Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray Player Real-World Performance
As with every Blu-ray player I've used, the picture quality was excellent from the BD55. Color saturation was phenomenal, black levels were inky and deep, and every minute detail was rendered with lifelike clarity. Even older movies on Blu-ray look spectacular, particularly Fox's release of Planet of the Apes. The sci-fi classic from the '60s has never looked better, although the higher resolution of Blu-ray reveals some shortcomings in the apes' make-up.
User interaction on dedicated Blu-ray players has been their major shortcoming compared to the speedy PS3, especially with certain BD-Java discs, prompting Disney to display a disclaimer to allow 2-3 minutes for the disc to load. Using Ratatouille, I timed the player versus the PS3 and Pioneer's BDP-05FD player with the following results:
- PS3: 10 seconds
- DMP-BD55: 19 seconds
- BDP-05: 27 seconds (when tray opens)
Disc insertion to first picture
- PS3: 37 seconds
- DMP-BD55: 52 seconds
- BDP-05: 67 seconds
Pressing Top Menu button to menu screen
- PS3: 9 seconds
- DMP-BD55: 30 seconds
- BDP-05: 23 seconds
The BD55 is still slower than the PS3 in all three tests, but the gap is closing overall. I've changed my testing methodology since I reviewed the BD50, but my impression is that the BD55 is slightly faster than the previous generation, and it's one of the fastest dedicated players available with Java-intensive titles.
With BD-Live capability, online access is available by connecting the player to the Internet and inserting (and formatting) an SD card with at least 1GB of storage. As with other BD-Live players, you must download the trailers completely before viewing. I downloaded an HD trailer for Casino Royale, which took 2 minutes and 15 seconds for the minute-and-a-half trailer—relatively fast. Unfortunately, the 2-plus minutes felt closer to two hours while staring at the screen as the progress bar filled up. Thus far, BD-Live features haven't been that compelling—hopefully, that will improve as the format matures.
Comparing the different audio-decoding options offered by the BD55 (bitstream, internal to PCM HDMI output, analog output), I used Roy Orbison's Black & White Night Blu-ray with its tremendous DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Each decoding method sounded fantastic, with some subtle differences between the three. The frequency response seemed expanded via HDMI—both bitstreamed and internally decoded to PCM—compared to the analog output, especially in the bass. The only true way to compare the differences between decoding methods would be to conduct double-blind testing with instantaneous switching between them—something I'm not capable of doing with my system.
The BD55 is the first Blu-ray player I've used that provides satisfactory DVD playback. The player's UniPhier processing chip improves its upconversion versus the BD50—in fact, it was nearly as good as my reference Oppo DV-983H. The layer change wasn't seamless, but it took less than 0.75 second using Star Wars: Episode II as my reference, which is on par with the Oppo.
Subtle textures and details are slightly better with the Oppo on my 88-inch screen, but moving to a 50-inch Vizio plasma showed little difference between the two players. For most users, the DVD performance will equal or better what they are accustomed to with their legacy player.