Panasonic DMP-BDT500 Blu-ray 3D Player
AT A GLANCE
High-resolution audio chops
Reference-quality 2D and 3D Blu-ray playback
No support for SACD, DVD-Audio, or DSD formats
Spectacular video performance at a budget price point, but not the best choice for true audiophiles.
How things have changed since Blu-ray arrived on the scene. Debut players from the larger electronics companies were pretty full-featured, with substantial build quality. Now it seems that most mass-consumer players are in a race to the bottom when it comes to price and build. While I understand that’s probably the market most of the country buys in, I’m always surprised that most of the big names in consumer electronics don’t keep at least one model for enthusiasts who don’t want to buy a featherweight piece of plastic for a principal player in their home entertainment system. Panasonic evidently feels the same way this year. The DMP-BDT500, a higher-end player than their typical fare, focuses a bit more on audio quality than their lower-cost models have done, and it features a build quality I haven’t seen from the company since the introduction of the format.
The DMP-BDT500 is substantially larger than most of the other Panasonic Blu-ray players I’ve reviewed. Rather than having a small form factor, it features a full-size case similar to something you’d see from higher-end brands. Panasonic still relies on a plastic case (probably necessary for the internal Wi-Fi to work), and the overall look is more reminiscent of their lower-end entries than what you’d see in boutique players. Still, nothing feels outwardly cheap, and I liked the recessed, touch-sensitive buttons.
The clear front panel is hinged and comes down when you eject the main tray. There’s a basic display to the side, along with an SD card slot and a USB port for external drives. The back panel is well stocked by today’s standards. You won’t find any support for the analog video connections of yesteryear, but there are dual HDMI outputs for running video to your display while running a direct audio connection to an A/V receiver or processor. You also have a 7.1-channel analog output coupled to four stereo Burr-Brown 192-kilohertz/32-bit digital-to-analog converters. The player features full bass management and time alignment for these outputs, and Panasonic also states that it uses better analog components and mechanical dampening to reduce chassis vibrations. The 7.1 output can be used for a 7.1 system or split for a dedicated stereo output and a 5.1 output. TosLink and coaxial digital audio outputs are also included.
In addition to the front USB port, there’s one on the back panel as well. The front connection is for flash drives or hard drives with audio/video files; the back input is for the optional Skype camera system that can be used with the player. An Ethernet port is also included for wired network connections, or you can use the built-in Wi-Fi.
The remote is quite a bit different from the Panasonic remotes I’ve used before. Rather than offering the typical menu-key layout we’ve become so used to for Blu-ray players, the company has opted for a touchpad interface. While the touchpad did work fairly well after I learned the shortcuts, I don’t know how much of an improvement it makes on the overall interface with the player. This almost seems like a case of new for the sake of new, rather than an attempt to fix something that needed it. But at least it worked well.
The DMP-BDT500 is about as well equipped as you could wish for when it comes to Blu-ray playback and streaming. It supports 2D and 3D playback for Blu-ray and provides just about every streaming-video offering I could think of. Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Hulu—they’re all here. It even does 24p video output for streaming sources and 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus for both Vudu and Netflix. It doesn’t support 4K upscaling, despite Panasonic having some lower-priced models that do. Considering the dearth of 4K displays, I don’t see this as a deal breaker, but the omission is still surprising, given the player’s position in Panasonic’s lineup.