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.
The DMP-BD60 has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential. That means it can decode those soundtrack formats so they can be played back on almost every HDMI-capable AV receiver. Bitstream output is also supported, if you'd rather the decoding be done in your AV receiver. (DTS-HD Master Audio Essential differs from standard DTS-HD Master Audio in that it lacks decoding for a few legacy DTS DVD soundtracks formats such as DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6. It still decodes all the high-resolution Blu-ray DTS soundtracks.)
Connectivity on the DMP-BD60 is standard. There's an HDMI output, capable of outputting 1080p HD video, and high-resolution multichannel audio. Component video, which can output Blu-ray movies at 1080i and DVDs at 480p, is also available. Audio connections are minimalist, with just an optical digital audio output and a stereo analog audio output. Rounding out the connectivity is an Ethernet port, and both an SD card slot and USB port on the front.
If you have an older non-HDMI receiver that requires multichannel analog outputs, Panasonic also offers the DMP-BD80. The only other upgrade on the DMP-BD80 is that it supports DivX.
We started off our Blu-ray image quality tests by looking at test patterns, and Silicon Optix's HQV test suite was up first. The the DMP-BD60 aced the Video Resolution Loss Test, depicting the full resolution of the test pattern and no jaggies on the rotating white line. Next up were a pair of jaggies tests, and the Panasonic was solid again, with few jaggies to be seen on these video-based tests. Last up was the difficult--and most important--Film Resolution Loss Test, and again the DMP-BD60 looked great, crisply displaying the test pattern and showing only slight moiré on a panning shot of Raymond James Stadium. We had the Samsung BD-P3600 on hand as well, and it performed nearly identically on these test patterns.
Next up was program material, and we put the DMP-BD60 through our standard barrage of test scenes. First up was the end of Chapter 6 in "Ghost Rider" and the Panasonic performed well, with no moiré present in the grille of the RV as the camera pans away. Next up were a couple scenes in "Mission Impossible: III." The beginning of Chapter 8 is a great scene for exposing bad 1080i deinterlacing, but the DMP-BD60 was solid again as the stairs in the background look crisp and free of moiré. Later in Chapter 11, the Panasonic handled the trimming on the limo perfectly, free of jaggies often see on lesser players. Last up was the video-based "Tony Bennett: American Classic," and again the DMP-BD60 performed well, with only some minor jaggies present in the shirts of the performers. It's worth mentioning, however, that we had the Samsung BD-P3600 on hand for comparison and it fared just as well in these scenes.
We also tested operational speed, which was comparable to last year's DMP-BD35. However, we had it set up with the BD-P3600, and the DMP-BD60 seemed sluggish comparatively. The DMP-BD60 isn't necessarily slow--and if you don't mind waiting a minute or two before your movie starts, you won't care--but apparently Panasonic didn't make the same speed improvements that Samsung did with its new players. The DMP-BD60 loaded "Mission Impossible III" in 20 seconds with the unit powered on and 24 seconds with it powered off (with quick start mode active). "Pirates of the Caribbean" took 1 minute and 53 seconds, while the same movie loaded about 35 seconds faster on the BD-P3600. "Spiderman 3" loaded in a minute and 27 seconds, while the BD-P3600 loaded it in about a minute flat.
Standard DVD performance
We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, and the DMP-BD60 performed identically to last year's DMP-BD35. The initial resolution test looked excellent, clearly resolving all the detail that DVD can offer. It stumbled somewhat on the following video-based jaggies tests, as a test pattern with three pivoting lines had plenty of jaggies on it. On the upside, it passed the difficult 2:3 pull-down test, and also had no problem with scrolling CNN-style text.
We switched over to program material, starting with "Star Trek: Insurrection." The DMP-BD60 rendered the opening scene smoothly, showing no jaggies in the curved railings of the bridge or boat hull. The opening also features a long panning shot, which can look pretty hurky-jerky, so we used it as a test case to see if Panasonic 24p mode made a difference. We flipped between 24p mode and standard mode several times and it was difficult to see any difference at all. We moved onto the difficult introduction to "Seabiscuit," and the DMP-BD60 handled this well, showing only minor video artifacts where lesser players often have movie-ruining jaggies. Overall, the DMP-BD60 is perfectly fine for DVD playback; DVD image quality sticklers may want to look at Samsung HQV-equipped BD-P2500 if you need a Blu-ray player with outstanding DVD performance.