Panasonic had a stand-out 2008 on the Blu-ray front, with the DMP-BD35 earning the first Editor's Choice award for a standalone Blu-ray player. After mastering most of the basic Blu-ray functions, like BD-Live and high-resolution audio decoding, it looks like the two new players, the DMP-BD60 and DMP-BD80, are mostly incremental updates to the existing Blu-ray players, with the biggest new feature being Viera Cast support.
Key features of the Panasonic DMP-BD60:
- Profile 2.0 compatible
- Onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-Master Audio Essential decoding
- SD card slot and USB input
- Access to Viera Cast Internet content, including Amazon Video On Demand
Key step-up features on the Panasonic DMP-BD80:
- 7.1 analog audio outputs
You'll also notice these players support DTS-HD Master Audio Essential, rather than standard DTS-HD Master Audio. This new form of the DTS-HD audio codec is mostly the same, but it drops support for some of the more advanced DVD audio formats, such as DTS 96/24, DTS ES, ES Matrix, and DTS NEO 6. However, if a DVD has one of those soundtracks, you won't be left without sound, as it will just revert to standard DTS audio. It also loses support for DTS-ES Matrix and NEO 6 on Blu-ray, but those soundtracks are rare on Blu-ray movies.
Call us spoiled, but even with Viera Cast and Amazon Video On-Demand support, we're disappointed that these players don't have support for Netflix Instant Streaming, which is quickly becoming our favorite value-added feature for Blu-ray. We also had our hopes set on Panasonic including Wi-Fi on these next-generation players--as is included on both the LG BD370 and the Samsung BD-P3600--as not many people have Ethernet connections in their living rooms. Panasonic won the standalone Blu-ray player war in 2008, but it looks like the door is wide open for the competition to make some progress this year.