Panasonic DMP-BD55 £400
11th Sep 2008 | 10:00
All hail the undisputed Blu-ray champion of the world
It's with excitement that we get our hands on Panasonic's latest range-topper, the DMP-BD55, which adds features that were left off the DMP-BD35.
It looks practically identical to the latter model, with a slim but quality build and a reﬂective fascia that gives it a suitably glitzy, cutting-edge look.
Profile 2.0 Blu-ray
The Panasonic DMP-BD55 is similar to its predecessor in most respects, but it's more expensive on account of its superior audio circuitry, which includes a 192kHz/24-bit DAC and improved capacitors and insulators, plus the addition of 7.1-channel analogue outputs and a coaxial digital audio out on the rear.
But what's most appealing about the DMP-BD55 is that it's a ﬁnished product that enables you to enjoy BonusView and BD Live discs out of the box without having to update the ﬁrmware ﬁrst.
Its Proﬁle 2.0 spec means you'll ﬁnd an ethernet connection on the rear for downloading extra content from movie-related websites, but instead of using built-in memory to store the content, the deck features an SD card slot on the front panel.
That means you'll need to fork out for a card, which should be at least 1GB according to the Proﬁle 2.0 specifications, but it'll take SDHC cards with a capacity of up to 32GB.
The Panasonic DMP-BD55 also boasts a full complement of audio talents, including the ability to decode Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks and output them from the 7.1-channel analogue outputs. But if you have a suitably equipped AV receiver the deck can output all of these formats in bitstream form from its HDMI output, or convert them to PCM if your receiver sports HDMI but not HD audio decoding.
Your media library is in safe hands too, thanks to the BD55's ability to play BD-RE/-R, any type of recordable DVD (including RAM) and CD/-R/-RW. It even handles your DiVX, MP3, JPEG and AVCHD ﬁles and you can play the last two formats from SD cards.
Elsewhere you'll ﬁnd DVD upscaling to 1080p and an HDMI v1.3 output, which supports 1080/24p, Deep Colour, x.v.Colour and Viera Link CEC.
Finally, the deck is packed with the same image-boosting technology used to great effect on the BD35, including PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus, which aims to reproduce colour more accurately than other players, and P4HD, which delivers ﬂuid motion, crisp detail and smooth diagonal lines, among other beneﬁts.
As ever, the operating system is a picture of user-friendliness. The onscreen menus and playback
banners are painted in welcoming pastel shades, the menu structure is easy to follow and the text is large enough to read at a distance. In short, this is a player you can use without a glance at the manual.
The setup menu offers loads of tweaks, including an extensive range of speaker settings when using the analogue outputs, and in operation the player is quick to respond and load discs.
We're also in awe of the remote, which boasts clear labelling, big chunky buttons and a perfect layout.
The Panasonic DMP-BD55 delivers jaw-dropping picture quality, squeezing every last drop of detail from our Transformers disc. The inclusion of P4HD processing makes the image seem slightly sharper than the Samsung BD-P1500 we used for comparison, and makes the textures of human skin and CG robots look more 'real' than ever before.
The scene in which Sam ﬁrst meets the Autobots is a revelation, with the deck picking up every scuff, scratch and chink of light on their bodywork. This level of detail gives the image a gratifying lucidity, allowing us to dust off the clichéd, but accurate, 'like looking through a window' simile.
Images look punchy, mainly thanks to the devilishly deep blacks, plus the PHL Reference Processor Plus that does a great job with the movie's colour palette, making Optimus Prime's red and blue paintwork look effortlessly vibrant without compromising the authenticity of Sam's subtle skin tones within the same shots.
Fine DVD performance
The Panasonic DMP-BD55 rounds off its staggering picture performance with sharp edge deﬁnition and ﬂuid 24fps motion, as well as a complete lack of unwanted noise.
It also does a ﬁne job with DVDs, achieving high levels of detail and colour and delivering solid blacks and crisp edges.
Its pictures seem better than those of the DMP-BD35, although there is some noise over complex patterns.
We played Transformers' 5.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack through an Onkyo TX-NR906 receiver, and the thrilling Optimus versus Megatron scrap at the end has to be heard to be believed.
Whether you're listening to it via the analogue outputs or HDMI, it really captures the scope and intensity of the scene, delivering explosions with blistering ferocity, while making dialogue sound prominent and pinging crisp effects around the soundstage with force and accuracy.
A slightly pricier player than most, but the Panasonic DMP-BD55 does everything you could ever want and delivers picture and sound performance to die for. No other player even comes close at this sort of price.