Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray Player

With the end of the format war fading in the rear-view mirror, manufacturers of Blu-ray players have one last obstacle to overcome to help bring Blu-ray into the mainstream—make a dedicated player that provides the user experience of the Sony PlayStation 3. (Okay, they must also bring the price down to DVD levels in order to really reach the mainstream.) In addition to delivering a first-rate audio/video experience, players must also offer a user experience on par with DVD.

Thus far, that hasn't been the case for any player except the PS3. Panasonic is doing its best to improve this situation with a pair of Profile 2.0 (BD-Live) players, the DMP-BD35 and step-up DMP-BD55 reviewed here. (These players are identical except for the 7.1-channel analog outputs on the BD55.) Does the latest generation from Panasonic have what it takes to challenge the vaunted PS3? Read on and see…

Like the PS3 and the previous-generation DMP-BD50, the BD55 can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to PCM for output via HDMI to an AVR or pre/pro. Additionally, the BD55 offers 192kHz/24-bit digital-to-analog audio converters to decode and output all audio formats from its 7.1 analog outputs, something the PS3 will never be able to do and an upgrade over the 5.1-channel analog outputs on the BD50.

For newer AVRs and pre/pros with onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding, the BD55 can send the raw bitstreams over HDMI. You lose the secondary audio with PIP as well as the clicks and beeps in the menus of Blu-ray discs, but it's nice to have a choice in the matter. For owners of these new AVRs and pre/pros, the BD35 should be your machine of choice since you won't need the analog outputs.

To comply with BD-Live, a player must have 1GB of persistent storage. The BD55 accomplishes this with an SD card slot hidden behind the flip-down front panel. Not only does this supply the required storage, it also allows the player to display photos from a digital camera and AVCHD video from HD camcorders. Like the BD50, the BD55 does not ship with a 1GB SD card. These aren't expensive at about $10, but I wish Panasonic had included 1GB of internal storage with its fourth-generation player.

An Ethernet port on the rear lets you connect the player to the Internet not only for BD-Live online features, but for firmware updates as well. Each time you turn on the BD55, it checks for a firmware update. Within the first week of the review period, the firmware upgraded from version 1.3 to 1.5. The entire process took about 10 minutes and couldn't have been easier. The PS3 operates in a similar manner, which is more user-friendly than having to download and burn your own firmware disc—a regular occurrence with many Blu-ray players.

Video output over HDMI includes support for 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p (60 and 24fps). The component output adds 480i and drops 1080p. There's also an Auto mode, which captures EDID (extended display identification) information from the display and outputs the highest supported resolution. Additionally, the BD55 offers 1080p/24 output of 480i DVDs, which helps to minimize the judder of 3:2 pulldown.

The BD55 employs Panasonic's EZ Sync HDAVI Control, which is based on the industry-standard HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). This conveys control codes to any compatible equipment connected by HDMI, allowing one remote to control everything. I don't own any CEC-compatible gear, so I was unable to test this function.