From our perspective, the Panasonic DMP-BD35 was a landmark for the Blu-ray format, as it was the first standalone player we could wholeheartedly recommend, earning the Editors' Choice award. The Panasonic DMP-BD60 is the successor to the DMP-BD35 and it keeps everything we liked about last year's model, including Profile 2.0 support, excellent video quality, and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential. The big addition to the new model is VieraCast, which is Panasonic's proprietary online content portal that currently offers YouTube, Picasa, weather, and stock quotes, with Amazon Video On Demand coming in May. VieraCast is a nice addition, but unfortunately it's not enough to keep up with the huge leaps the competition has made, adding features like Wi-Fi connectivity, Netflix streaming, and onboard memory to its new 2009 Blu-ray players. The DMP-BD60's strength is its rock-solid performance, but if you're looking for the latest and greatest features you'll have to look elsewhere.
The exterior design is nearly identical to the DMP-BD35. Compared with the sleek and glossy designs of Samsung and LG, the DMP-BD60 looks pedestrian, as if it has a job to do, rather than attract attention. The disc tray is in the center of the unit, behind an automatic flip-down door, and farther right is a manual flip-down panel that reveals an SD card slot, a USB port, and some minimal playback controls.
Their remote is the same as last year's, and for the most part we like it. Important playback buttons are large and in blue, and the main directional pad is surrounded by unique buttons for important functions like the pop-up menu. Our biggest gripe is that the VieraCast button--which allows you to access online content--is small and hidden at the bottom of the remote. We'd expect it to be more prominent, with all the attention Panasonic gives to its online content portal.
For its primary Blu-ray playback functions, the DMP-BD60 features the same lackluster user interface as previous models. It's perfectly acceptable in terms of navigation and ease of use, but it doesn't compare with the eye candy available on competing players.
VieraCast is Panasonic's proprietary online content portal, available on its Blu-ray players and some HDTVs. As of publication time, the available services on VieraCast include YouTube, Picasa, weather, and stock quotes; Amazon Video On Demand is slated to be available in May. The inclusion of Amazon's streaming service contrasts to competing Samsung and LG Blu-ray players, which offer Netflix streaming on all their players. Both online video services have different strengths and weaknesses. Netflix streaming is free with a subscription, but has a somewhat limited selection of content with few new releases; Amazon has more new releases, but it costs about $4 per rental. Which service is "better" is to some extent a matter of personal preference, but we find Netflix's service more attractive, especially since your subscription can be used to rent new Blu-ray releases.
The VieraCast interface is more aesthetically pleasing than the standard interface. We easily navigated the most popular YouTube section and were streaming a video in seconds, albeit in a small window. Clicking on the video again makes it fill the screen, but there's no aspect ratio control, so in our case it incorrectly stretched out the 4:3 video to fill our 16:9 screen. When we tried to pause the video using the button on the remote, it didn't work; you need to use the onscreen playback controls for YouTube content. Our Picasa experience was better as photos appeared in the correct aspect ratio and we could see it being a convenient way to show friends and family your latest photos. We also appreciated that photos appeared in the correct aspect ratio. One final nitpick: every time you press a button on the remote, there's a beep sound and it gets tiresome quickly.
The DMP-BD60 is Profile 2.0-compliant, which means it's capable of playing back the Internet-enabled BD-Live features available on some Blu-ray Discs. To access the features, you'll need to connect the DMP-BD60 to your home network over Ethernet; there's no Wi-Fi option available, like there is on the competing Samsung BD-P1600 and LG BD370. That's unfortunate, because most home theaters don't have Ethernet connections available, and while you might not care about missing lackluster BD-Live content, you'll be also missing out on the online services available via VieraCast.