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Panasonic DMP-BD55 review: Panasonic DMP-BD55

Panasonic DMP-BD55

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Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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7 min read

Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace. The Panasonic DMP-BD55 has been replaced with the newer Panasonic DMP-BD80

6.6

Panasonic DMP-BD55

The Good

Excellent image quality on Blu-ray Discs; Profile 2.0 compliant; onboard decoding for all high-resolution soundtrack formats, plus bit stream output; 7.1 analog-audio outputs.

The Bad

PlayStation 3 offers much more functionality and faster navigation for the same price.

The Bottom Line

The Panasonic DMP-BD55 is the best standalone Blu-ray we've tested and it's a good choice for those with older receivers, but most people will get the same performance out of the cheaper DMP-BD35.

Blu-ray has almost gotten its act together. After putting the stake in the heart of HD DVD, prospective buyers have had to deal with confusing Blu-ray profiles, varying audio-decoding capabilities, and standalone players with prices above $500. As we head into the 2008 holiday season, however, we're finally starting to see fully mature Profile 2.0 players with high-resolution audio decoding at prices that don't exceed the cost of theSony PlayStation 3.

The Panasonic DMP-BD55 is a perfect example, hitting almost all the essential features we look for and pairing those up with pristine image quality. That being said, Panasonic also offers the cheaper DMP-BD35, which (from what Panasonic engineers have told us), will offer all the same features and identical video performance--with the exception of the 7.1 analog outputs and analog-audio enhancements. As good as the DMP-BD55 is, unless you intend to use the analog outputs on your Blu-ray player, go with the less expensive DMP-BD35.

Design
The DMP-BD55's exterior design has been updated significantly. Compared with its predecessor, the DMP-BD50, the DMP-BD55 has a slimmer, sleeker look--although its "vibration-reducing feet" cause it to be nearly as tall as the DMP-BD50. Gone is the large, clunky, flip-down panel from the DMP-BD50--replaced instead by a DVD-like disc tray in the center of the unit. On the far left is the LCD screen, and on the far right a blue indicator light for the SD-card slot. We appreciated that the SD-card light could be completely turned off; the LCD display, for its part, can be dimmed, but not turned off completely. Also on the right is the flip-down panel, and underneath you'll find the actual SD-card slot itself and a few playback controls--although no chapter forward/backward. In all, we like the sleeker redesign.


Under the flip-down tray, you'll find a couple of playback controls and the SD-card slot.

The remote is virtually unchanged from previous designs. The center is dominated by big, blue playback buttons, including chapter skip and fast-forward/rewind. Below is a large directional pad, surrounded by other important buttons for disc menus, pop-up menus, and a general display button. Overall, it's fairly well laid-out and easy to use, and the remote control can also control a TV and an audiovisual receiver, if programmed to do so.

Features
Panasonic's DMP-BD50 was the first standalone Blu-ray player to offer Profile 2.0 support, and the DMP-BD55 is also compliant. This means it's capable of accessing Internet-enabled features (often referred to as "BD-Live" features) available on some movies, such as Rambo and Walk Hard. To access the features, you'll need to have the DMP-BD55 connected to the Internet via its Ethernet port, as well as have an SD card in the front panel slot--we would have liked to see Panasonic offer built-in memory as another step-up from the DMP-BD35. So far, BD-Live features have been pretty underwhelming, but we expect the content to improve as more compliant players hit the market and disc makers get a handle on the new technology. We will note that the DMP-BD55 still offers a significantly inferior experience to the PS3 on these interactive features--the PS3 is just faster, and its built-in hard drive is more convenient.

We were happy to see the DMP-BD55 handled nonanamorphic wide-screen DVDs correctly. While there's no manual setting, we popped in an older version of Carlito's Way and the DMP-BD55 automatically detected the aspect ratio and properly displayed the movie. This is particularly useful on some HDTVs that lack aspect-ratio control for HD sources.


The DMP-BD55 has all the audio decoding you'll need.

Soundtrack support is comprehensive on the DMP-BD55. It has onboard decoding for all high-resolution soundtrack formats, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so you don't need a new receiver to take advantage of the improved audio quality. For what it's worth, Panasonic emphasizes the superiority of the DMP-BD55's internal analog-audio components, although we didn't hear any improvement over the standard HDMI output. The DMP-BD55 can also output high-resolution soundtracks in bit stream format, so you can opt to let your AV receiver handle the decoding duties. There should be absolutely no sound-quality difference between the receiver decoding the soundtracks or the Blu-ray player --and we've never heard any difference ourselves--but some people just like to see their receiver's "Dolby TrueHD" indicator light up.


You'll find just about every jack you need, including 7.1 analog-audio outputs.

Connectivity is excellent on the DMP-BD55. The HDMI output is the most important connection, capable of outputting high-def video up to 1080p resolution, as well as high-resolution multichannel audio. There's also a component-video output, which can output Blu-ray Discs at 1080i and DVDs at 480p, along with a legacy composite-video connection. Audio connections also include both optical and coaxial digital-audio outputs, and those with older receivers will also be pleased to see 7.1 analog-audio outputs. There's also an Ethernet port in the back, which can be used for firmware updates and downloading content for BD-Live-enabled Discs. Rounding out the connectivity is the SDHC-compatible SD-card slot under the front panel, which is used for BD-Live content, as well as for accessing JPEGs, MP3s, and high-definition AVCHD video.

Blu-ray performance
For our Blu-ray tests, we compared the DMP-BD55 with our reference Blu-ray player, the Sony PlayStation 3. We started off looking at test patterns, with both players connected to a full suite of top-performing HDTVs, including the Pioneer PRO-111FD, Panasonic TH-50PZ800U, Samsung LN46A950, and Samsung PN50A650. The first disc we looked at was Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on Blu-ray.

We started off with the two film-based resolution tests, and the DMP-BD55 handled them both with ease. On a shifting resolution pattern, we clearly saw every line of the detail and the panning shot of Raymond James Stadium was almost completely moire-free. We also took a look at video-based test patterns, on which we place less importance since there aren't that many video-based Blu-ray Discs. The DMP-BD55 had no problem on the video-resolution loss test, clearing showing every line of the test pattern. It also passed two video-based jaggies tests, with moving white lines staying stable and jaggy-free. In all, the DMP-BD55 aced the test patterns we threw at it. Lastly, it handled test footage with scrolling CNN-like text with ease, which is a nice improvement over last year's DMP-BD50.

Patterns can be useful, but the real test is looking at the DMP-BD55 with actual program material. We started off with a few movies we know have difficult sequences. First up was Chapter 8 of Mission Impossible: III, and the DMP-BD55 had no problems with the stairs in the background, which looked detailed and free of moire. It also handled Chapter 11 well, as the trimming on the limo was jaggy-free. Next up was Ghost Rider, and again, the DMP-BD55 was excellent, showing no artifacts in the grille of the RV as the camera pulls away at the end of Chapter 6. For what it's worth, the PS3 looked just as good on the same sequences. To finish off our image-quality tests, we watched Pan's Labyrinth, and the DMP-BD55's image quality was outstanding, with rich colors and tons of detail.

We also looked at Tony Bennett: American Classic, which is mastered at 1080i and has some video-based material in it. The DMP-BD55 handled the discs expertly and jaggies were nowhere to be found, not even in the difficult Chapter 7. That's impressive, as we've found several other Blu-ray players struggle with this disc, although again the PS3 was able to match the DMP-BD55's performance.

In sum, the DMP-BD55 and the PS3 offer essentially identical image-quality performance. Additionally, the differences in image quality between any one Blu-ray player and the next is generally fairly small--pretty much all the players put out a great-looking picture that blows DVD away. So, while the DMP-BD55 does look great--and we were particularly pleased with how it handled video-based material--only picky videophiles will appreciate the minor differences.

Rounding up our Blu-ray tests, we also tested the DMP-BD55's Blu-ray Disc-loading speed. Overall, the DMP-BD50 performed mostly the same as its predecessor, the DMP-BD50, had. It loaded Mission Impossible: III in 20 seconds flat when the player was on after drawer close, and in 33 seconds starting with the player turned off. It was slower on Discs with BD-Java menus, as Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest took about a minute and 55 seconds to load, while Spiderman 3 took about a minute and 35 seconds. Overall, that's pretty good for a standalone Blu-ray player, but it still pales compared with the superfast PS3.

DVD performance
When we popped in the HQV DVD, the DMP-BD55 handled the initial resolution test well, clearly displaying the full resolution of DVDs. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests, and here the DMP-BD55 stumbled a little; we could see plenty of jaggies on a test pattern with three pivoting lines. It did better on the next test of a waving flag, smoothing out many of the jaggies we usually see, and it also passed the difficult 2:3 pull-down test, eliminating moire in the grandstands after about a second.

We switched over to program material and started off with the opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection. The DMP-BD55's 2:3 pull-down processing kicked in and rendered the curved edges of the bridge railing and boats smoothly. We switched over to Seabiscuit, which we were particularly interested in, since the DMP-BD50 struggled with this movie. Surpassing our expectations, the DMP-BD55 handled the Disc with ease, showing only some mild moire at one point during the opening sequence. Lastly, we finished up our tests by watching selected portions of The Matrix, and we were quickly sucked into the film by the DMP-BD55's image quality. Sure, if you need the absolute best, you'll want something like the Oppo DV-983H, but the vast majority of home theater fans should be satisfied with the DMP-BD55's DVD playback.

6.6

Panasonic DMP-BD55

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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