Panasonic DMP-BD85K review: Panasonic DMP-BD85K

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The Good Excellent Blu-ray image quality; Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and YouTube streaming; Wi-Fi capable with included USB dongle; 7.1 analog outputs; plays music, videos, and pictures off a connected USB drive or SD card.

The Bad Competing models don't need a dongle for Wi-Fi; sluggish, despite superfast "quick start" mode; selection of streaming sources is on the small side; user interface is outdated and Wi-Fi difficult to setup; not DLNA compliant; no 3D Blu-ray support; no onboard storage.

The Bottom Line Panasonic's DMP-BD85K has great image quality and its 7.1 analog outputs are a nice plus, but it's slow and less featured than competing models.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Panasonic made the first standalone Blu-ray player good enough for us to recommend; however, since then the company's Blu-ray line has lagged behind that of other manufacturers. None of Panasonic's 2009 Blu-ray players support Netflix video streaming or include Wi-Fi, two features that now seem must-have as media streaming becomes a big reason why people upgrade to Blu-ray.

The DMP-BD85K is the midrange player in Panasonic's 2010 Blu-ray line, and it corrects many of errors the company made with last year's model by including a USB Wi-Fi adapter and adding Netflix--as well as Pandora in the future--to its VieraCast streaming content portal. On the other hand, Panasonic still seems to be a step behind the competition, as built-in Wi-Fi is now the norm. Also, Samsung and LG offer more streaming services, and the DMP-BD85K feels sluggish compared with other 2010 Blu-ray players. If you need 7.1 analog audio outputs, the DMP-BD85K is one of the few affordable players still offering it. Otherwise, we couldn't find much to recommend it over competitors such as the LG BD570 or the Sony BDP-S570.

Though most manufacturers update their designs every year to look sleeker and glossier, Panasonic's Blu-ray players tend to look the same every year. The DMP-BD85K looks a lot like last year's DMP-BD80K, with its boxy edges and relatively muted aesthetics. It has an easy-to-read LCD screen on the left and a disc tray under an automatic flip-down panel in the center. Under the flip-down panel on the far right are some bare-bones playback controls (only stop and play), an SD card slot, and a USB port. Aesthetics are always subjective, but we prefer the look of the more modern Sony BDP-S570 and LG BD570.

Under the flip-down panel
The DMP-BD85K has a few extra ports and playback controls under the flip-down panel on the right.

The remote control included with the package is largely unchanged from last year, although we were happy to see Panasonic took our advice and brought back the eject button. A number pad dominates the top of the remote, with large blue playback control buttons underneath. The stop button is somewhat oddly set off on its own, but once we learned the new position, we actually liked the button layout. On the other hand, some of Panasonic's button labels, like "Direct Navigator" and "Submenu," feel archaic and jargon-like; we think it's time for an update.

User interface
If, like us, you think the Blu-ray player's exterior looks a little old, then you'll think Panasonic's user interface feels even older. Nearly every other manufacturer has redesigned its menus with spiffy high-definition graphics, but Panasonic's menus look nearly identical to those it includes with its DVD players. We also couldn't understand the naming behind some of the menu options. Selecting "network" brings you to VieraCast, which is Panasonic's online content portal. Why not name that VieraCast, especially since Panasonic labeled the button on the remote as "VieraCast?" None of the menu labels are too difficult to figure out, especially for tech-savvy users, but you get the impression that not a lot of effort has been put into the user experience.

The main user interface
The main user interface feels outdated, with standard definition graphics and jargon for the menu options.

The VieraCast interface
The VieraCast interface looks more modern than the main user interface.

Luckily, the VieraCast interface looks more modern than the main menus, with high-definition graphics and large boxes for the available services. Panasonic still hasn't released the firmware update enabling the most recent, multipage VieraCast interface we've seen at product demos, so we'll wait to comment on it until we've had more hands-on time. We have a few nitpicks with the current VieraCast interface. Navigating between services can feel slow. Its Netflix interface is also a generation old, so you can't browse additional categories like "Movies You'll Love" and "New Arrivals" like you can on players from LG, Sony, and Samsung.


Key Blu-ray features
3D Blu-ray No Onboard memory No
Wi-Fi Yes, with included USB dongle Blu-ray profile 2.0
Panasonic has been slow to add Wi-Fi to its Blu-ray players, so we were happy to see the company include a Wi-Fi dongle with the DMP-BD85K. Yes, we'd probably prefer built-in Wi-Fi for sleekness' sake, but nobody will ever see the USB Wi-Fi adapter on the back of the player.

We found setting up the wireless connection to be needlessly difficult. After selecting our wireless router, the DMP-BD85K quizzed us on some of the more difficult aspects of our router, like our authentication type (WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, Shared KEY, or Open system) and encryption type (TKIP or AES). We've never had to enter that information on other Blu-ray players, which seemingly are able to detect the settings. Even Panasonic's onscreen keyboard had an unusual matrix design that was more difficult to use.

The DMP-BD85K lacks 3D Blu-ray support--you'll have to step-up to the DMP-BDT350 for that--and it's worth pointing out that the similarly priced Sony BDP-S570 is upgradeable for 3D support. The lack of onboard memory is annoying, but it's hard to get too upset given the paucity of exciting BD-Live content. We were more frustrated that the front-panel USB port couldn't be used as BD-Live storage; you have to buy an SD card if you want to use BD-Live.

Streaming media features
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon VOD Yes Pandora Upgradable
Vudu No Slacker No
CinemaNow No Picasa/Flickr Picasa
DLNA compliant No Weather Yes

Panasonic was also slow to get onboard with streaming media features, but this year its players offer a larger selection of services. With Netflix and Amazon VOD, Panasonic covers subscription and pay-per-view streaming movie services and adds extras like YouTube, Picasa, and weather, which we appreciate. Pandora support is coming later, although other players already support it.

On the other hand, the lack of DLNA support is disappointing for those who want to stream music, videos, or photos from a connected PC. The LG BD570 and Samsung BD-C6500 are DLNA-compliant out-of-the-box and the Sony BDP-S570 is getting a firmware update for DLNA in the summer. Yes, the DMP-BD85K can read digital media files off an SD card or USB memory drive, but network streaming is a nice convenience.

Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby Digital Plus Yes DTS-HD HR Yes
Bit stream output Yes SACD/DVD-Audio No

Like nearly every Blu-ray player available now, the DMP-BD85K offers onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS formats. If you're looking to play back SACDs and DVD-Audios, you'll need to look to Oppo's competing players; Sony's competing BDP-S570 also offers SACD playback.

AV outputs
HDMI version HDMI 1.3 Stereo analog Yes
Component video Yes Multichannel analog 7.1
Composite video Yes Optical/coaxial Both

The DMP-BD85K's AV outputs are standard, with the exception of the 7.1 analog outputs. The 7.1 analog outs are a nice step-up for anyone who has an older HDMI-less receiver, as they allow you to take advantage of the full resolution of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks without buying a new receiver.

Other connectivity
Ethernet Yes SD card slot Yes
USB ports 2 RS-232 port No

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