Panasonic is a dominating presence in the Blu-ray player market. It's believed in the format from the start and has done a great deal to improve its machines with each new generation. The models in its latest range are smaller than their predecessors, use less electricity and can play any Blu-ray disc you throw at them.
When it does go on sale, the DMP-BD65 will cost around £270. That makes it a fairly expensive mid-range Blu-ray player. As such, it has the basics covered and isn't without a few little extra treats too. Let's take a look, and find out if it's worth the money.
When they launched a few years ago, Blu-ray players were huge. They were generally twice the height of a DVD player and deeper too. Happily, Panasonic has started to reduce its players' dimensions, and they're now about the same size as a DVD player. That's good news, because smaller machines mean lower shipping costs and lower CO2 emissions from moving them around the world.
Panasonic keeps its remote controls fairly small too, but not at the expense of usability. The buttons on the remote that comes with the DMP-BD65 are large enough for anyone to prod without accidentally mashing the adjacent keys. The navigation pad is also easy to use, and perfect for finding your way around the player's menus, and those in a Blu-ray movie.
Socket to them
Because the DMP-BD65 sits in the middle of Panasonic's range, it doesn't have analogue 7.1 audio outputs. But that's just about the only omission on this player. Profile 2.0 functionality is present and correct, and there's an Ethernet socket on the rear of the machine to enable it.
As you'd expect, HDMI is also available to get those glorious 1080p images from the disc to your TV. If you want lossless audio, you'll need to use an external AV receiver to accept and decode the DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD signals.
For people who need composite outputs, you're in luck, as the DMP-BD65 sports a set. We can't for the life of us understand why anyone would buy a Blu-ray player and then use it with standard-definition connections, but we assume people must do, or they wouldn't be included.
Also provided are USB and SD card slots. These are mainly for playing back photos, music and certain types of video. Video files in the AVCHD format, which Panasonic cameras and camcorders record in, can be played back from either of these sockets. The DMP-BD65 offers DivX support, but don't expect high-definition quality, because this functionality is SD-capable only. That's a shame, but not a massive surprise.
It's also worth noting that, if wired Internet access isn't available to you, then you can purchase an optional Wi-Fi dongle to access the Viera Cast services (see below), and Blu-ray online content. That's a handy solution, but we'd prefer to see built-in Wi-Fi at this price.
The DMP-BD65's image quality is superb. Our favourite test discs, District 9 and Shaun of the Dead, both looked as perfect as we had hoped. We couldn't see any problems with the colours, and the player wasn't artificially sharpening the picture.
Like most Panasonic products, the DMP-BD65 is a solid machine. It doesn't have as many features as some rivals, especially LG and Samsung machines, which have a seemingly endless supply of bells and whistles, but it will put a great-quality image on your TV, and a smile on your face.
One of the features we really like about the DMP-BD65 is its ability to enhance movie dialogue, which is especially handy if you're listening to a film via your TV's speakers. Giving the soundtrack's dialogue channel a boost won't be necessary on a 5.1- or 7.1-channel home-cinema system, but it's essential for plain old stereo TVs.
Unlike many Blu-ray players, the DMP-BD65 loads discs at a decent speed, so you won't have to wait around for very long before the movie springs into life. Navigating around the disc menus is a snappy experience too. Press the directional control button and the right things happen on the screen quickly enough. Machines of old took their sweet time with this sort of thing, so the DMP-BD65 is a breath of fresh air.
We quite like the idea of streaming video to your Blu-ray player, and Panasonic's Viera Cast service offers a 'walled garden' approach to doing so on the DMP-BD65. Essentially, the DMP-BD65 has a portal that gives you access to a limited number of sites -- for example, you can view YouTube and Picasa photos online.
Typing in the name of the YouTube video you want to watch is rather tricky, but, because the DMP-BD65 supports user sign-in, your favourite videos will be available for you to watch. Blowing a video up to full-screen size is no problem, and most clips are watchable in this mode. Naturally, the final image quality depends on the clip you're watching.
As with the rest of the machine, the Viera Cast functionality is snappy, and we experienced no long waits while pages loaded. Our machine complained about the connection sometimes, but it worked just fine overall.
We like the Panasonic DMP-BD65. Its picture and sound quality are great, it's well designed, and it's speedy. If YouTube access appeals, then the DMP-BD65 offers another good reason to select it over rivals. That said, we have to give a nod to the cheaper LG BD370, which offers YouTube access and manages to play back high-definition video in the MKV format too. If you opt for the DMP-BD65, though, you'll have our blessing -- it's a terrific piece of kit.
Edited by Charles Kloet