in future issues...cheers

Steve in Manitoba's picture

Shane, any advantages to having more than 1GB of memory on the card? Looking forward to a review of this unit.

Aron's picture

I'm confused about the new audio formats. Perhaps an article about this is called for. Here's my specific question: I'd like to be able to listen to hi-def audio ("HDA") (Dolby True HD/DTS MA). There are a lot of older processors out there (available at great prices used) that have seven (one per channel) 24 bit/192 kHz D/A converters. They're not HDA-compatible, but then again they don't need to be able to decode HDA to LPCM, since my PS3 already does that. Is there any way to take the PS3's HDA LPCM signal (which it only outputs over HDMI) and somehow feed it into the digital audio inputs on one of these older pre-pros (they generally don't have HDMI, much less "HDMI 1.3 repeating," which I understand is required for these HDA formats)? After all, since they do have the 24 bit/ 192 kHz D/A chips, they must have the capability to decode digital HDA signals (i.e., there should not be a difference between the digital signal seen by a D/A chip in these ol

Aron's picture

Ask and ye shall receive :-). I just saw J Zyber's article on HDA. According to this article, I need HDMI to transmit HDA, even if it's been decoded to LPCM, b/c of bandwidth limitations; BUT IF THE HDA HAS BEEN DECODED TO LPCM, ANY HDMI SPEC WILL DO (DON'T NEED 1.3)! [" ...decode the audio to multichannel PCM, transferable over any version of HDMI"]. So let's suppose I have a PS3 outputting HDA as LPCM. And suppose I send that to a Marantz SR8001, which only has HDMI 1.2 inputs and can't decode Dolby True HD or DTS-HD-MA. But since it has 192 kHz/24-bit D/A converters for all channels, and since the PS3 has already done the decoding, will you be able to get full high-definition audio using the Marantz (or any other product that lacks HDMI 1.3 and HDA decoding, but has some version of HDMI and also has the needed D/A converters? The answer to this question determines whether or not millions of existing receivers are currently obsolete.

Aron's picture

One other thing: J Zyber's May 2008 article says: "Sony

Shane's picture

Steve- That is an excellent question and one that I don't yet know the answer to. Since the Profile 2 spec only mandates 1GB of local storage it's hard to imagine the studios authoring discs that go beyond that. But with all those PS3 out there and and SD media being so cheap, who knows?We'll find out later when more BD Live discs hit the streets.

Shane's picture

Aron- First, yes, anyone with an AVR or pre/pro that can decode multichannel hi-res PCM is good to go to get full resolution lossless audio from a player that decodes the lossless codecs internally to PCM.My reference pre/pro is an Anthem D2 that does not decode TrueHD or DTS-HD MA. I convert to PCM in my next-gen players and the Anthem decodes that.Josh Zyber's piece was written prior to Sony releasing the new firmware that allows the PS3 to decode DTS-HD MA to PCM. I will update that piece online so that's obvious. It's hard to keep up in this era of the firmware update.

Justin Reed's picture

I have noticed that since blu-ray and hddvd started their venture into the world of consumer electronics, there has been a variety of different implimentations done with these technologies. You ofcoarse have blu-ray/ hddvd standalones, computers that have in some cases better in my opinion, playback, i am now hearing about cars having these implimented into the dashes. This technology is very young, yet it has gone so far. What I have also come to notice is that a fairly newer line of hd playback products have hit the market. I originally thoguht that the Sony PS3 was the "Must Have" if you were looking for a multi-functional hd playback device, but it seems that computer manufactures are bringing something much better. The HTPC or Home Theater PC. Companies such as Alienware, HipePC, Maingear, and a company I was just made aware of, ACS Advanced Computer Systems, also known as CustomGamerPC.com. I think if you're intereted in a single device that can do it all, this is going to be the next big

Warren Poitras's picture

I have a Dwin TV-3 projector that is just now in need of a new bulb. It wil cost $500 to replace. I've been seriously thinking about purchasing a Bluray player anyway, but I'd like to know a few things about compatibility first. The Dwin is 720p and has an HDCP compliant DVI input, but I've been told that I may run into problems with a DVI/HDMI cable because not all Bluray players will complete the "handshake" with DVI inputs. I'm inclined to buy a new bulb for the Dwin and settle for 720p resolution for a while, but I want to make sure a bluray player (this Panasonic ro any other) will work properly with the Dwin. I'd hate to buy a new bulb and Bluray player and the discover that they won't work together without forcing a "downrez". Has anyone out there some advice?Thanks in advance, WP

Wes's picture

Hello,I have an empty basement that I want to convert to a nice home theater. Can anyone refer me to an online group that will design the whole theater, including lighting, screen position, seating, etc.thanksWes(skorskiw at yahoo.com)

Terry's picture

Shane, have you seen how well the BD50 plays standard DVDs? Is it as at least as good as the PS3?

Steve's picture

Still waiting for release. What

mike feeley's picture

nice post.. have you guys looked at the denon 3800bdci yet, waiting and waiting for some sort of review on that peice.. thank you, mike feeley

OT:  Why has the HT magazine SHRUNK? 's picture

OT question for the editor: Why has HT magazine shrunk in the past couple of months? I have noticed that it is much slimmer since you took over. I'm not too crazy about that.... !

Derf's picture

Shane, I think Panasonic has discontinued this player . . . .

kasper's picture

is any else having problems with there sony blu-ray player-BDP-S2000ES? I had a brand new one stop playing disc properly after 3 months.sony sent me a used unit,and it would not play all disc.it just says loading on the tv but the disc never starts.i'm sending it back today,and they are sending me another brand new unit.if this one don't work i'm going back to the place i purchased the first player and asking for my money back.i paid $1079.89 for this player with a 5 year warranty but if the new player is defective,i'll get my money and wait for the newPioneer BDP-05FD,it's only $899.00 and it decodesDTS-MA internally.the sony does't.i try to buy the best when i shop for anything.but sometimes you have to wait.the picture and sound from the ES player is outstanding going into my anthiem D15.1 input,but this has been a upsetting buy for me.

Shane's picture

OT- The magazine's size is not something that HT's editor decides. I merely get to decide what goes into the amount of pages we have. Take a close look. when the package sizes get smaller, I don't cut reviews or features. I've pretty much removed a number of static/less relevant features like the HDTV programming guide, and less substantial content like coming attractions, software reviews, letters etc. Even in our slimmest issues we've printed as many or more reviews and substantive features as higher page count mags. I'm committed to making the pages we do get work hard for the reader.

kasper's picture

i recieved my 3rd blu-ray player from sonys top of the line ES players,the BDPS-2000ES,and it was defective also!what have we learned here?stop making players in malaysia!!!I paid $1079.00 and for over a month sony has been trying to find just one player that can play all blu-ray discs for me.another one should be here tomorrow.anyone got some K-Y?this sux!!kasper

Pascal's picture

Hello. Shane, back on May 15 you said you werent planning on swapping out the PS3 for a Standalone yet, is that still true?Does the Panasonic offer enough improvements to warrant the change yet?Personally, with my Integra DTC 9.8, it drives me crazy not to be able to see what format I am in on the display. It just says Mult-Channel or something like that. Would the Pany fix that with my 9.8?BTW, I'm a happy camper with the magazine these days, great job. Constructive critizism, the Top Picks section still needs work. Atlantic Tech speakers won the Rave Review but they are not in the Top Picks?!Looking forward to some Atlantic Tech Reviews...

maplestory's picture

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Vernon Barnes's picture

Shane: I am wondering how the new special edition Oppo BDP-83 SE stacks up against the NuForce mod, and how these may compare to the top of the line Denon, Sony and Pioneer offerings? This enquiry is with respect to the audio quality.

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