It comes with a cavalcade of fancy features, including 7.1-channel surround sound, advanced 1080p upscaling, an SD/SDHC memory card slot, two USB ports, wireless networking, gold-plated analogue audio outputs and Picasa/YouTube browsing. Video quality was excellent on the Panasonic DMP-BD85, but its user interface and BD load times left a lot to be desired. Despite these flaws, it remains an impressive unit, especially for audiophiles.
The Panasonic DMP-BD85 looks very similar to its top-of-the-range predecessor, the Panasonic DMP-BD80. It’s sleek, black and glossy — much like every other high-end player on the market in fact. A mirrored faceplate covers the tray-loading disc drive, while a flip-down door reveals the memory card slot, front USB port and play/stop buttons. Measuring a relatively compact 55x430x249mm, the Panasonic DMP-BD85 Blu-ray player should fit into the scantiest of home theatre racks (though there is a catch that we’ll get to in a moment).
The Panasonic DMP-BD85 comes with all the ports and connections you’d expect from a premium Blu-ray player. The audio options are especially impressive, with coaxial/optical digital audio and gold-plated 7.1-channel analog outputs being the main highlights. Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats are naturally supported. For video, composite AV and component (RGB) ports are included, along with the requisite HDMI.
For Wi-Fi connectivity, the Panasonic DMP-BD85 comes bundled with a USB dongle. Most Blu-ray players that offer wireless networking support, such as the Sony BDP-S760 and Samsung BD-C6900 3D Blu-ray players, come with inbuilt Wi-Fi and do not require an adaptor. This could prove problematic if there isn’t any room behind your player — if it fits snugly inside a shelf cavity, for example. You could always insert it into the front USB port, but then you won’t have anywhere to put your USB thumb drive. Tch.
Setting up a Wi-Fi connection is pretty straightforward for 'net savvy users, although novices may get confused by the lack of onscreen prompts (e.g. it expects you know the difference between WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK and WEP security protocols). This is nothing a quick flick through the Panasonic DMP-BD85's manual won't remedy, but why should life be made difficult for technophobes, eh? A few nuggets of text could have easily fixed this problem. In any event, once your network is up and running, you can easily connect to YouTube and watch videos at your leisure. Panasonic has also promised future online services, coming soon.
As mentioned, the Panasonic DMP-BD85 comes with both a USB port and an SD memory card slot. The card slot is able to receive AVCHD video and photos, while the USB port handles JPEG and MP3 files. You can also play DivX HD files directly from a thumb drive or a CD/DVD. This is handy if you download lots of video content online.
We’ve never been very big fans of Panasonic’s Blu-ray remote controls, and the Panasonic DMP-BD85 fails to buck the trend. Most of the buttons are difficult to distinguish by touch due to their similar size and shape. This is bound to get frustrating if you like to watch movies in the dark. At one point, we attempted to press the fast-forward button and instead skipped forward a chapter — spoilers ensued. On the plus side, the remote is reasonably chunky which makes it difficult to lose.
The Panasonic DMP-BD85's on-screen menu is identical to Panasonic’s previous generation of players. Some menu options are a little complicated and may require you to consult the manual, but for the most part you can simply leap right in. On the downside, we found the interface to be a bit sluggish, especially when skipping between different menu screens. This sometimes took over five seconds, which is frankly unacceptable.
But enough belly aching, let’s talk about what the Panasonic DMP-BD85 gets right. In a word: HD video [That’s technically two words. — Ed.] The DMP-BD85’s Blu-ray performance is among the best we’ve seen, which is just as well, given its price point. It easily stands up against equivalent players from the likes of Samsung and Sony.
To test the Panasonic DMP-BD85’s playback performance, we hooked it up to a 50in Pioneer KURO PDP-C509A307112 plasma TV and watched the Blu-ray edition of Terminator: Salvation, as well as a handful of standard-definition DVDs. In both cases, the DMP-BD85 produced vibrant, razor-sharp images with plenty of intricate detail. The player’s revamped PH4D processing chip did a great job of rendering images, particularly when it came to upscaling standard-definition video to 1080p. We didn't notice any image tearing or artefacts in the lobby scene to The Matrix, for example.
On the downside, the Panasonic DMP-BD85 took a little longer than normal to load Blu-ray discs — our copy of Terminator: Salvation required nearly a minute of prep time. This is on par with most entry-level Blu-ray players but we were expecting something a bit zippier for the price.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>