Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray Player Setup & Tests
Since I wanted to test both the analog and digital audio outputs from the player, hook-up wasn’t as easy as it would have been with a simple HDMI cable. I had to connect a set of component cables and eight analog audio cables from the BD55 to my Onkyo pre/pro. I recently reviewed the Pioneer BDP-05FD Blu-ray player in the same manner, and I left the cables in place, so it wasn't as difficult as it could have been.
HDMI audio setup was a breeze and a big improvement over the BD50. Two choices are provided for the audio output—bitstream and PCM. Choose bitstream for compatible AVRs and pre/pros, and PCM for older HDMI equipment not able to decode Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. To hear the audio from PIP tracks on BonusView titles, secondary audio must be turned on, but DTS-HD MA tracks are downrezzed to the DTS core data and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks are downrezzed to Dolby Digital when the player is set to bitstream. In order to enjoy the lossless tracks, secondary audio must be turned off.
I would like to see a button on the remote to enable/disable secondary audio on the fly instead of having to venture into the menu whenever I want to watch a PIP feature, especially considering the slower loading times of Blu-ray discs. Hopefully, this is something we'll see in future players.
Analog audio was much more difficult to configure. In addition to the glut of cables required, you must specify the speaker size (small or large), delay time, and channel levels. Unfortunately, the BD55 only allows adjustments from 0 to -6dB for the front L/R speakers and 0 to -12dB for the center, surrounds, and subwoofer. Delays can't be set for the front right/left speakers, and even more annoyingly, they are set in milliseconds, not feet or meters. There's a conversion chart in the manual to figure out the proper delay time based on distance, but why not specify the delays in terms of distance in the first place?
Anyway, using Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics, I set the level for each speaker using my RadioShack SPL meter. This is a time-consuming process compared to the HDMI setup, reason enough to justify an upgrade to an AVR with HDMI inputs.
As with the BD50, the BD55 does an excellent job deinterlacing a 1080i signal to 1080p. Using Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark Blu-ray, the BD50 passed the video resolution-loss test and the two jaggies tests with flying colors. When looking at the film resolution-loss tests, the low-frequency burst patterns turned from pink to cyan as the pattern moved back and forth, and there was some slight shimmering in the high-frequency bursts, although the slow-panning shot in the football stadium didn't exhibit any moiré.
Chapter 8 of Mission: Impossible III didn't reveal any shortcomings—the stairs remained moiré free. For the sharpest picture, I recommend setting the player's output to 1080p/24 if your display is capable of handling the signal, but its 1080p/60 picture is nothing to scoff at.
DVD playback was a weak point of the BD50, but things look much better on the BD55 in test patterns and real-world material. The HQV Benchmark DVD looked good on the single-bar jaggies test and acceptable on the three-bar test, with only some minor shimmering in the lowest bar. The film-detail test (race-car sequence) showed only a split second of moiré before the player locked on to the cadence, and mixed 3:2 content with scrolling video subtitles and credits both passed with flying colors, an area where the B50 failed miserably.
Real-world tests, including the opening of Star Trek Insurrection and the Coliseum flyover in Gladiator, were jaggie-free and slightly more detailed than I remember from the BD50.
Implementing 24p playback with DVDs is a two-step process. First, it must be enabled in the setup menu; then, when the DVD starts, you have to hit the Display button on the remote to activate 24p playback. (For Blu-rays, 24p output is automatic if it's selected in the setup menu.) My experience with 24p playback of DVDs was less than satisfactory with various Toshiba players, including the XD-E500, HD-XA2, and HD-A35, but surprisingly, that wasn't the case with the BD55. Watching the opening sequence of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the BD55 provided judder-free movement of both the opening back-story crawl and a smooth pan down to the planet before the action begins. Detail was also a bit sharper with 24p output compared to 1080p/60. Comparing the two output modes was simple because you can toggle between them without entering the setup menu.