Panasonic DMP-BDT500 3D Blu-ray Player Review
Steve Withers checks out Panasonic's audiophile Blu-ray player
So far this year we've seen two of Panasonic's three new Blu-ray players and overall we've been impressed. The cheapest of the three is the BDT220 but that didn't stop it from delivering a great all round performance over HDMI. It also included smart features and extensive playback capabilities and easily won a recommended badge. The next in the range is the BDT320 which despite an attractive design and better build quality, delivered an almost identical performance which made us question whether it was worth the additional cost. The BDT320 has also been lumbered with one of the worst remotes we've ever experienced. Now we finally get to the top of the pile, Panasonic's flagship DMP-BDT500 3D Blu-ray player. The more expensive player includes a better build quality, extensive connections including 7.1-channel analogue outputs and the promise of improved performance. Let's take a look and find out if it delivers on that promise. The full in-depth review follows after the summary and scoring.
The DMP-BDT500 certainly looks like a flagship player with an attractive, if rather traditional, design. The metal chassis, gloss black finish and brushed metal strip along the bottom of the facia give the player a suitably high-end look. The larger dimensions, solid feet and increased weight, also help provide a sense of high quality player and the BDT500 is very quiet in operation. The rear connections are reasonably comprehensive and include twin HDMI outputs and 7.1-channel analogue outputs. The remote control is a big improvement on the one included with the BDT320 and whilst it still has a touch pad, it also includes all the major buttons, making it much easier to use.
The setup is straightforward and thanks to the built-in WiFi, connecting the BDT500 to the internet and your home network is very easy. The BDT500 also includes WiFi Direct (WiDi) so that you can connect directly to similarly capable devices without going through your router. The inclusion of VIERA Connect allows access to a host of applications, including new additions like Netflix, as well as the VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games. As far as connectivity goes, the BDT500 is fully DLNA compliant and can stream all the most common files over your home network and you can also access content via disc, USB or SD card.
The BDT500 offered excellent load times, especially in Quick Start mode and the energy efficiency was very impressive with the player only drawing 10W in playback. Actual playback over HDMI was first rate and with 2D high definition content the BDT500 delivered excellent images that remained free of any unwanted processing. The same was true of 3D content and the resulting images were equally as good and free of any noticeable artefacts. When it came to standard definition content the BDT500 was just very capable, delivering nicely scaled images without blurring or ringing. Our review sample had been modified by TPS to play Blu-rays and DVDs from multiple regions and it was easy to change between regions by entering a simple code. We tested a number of Blu-rays and DVDs from different regions and the modification worked flawlessly.
The audio performance of the BDT500 over HDMI sounded identical to both the BDT320 and the BDT220, which is to be expected. So unless you want to take advantage of the dual HDMI outputs or the 7.1-channel analogue outputs, you might as well go for one of the cheaper models to deliver audio over HDMI. As with the BDT320, there are various sound processing features designed to emulate a valve amplifier but generally we preferred the unadulterated audio performance of the BDT500. Overall, we found that the BDT500 performed very competently in terms of audio quality and accuracy over both HDMI and the 7.1-channel analogue outputs. However, if you’re looking for true audiophile performance we would recommend you consider the more expensive players by Oppo and Cambridge Audio.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT500 is a great all round performer. It is attractively designed and well built, offers extensive connections and features and is capable of delivering a very solid audio and video performance. Anyone looking for a decent Blu-ray player that can hold its own in a competitive marketplace, should definitely consider the BDT500.
It would seem that Panasonic have abandoned the slightly more avant garde approach that they took with the BDT320 and instead have gone for a more old school look with the BDT500. The basic design is very traditional with a standard player shape and a gloss black metal finish, giving the BDT500 a suitably high-end appearance. The dimensions are also in keeping with higher end players and the BDT500 measures 430mm x 59mm x 245mm which means it should fit comfortably in an equipment rack. Finally, the BDT500's higher end status is confirmed by more isolated feet and a reasonably hefty weight of 2.6kg, giving it a solid and well-built feel. We also found that - thanks to the construction and weight - the BDT500 was very quiet in operation.
Along the bottom of the front panel there is a brushed metal strip and the entire panel flips down to reveal a centrally mounted disc tray. To the left of the tray is the bright display which is sensibly laid out and reasonably informative. You can select bright or dim but there is also a rather useful automatic feature on the display which sets it to bright but turns it off during playback. Next to the display there is a small LED that flashes if you receive an incoming call from Skype, another LED that indicates if the second HDMI socket is outputting video and the infrared remote sensor. To the right of the disc tray there is a SD card slot and a USB connector. At the top right of the chassis there are touch sensitive controls for eject, stop and play, whilst the on/off button is on the top left.
At the rear, the BDT500 has a decent set of connections, including dual HDMI outputs, along with a LAN socket and a composite video output. The inclusion of twin HDMI outputs is very useful for anyone whose receiver can't handle 3D because it allows them to send 3D images to their display with one output and audio to their receiver with the other. There is no component video output but there are digital outputs in both the optical and coaxial variety (the latter is exclusive to the BDT500), as well as connection for a communication camera (TY-CC20W or TY-CC10W) which can be used with Skype. There are also dedicated analogue stereo outputs and, perhaps best of all, there are also 5.1 analogue outputs for those whose receiver or processor can't handle HDMI. In the menu you have the choice of using the dedicated stereo outputs and also the 5.1 outputs or combining the two into a full 7.1 analogue output. Finally, at the left rear of the player, is the two pin connector for the mains power lead, which is 1.5m long.
The remote control that came with the BDT320 was an unmitigated disaster but whilst the remote for the BDT500 does have a similar touch sensitive pad, it thankfully also includes all the normal buttons like play, stop, pause, search, skip and return. In fact the only buttons missing are the direction and enter buttons but we found using the touch pad for these functions wasn't too onerous, even if you had to be quite firm when hitting the pad to enter. Otherwise this is a fairly standard remote, although a bit larger than normal due to the inclusion of the touch sensitive pad. There are the, now standard, buttons for selecting VIERA Connect, Netflix and Skype as well as some very basic TV controls. You also get buttons for accessing the Homepage, the disc menus and the Options menu, as well as a status button. There is a small flap at the bottom of the remote, under which you will find buttons for directly accessing Picture Mode, Chroma Process, Detail Clarity and Super Resolution - all of which we'll cover in the menus section.
The BDT500 uses exactly the same menu system as the BDT220 and BDT320, including the central HOME page from which you can access other menus or content. The is an option to customise the HOME page for up to four users, including selecting the wallpaper, an icon and a user name, as well as registering your smartphone as a remote control. Once in the HOME page you can either move up to enter the networked features, down to watch video, left to look at pictures and right to listen to music; if you press the enter button you access the Setup menus. The video, photos and music can be accessed from whichever storage media they're held on, whilst the network option allows the user to access Panasonic's VIERA Connect internet portal or your media server.
In Setup, there are the Player Settings submenus, the first of which contains all the Picture options, including the Picture Mode and the Picture Adjustment controls, although these can only be accessed in the User picture mode. We used the User mode with the Picture Adjustment settings left untouched, which appeared to be delivering a unmolested image, which is all we really want from a player. The controls available in Picture Adjustment are Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour, Gamma, 3D NR and Integrated NR. These are the same controls you'll find in your display, which is where you should be making any adjustments, so leave the controls on the BDT500 alone.
Other controls within the Picture submenu include Chroma Process, which delivers chroma upsampling to a compatible TV and whilst we couldn't see a huge difference there appeared to be slightly less colour banding in some scenes so we left it on. The Detail Clarity and Super Resolution controls are both essentially sharpness features which we left off because once again we want the player to output the 1080p signal from a Blu-ray without any unwanted processing. The HDMI Output option allows you to select the HDMI Video Format (resolution), the 24p Output, the HDMI Colour Mode, the Deep Colour Output and Contents Type Flag. There are also controls for NTSC Contents Output, Still Mode and Seamless Play. A large number of the these controls can be accessed during playback by pressing the Options button and Picture Mode, Chroma Process, Detail Clarity and Super Resolution all have dedicated buttons on the remote control.
The next submenu relates to Sound and includes options for setting the Sound Effects, Dialogue and Dynamic Range Compression, all of which are best left off. Then there is Digital Audio Output where you can select which audio signal to output, the BD-Video Secondary Audio and the HDMI Audio Output. You can choose to send your Dolby/DTS/MPEG audio as either Bitstream or PCM but note that setting BD-Video Secondary Audio to 'On' and sending your lossless audio bitstreamed will result in it being sent in its lossy format. Next we have the PCM Down Conversion, which allows you to output audio at 192kHz or 96kHz as 48kHz if necessary.
Then there is Downmix for multi-channel to 2-channel stereo and 7.1 Audio Reformatting which will play 6.1 and 5.1 surround encoded audio at 7.1 when set to auto. There is also the High Clarity Sound feature, which is supposed to improve sound quality by turning off the video signal for HDMI output and an Audio Delay feature for synchronising the sound and picture by adjusting the delay time of the audio output. Finally the BDT500 includes Analogue Audio Output controls where you can choose if you want to use the 2-channel output and 5.1-channel outputs separately or combine them for 7.1-channel use. Once you have decided that, you can then select the number of speakers and their size, the delay time and the channel balance.
The 3D submenu allows the user to setup 3D BD-Video Playback, 3D AVCHD Output, the 3D Type (side by side, frame sequential etc.) and the 3D Playback Message (best left hidden or it gets annoying). There is also a control for manual settings such as Distance, Screen Type, Frame Width and Frame Colour, which shouldn't be used if the 3D content has been encoded correctly. There is also a 2D to 3D conversion feature but this remains what it will always be, a total gimmick not worthy of serious consideration. Finally, there is a control called Graphic Display Level which adjusts the position of the Option menu etc. The Language submenu, as the name suggests, allows for the selection of the language used for Soundtrack Preference, Subtitle Preference, Menu Preference and the On-Screen Language.
The Network submenu includes an option for Easy Network Settings, which helps you set up the built-in WiFi but there is also a more detailed option called Network Settings. Setting up the wireless connection is very easy and the BDT500 includes WiFi Direct (WiDi) which means it can connect with similar devices without the need to go through a router. In here you can select between LAN or Wireless connections, set up the IP Address/DNS Settings, Proxy Server Settings, the Network Service Settings (VIERA Connect), Network Dive Connection (DLNA) and BD-Live Internet Access. You need to turn the Remote Device Settings function on in order to control the BDT500 with a smartphone but be aware that this will also automatically turn on the Quick Start feature, which uses more energy in standby.
After Network, there is another submenu called Ratings where you will find options for setting the DVD and BD ratings, as well as the Network Service Lock. The final submenu is System which includes all the controls for Easy Settings (basic setup), TV Settings (Aspect Ratio, TV System, Screen Saver, On-Screen Messages, VIERA Link), Unit Settings, Quick Start, Remote Control, Touchpad Guide, Firmware Update, System Information, DivX Registration and Default Settings.
The BDT500 comes with WiFi built-in, so you can connect directly to your wireless network but if you don't have one then you can connect to your router or network using a LAN cable. Once you have set up your network connection, you can then begin using the BDT500's internet capabilities, which Panasonic call VIERA Connect. The platform that Panasonic use on their BD players is essentially the same as last year's TV platform. Whilst this is an improvement on last year's BD players it does mean that some features found on this year's TVs, like the Web Browser, are missing.
There are still a decent number of applications, however, including the ubiquitous BBC iPlayer, Skype (although you'll need the previously mentioned camera attachment to use it), as well as Twitter and Facebook. In addition you get Netflix, YouTube, Acetrax, Dailymotion, Euronews, Picasa and new additions like the ShoutCast and Aupeo radio apps. We had no problems using all these features and we were quickly watching AVForums videos on YouTube. Another addition is the slimmed down VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games, although there is no payment feature.
Besides having a wide choice of apps, the other important elements of an internet platform are that it is easy to access and responsive. In this sense VIERA Connect was a success because it was simple to launch, you just press the Internet button on the remote, and whilst it was reasonably responsive, it isn't as fast as Panasonic's latest TVs. Our complaints about Panasonic's internet platform are minor but in order to move from one page to the next, you have to select MORE or BACK, rather than just going directly to the next page. They could also fit more apps on a single page, which in fact they do in VIERA Connect Market. We downloaded the BD Remote app and found it was easy to connect and simple to use, providing alternative way of controlling and communicating with the BDT500. The interface is very slick and the smartphone shows some quite useful info such as a time bar for playback. Certainly if your current TV doesn't have any smart features, the BDT500 is an effective way of adding these features without the added expense of a new TV.
As far as connectivity goes, the BDT500 is fully DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over your home network and you can also access content via disc, USB or SD card. In terms of file support the BDT500 is a big improvement on last year and can handle a greater range, including AVCHD, MPEG, DivX HD, MKV, WAV, MP3, MP4, FLAC, JPEG and MPO. All of the above files can be played back using a USB drive, SD card or disc media (CD, DVD, BD) and also AVC HD, MOV, MP3 and FLAC files can be played wirelessly over a network.
Just like the BDT220 and BDT320 previously, this BDT500 was provided for review by TPS and had been modified to be capable of multi-region playback. The default setting is Region B for Blu-ray and Region 2 for DVD but it is easy to change it by entering a specific code on the remote. The mod allows you to mix and match, so for example you could have BD Region A and DVD Region 2 by pressing 1 and 2 after entering the code. If you want to go to BD Region B and DVD Region 3, you just enter the same code and then press 2 and 3. Although in reality the region code verification for DVDs has been disabled, so the BDT500 should play any region DVD regardless of what is set. It would be sensible to leave the DVD region set to 1, just in case you have any RCE discs. We tested the BDT500 with Region A and B Blu-rays, as well as Region 1,2 and 3 DVDs and they all played without any problems. The modification also has other advantages, it deactivates the UOP (User Operation Prohibition) for DVDs to allow you to skip forced trailers etc. and it also deactivates PUO (Protected User Operation) on Blu-rays which also allows you to skip any forced content.
The BDT220 and BDT320 both scored well in the video tests and since the BDT500 is exactly the same, we had a good idea of what to expect. Needless to say, the BDT500 handled the 3D content admirably but then, as long as the player is behaving itself the results over HDMI should be the same between players. We used the BDT500 in conjunction with the Sim2 M.150 that we were reviewing at the same time and we're happy to report the player did a very capable job with 3D Blu-ray, resulting in no undue artefacting and allowing the Sim2 to deliver some truly amazing 3D images.
As with 3D, any player should be capable of an equally impressive performance when delivering 1080p24 over HDMI and needless to say, the BDT500 displayed 1080p24 encoded Blu-rays without introducing any issues. The player also had no problems handling 720p Blu-rays encoded at 50Hz or 60Hz. As long as you selected the Cinema picture mode, there appeared to be no unwanted processing going on with 1080p content and as a result, the suitably unadulterated 1080p output looked great.
There is greater opportunity for a player to add value when it comes to 1080i content and, just like the other Panasonic players this year, the BDT500 had no problems with both the edge and source adaptive deinterlacing tests from the Spears and Munsil and the HQV discs. The BDT500 also handled both the edge adaptive deinterlacing and cadence detection duties very well and fine details were largely retained under movement and the player was able to lock on to both the PAL 2:2 film cadence and the NTSC 2:3 film cadence - which is good news if you intend to buy a modified player and use its multi-region capabilities.
This is another area where the player itself can actually improve image quality and overall we liked the BDT500's scaling engine. In actual testing we found there wasn't any detail being taken away from the image and well transferred material looked very nice indeed. The BDT500 also had no problems with both PAL and NTSC discs and again it was able to correctly detect the 2:2 and 2:3 which again is good news if you intend to take advantage of any regional coding modifications.
Subjective Audio Tests
The audio performance of the BDT500 over HDMI sounded identical to both the BDT320 and the BDT220, which is to be expected. Since the main reason for buying the BDT500 is to take advantage of the 7.1-channel analogue outputs, if you plan on just using HDMI then you might as well go for one of the cheaper models. Of course the BDT500 performed extremely well over HDMI, seamlessly sending a number of different audio formats including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, to a suitably capable amplifier. There were also no problems using the onboard decoding of the BDT500, allowing it to send these same soundtracks as PCM to any amplifier that couldn't do the decoding internally. The BDT500 also had no problems sending the audio from CDs and DVDs, either as bitstream via the optical out or via the HDMI output as bitstream or HDMI.
Where the BDT500 really differs from its cheaper siblings is the inclusion of 7.1-channel analogue outputs. This obviously gives those without HDMI capable receivers a chance to enjoy the lossless audio delivered by Blu-rays. The BDT500 uses four 192kHz/32-bit DACs and whilst they aren't as high quality as those found on audiophile players like Oppo’s BDP-95 or Cambridge Audio’s 751BD, it is more than half their price. So whilst you can’t expect the warmer performance and greater transparency and accuracy found on the more expensive players, it certainly provides a cost effective alternative to those looking for a player with 7.1-channel analogue outputs. The audio over these outputs certainly sounded good, with clear dialogue, deep bass and an immersive surround field but in A/B comparisons with PCM over HDMI, we could discern no noticeable difference in sound quality.
Panasonic do however claim additional audiophile credentials for the BDT500, specifically relating to their 'digital tube sound' technology, which is effectively audio processing designed to replicate the supposed ‘warm and fuller’ sound of valve amplifiers. Panasonic’s engineers claim that they have been studying the sonic characteristics of valve amplifiers and have developed six different settings which can reproduce them. Selecting each of these different settings results in varying degrees of sound processing, but we found the smoothing impact of this processing to be detrimental to the overall sound quality. The various options tended to rob the audio of some of its immediacy, causing soundtracks to sound rather muted and delivering less impact. We definitely preferred the unprocessed performance of the BDT500, which we found to be excellent, with a far more expansive and dynamic delivery.
There is also the High Clarity Sound feature, which turns off the video DAC in the chipset for playback over HDMI and turns off the video output completely for audio playback. Panasonic claim this will reduce electrical interference and thus improve the audio over HDMI but considering it's a digital signal we were sceptical. Needless to say in A/B tests comparing the audio with the feature turned on and off, we could hear no difference in the sound quality regardless of whether we were listening to the digital or analogue outputs. Ultimately we found that the BDT500 delivered a very competent audio performance regardless of whether you used the HDMI output or 7.1-channel analogue outputs but if you’re looking for true audiophile performance we would recommend the more expensive players by Oppo and Cambridge Audio.
Disc Load Times
The BDT500 takes 17 seconds to get to the home page but it also includes Panasonic's Quick Start feature and when this is enabled, the load times are very fast. In fact it was only 1 second from pressing the on button to getting to the home page. The time it took to actually load a disc and reach the copyright notice ranged from 20 to 30 seconds depending on the disc. However, getting to the actual menu page could often take much longer, although in fairness this is the fault of the disc encoding and not the BDT500.
In line with all of Panasonic's products this year, the BDT500 comes with some fairly serious green credentials and the energy consumption numbers were incredibly small. In standby without Quick Start enabled the BDT500 measured zero on our meter which means the energy consumption was lower than 0.5W but with Quick Start enabled it was a little higher at 6W. However, even in operation the BDT500 used 8W when on and was only 10W when actually playing a disc, so Panasonic appear to be delivering on their promise of energy efficient products.
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Smart Network 3D Blu-ray Player
Suggested price: £359
Reviewed 22nd June, 2012 by Stephen Withers
Supplied for review by
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