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Inexpensive profile 2.0 Blu-Ray player
Member Name: AndrewPo
Date: 31/01/09, updated on 31/01/09 (423 review reads)
Advantages: Inexpensive. Stunning picture quality. Well made
Disadvantages: Minimal output connectivity
The Format War Continues
Unfortunately the format war continues because Blu-Ray exists in three different forms: profiles 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0. I won't go into the full specifications of each, but the main difference is that 1.0 is capable of playing the film, 1.1 has additional memory and computing power to allow some extra features that might be on the Blu-Ray disk to be played simultaneously with the film (e.g. picture-in-picture) and 2.0 has limited internet access allowing up to date material to be down loaded from the studio web-site or interactive games to be played etc. It also allows bug fixes to be downloaded automatically. In theory I just needed profile 1.0, but these are no longer being made, so an inexpensive 1.1 seemed the the ideal choice, until I discover this Panasonic model, which is about the same price as many profile 1.1 players, just £189 (from Amazon). This should completely future-proof my purchase. The internet connection requires an ethernet cable connection and does not support WiFi, but then you don't really need it anyway just for watching films.
What is the catch?
This is the budget 2.0 player, with only limited connectivity. It has HDMI output for connection to an HD Ready or Full HD TV or component/composite output for older TVs and just stereo analogue sound instead of the 7.1 or 5.1 channel output available on it's more expensive rivals. So it appears to be a bit compromised in the sound department, given the far superior sound quality available from Blu-Ray, but it does also have one optical digital output, which output 5.1 channels which can be decoded by any reasonably good surround-sound amplifier made with-in the last few years (be careful to check that you have the appropriate input - my old Denon can cope with this, but it was quite an up-market decoder in its day and some all-in-one decoder/amps don't have any optical inputs) You can also use the HDMI output to connect to the latest surround sound amplifiers or straight to the television if you are only going to use the TV's speakers.
If you have a 1080p ("Full HD") or 720p ("HD Ready") TV and you are using it without a proper HD source (e.g. Freeview or DVD) you are really missing out; the TV will upscale any input to fit the huge number of extra pixels, but it is only guessing and in some cases the picture will look quite processed or pixelated (in the modern meaning of the word) especially if you are going from 480p (DVD) all the way up to 1080p. With Blu-Ray the result is stunning and this Panasonic is no exception. Do not however use the cables that come with the player. There is no HDMI cable provided, just a triple composite/left/right cable which gives awful results, which may be improved a bit if you use the three cables in the component inputs and outputs instead, but this is still unacceptable. Buy an inexpensive HDMI (digital) cable for far better results. Colours are vivid and the details seems far sharper than even the best upscaled DVD. Using a DVD disc in the Panasonic Blu-Ray player gives a good upscaled result (e.g. better than my old DVD player connected via SCART cable) but still not as good as with a proper Full HD source.
If you have a good home-cinema system with an appropriate digital optical audio input the sound can also be stunning. My system has never sounded so good, with incredibly controlled deep bass and fine imaging and detail even during the quieter sequences. This is not really a reflection of the player which is just outputting the digital signal from the Blu-ray disk, but it was easy to set up and does demonstrate that you really don't need to have the analogue electrical output (these are actually restrictive anyway and for optimum results you probably want to decode using a surround sound system customised to your room)
The Build quality is excellent. The player is black and very slim, with simple clean lines and minimal buttons and information displayed on the front. It is a full width player made of metal and high quality plastic.
Remote control and ease of use
The remote control is simple to use, very similar to a DVD player control. Most of the functionality is access through menus on the TV screen. Playing DVD or Blu-Ray disc is as easy as with any DVD player. Simply put it in the draw (which takes quite a while to open) and press play and follow the on-screen menus as usual.
This is an excellent inexpensive profile 2.0 player that has a stunning picture quality and with the appropriate external amplification sound quality too. Buy a HDMI cable and don't use the cables provided. Shame it doesn't have WiFi.
This review is also published on Ciao.co.uk under the same name and Squidoo:
Summary: Way better than DVD