|Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray Player|
|Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Wednesday, 01 October 2008|
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It’s ironic that the DMP-BD50’s marquee feature – BD-Live – does land in the downside category. The Profile 2.0 spec requires that a player have 1GB of local storage, to which you can download BD-Live features from the Internet. In the case of the DMP-BD50, that storage comes from the SD card slot, but Panasonic doesn’t include an actual SD card in the package; so, you must buy one, adding to the total cost. Furthermore, there just aren’t many discs right now that offer BD-Live Web content; and, for those that do, the content isn’t terribly compelling. I had two BD-Live discs on hand. The War Blu-ray disc features a game called “Yakuza Fighter”; if you have a BD-Live player, you can register to play against others online, but the gameplay is uninspiring, to say the least. Accessing the BD-Live bonus content on Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Sony Picture Home Entertainment) was no easy feat. The first three times I tried to cue up the content, nothing happened; I simply got a black screen. The fourth time, I got a blue-and-red line, which apparently indicates that the player is cuing up content, although we get no explanation of that on the screen. Once the BD-Live menu finally appeared, I could choose between a few short featurettes (each of which needs to be downloaded) and some Sony trailers. Downloads were slow, and navigation was sluggish. When I was finally able to watch the content, it really wasn’t worth the effort. I can’t fault the DMP-BD50 for the lack or quality of BD-Live content, but it does beg the question of whether you really need to spend $600 to have BD-Live right now. There are other standalone Blu-ray players on the market that are BD-Live-ready, meaning that a future firmware update will enable Profile 2.0 ability, and cost a couple hundred dollars less than this model. Perhaps by the time those updates are offered, BD-Live content will be more abundant and more interesting.
The player lacks a physical button, either on the front panel or remote, to change the output resolution. You have to stop disc playback and go in to the setup menu any time you wish to make a change – for instance, if you’d like to compare the player’s 1080p/24 and 1080p/60 output. Also, the DMP-BD50 doesn’t output 480i via HDMI. I appreciate players that have a Source Direct mode that bypasses the internal processing and outputs every disc at its native resolution. That way, if your TV or external processor offers better scaling, you can easily use the external device instead. The DMP-BD50’s average DVD performance makes this feature all the more desirable.
BD-Live support may be the DMP-BD50’s initial draw, but I don’t think it’s ultimately the determining factor in whether or not this is the player for you. Price and audio support are the real issues. The DMP-BD50’s original MSRP was $699.95; however, almost immediately upon the player’s release, Panasonic lowered the price to $599.95, which is still a couple hundred dollars more than the PlayStation3 ($400) or the new BD-Live-ready players from Samsung (the BD-P1500, $400) and Sony (the BDP-S350, $350). In the performance realm, the Panasonic is certainly a worthy contender; whether or not it’s worth the step up in price really depends on your A/V system’s capabilities. The two BD-Live-ready models lack the full complement of internal high-resolution audio decoders, and the PlayStation3 lacks multichannel analog audio outputs. The DMP-BD50 has more flexibility to integrate with an older HDMI- or non-HDMI-equipped receiver. It’s more economical to pay an additional $200 for a Blu-ray player than to buy a brand new receiver with high-resolution audio decoding. When you look it that way, the DMP-BD50 represents a good value, and its Profile 2.0 designation ensures that it will support the Blu-ray features you want, now and in the future.