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Finally... A Blu-Ray Player that's full featured and relatively inexpensive
on October 29, 2008
I felt compelled posting a review of the BMP-BD55 after receiving the unit today. I'd been holding off buying a standalone Blu-Ray player given the dearth of Profile 2.0 machines and along with their crazy prices. For those who aren't familiar with the Blu-Ray format, there are many different versions of Blu-Ray players that have varying functionalities lingering in the market today. They are: Profile 1.0, Profile 1.1 (this seems to have become the standard for the new low-end models), and Profile 2.0 (finalized standard). I will keep this review/opinion piece as free of tech-babble as much as possible.
You ay want to avoid most Profile 1.0 players. The reason why I say this is for the following reasons: 1. A large number of them are very slow at booting up. 2. They often have problems playing new Blu-Ray movies, some early models won't play some recent BD movies at all. Many of these machines do not come with HDMI 1.3, meaning you may not be able to get take advantage of the newer HD audio formats.
Profile 1.1 machines have been released in the last year and can play the vast majority of new discs but cannot take advantage of the new online functionalities and special features many new discs are shipping with. Also, updating the firmware can be cumbersome requiring a PC download, then that download being burned to a CD, and then that CD being inserted into your player, and then installed onto player.
Profile 2.0 machines are known as "Final Profile" or "Full Spec". These players come with a network interface, aka an Ethernet card. The Ethernet card allows you to connect your player directly to your home network. The significance of this is that with an Ethernet connection you will be able to directly download firmware updates to your player eliminating the several steps in the firmware updating process. Also, internet-based special features are available.
This is my first standalone Blu-Ray player. Since 2006, I have been using my Playstation 3 (60GB launch model) in anticipation of a full-featured standalone Blu-Ray player that didn't cost an arm and a leg. The moment I read the press release and technical specs of the BMP-BD55 I knew this was the machine to buy. The features that stood out to me are:
1. This machine has Onboard decoding of Dolby TrueHD/Digital Plus and dts-HD Master Audio audio formats, among others. This means, if you have an older receiver this machine can send the audio via bitstream or PCM, and you'll be able to enjoy the discrete audio mastered on the disc.
2. I have an older 7.1 Yamaha receiver HTR-5960 and it does not decodes the HD audio formats. **Correction** That is where your audio options begin with the BMP-BD55, as it can send decoded 7.1 and 5.1 audio to my receiver via the analog output. In other words you're not tethered, per se, to HDMI to enjoy 7.1 or 5.1 master audio and can put off buying that new receiver. The Optical Out interface supports DTS-ES, Dolby Digital EX, among more but 7.1 is down mixed.
3. Profile 2.0. Simple firmware updates, which are done automatically. Access to the internet-based special features, such as trivia games, extra behind the scenes, downloadables like ringtones etc..
4. This machine has an SD card reader. It can read SD cards up to 32GB (if the card has SDHC on it, then the Panasonic will play it). This means you will be able to view your Photos (from your digital camera: still or video), play MP3 songs, view Divx (aka those movies you downloaded from the internet), etc. I definitely recommend you getting an SD card because you may need it for future special internet- features (which are only going to get larger), as the onboard memory is rather limited. A class 6 8GB card can be bought here on Amazon for $12 and less.
5. Video quality (most important in my opinion). This machine has an excellent 1080p upconverting chipset. This means your regular DVD will look excellent. This machine also has 24p (also known as Original Source Output for those who are interested in knowing). Most movies are actually shot at 24 frames per second and this machine supports 24p for both DVD (via conversion) and Blu-Ray.
6. Price. This machine is an excellent deal for its price. Competing machines with the same or less features still cost well above $700MSRP (Denon and Pioneer ring a bell).
7. Nice Size. This player has a very nice profile and is the size of a typical DVD player. It's not razor thin but it's a substantially slim machine and Panasonic finally got rid of that annoying face plate that you have to manually lower and raise to access the disc tray, which the older Panasonic machines had.
My impressions and personal experience with this machine:
I've been using the Playstation 3 as my Blu-Ray player for almost two years and I believe this machine surpasses the PS3 in terms of Audio (7.1 audio output via analog, and solid bitsream for optical out), Audio/Video settings option (the same picture management flexibilities that exist on my HDTVs settings are available on the machine, allowing for greater picture control and flexibility). PS3 owners will know/appreciate this but I can finally use my standard/universal remote again.
What I like:
I personally found the BMP-BD55 has great colour, contrast, and noise reduction performance as viewed on my Panasonic 46" Plasma HDTV. I did a direct video comparison of several movies between the BMP-BD55 and the PS3 and the Panasonic performed better.
I viewed only areas of the films where the PS3 struggled, such as in sequences with diagonal objects (to test anti-aliasing performance), intense light dark scenes (to test contrast and brightness performance). Movies I viewed:
Blu-Ray: (The Matrix, Iron Man, Resident Evil Extinction, Babel, Disturbia, Unforgiven, Tekkonkinkreet, and The Corpse Bride). I found the BMP-BD55 had great Contrast and Brightness. Colour control is exquisite, hardly any noticeable colour artifacts.
DVD: The Incredibles, the Matrix, Evolution, The Time Machine, Bourne Ultimatum, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Black Dahlia, Moulin Rouge. I found the 1080p upconversion excellent; DVDs I bought 8 years ago look better than ever and the Aspect Ratio and pull-down performance is very good as well.
Audio Processing: The onboard decoding software and chipset are great. I sent the decoded HD audio channelized audio to my 7.1 receiver and it sounded superb. This feature is important, in my opinion, because my receiver has a hard-time converting new HD audio but the BMP-BD55's on-board chipset sends a crisp decoded signal to my receiver. As a result, it doesn't have to struggle with HD audio and only needs to farm out the audio to the assigned speakers.
Load times: I was thoroughly impressed with the boot-up and load times of the machine. From start to play it took me less than two minutes to load Iron Man
What I don't like:
1. Storage Space: Given online content is going to be downloaded, they could have added at 2GB SD card (probably would have cost them only $3)
2. Would be nice if they included a USB port.
3. This is a high definition movie player. Why the heck is the included cable a composite? They could have included a short HDMI or even an S-Video cable.
I highly recommend this machine for anyone looking to enter into the High Definition Movie Disc market or looking to upgrade their 1.0 or 1.1 player. I've seen this unit for $320 (prices will ultimately go down) but if that is too much for you, I highly recommend getting the BMP-BD35 as a more affordable alternative. The only difference between the BMP-BD55 and the BMP-BD35 are the 7.1 analog out (the 35 doesn't have that feature) and Divx support for burned DVD and CD-R/RW. Other than that, the machines are identical in terms of playback functionality and quality, as they have the same video and audio cards. In my opinion, this is a great deal for a full-featured Blu-Ray player; in terms of functionality, features, and Audio/Video quality you're pretty much set.
In conclusion: I feel this is currently the best stand-alone player (especially for the price) currently on the market and a legitimate and compelling alternative to the PS3; perfect for those who are simply interested in watching High Definition movies and want to enjoy the occasional internet-based extras Blu-Ray movies are starting to offer without worrying about a new "Profile". Technology always moves along but I think, with these new players, the manufactures have finally started releasing "finalized" Blu-Ray machines you won't have to worry about being viable for years to come.
I hope you found this useful and I thank you for taking the time to read my review/opinion.