If you happen to be using the BD50 in conjunction with a Panasonic TV, you'll be able to make use of the Viera Link functionality. This will allow you to control both devices from a single remote, and turn all devices on/off simultaneously. Of course Viera Link incorporates the CEC specification, so it should work with non-Panasonic CEC equipped products, but like many other manufacturers, Panasonic maintains that Viera Link potentially offers more functionality than basic CEC.
For a long while I've been advising people considering a Blu-ray player to go for a PlayStation 3. The reason for this is that up until recently, the PS3 was the most advanced and feature rich Blu-ray player on the market, while also being something of a bargain compared to stand alone players. But with the BD50, Panasonic has finally created a player that not only matches the PS3 for Blu-ray features, but beats it in the image quality stakes.
The key to the superb pictures produced by the BD50 is Panasonic's UniPhier chip. Last October I found myself at the CEATEC show in Tokyo, where Panasonic launched its UniPhier chip, and it was clear even then that this tiny piece of silicon was a landmark in the company's R&D. Based on a 45nm manufacturing process, the UniPhier is pretty advanced, even by CPU standards. The result is that the video processing in the BD50 is noticeably better than other Blu-ray players I've used, including the PlayStation 3.
It's not just the UniPhier chip itself that's special though, it's also the software that Panasonic is running on it. Through Panasonic's extensive experience in mastering home video at the Panasonic Hollywood Labs, the company is able to develop software that will get the very best results from the UniPhier. So, even though Panasonic sells the UniPhier chip to other manufacturers, it doesn't mean that those vendors will get the same results from it.
To really put the DMP-BD50 through its paces, I hooked it up to my Pioneer PDP-LX5090 - this screen uses Pioneer's 9th generation plasma technology, and represents the second generation of its Kuro brand (there will be a full review very soon). Watching Blood Diamond, the BD50 just created a more immersive picture than my PS3 - everything is just that bit sharper, while the image itself has more depth and realism to it. Casino Royale looked equally impressive, with the fast moving free running scene showing no signs of processing artefacts - even the panning shots of the cranes failed to throw up unwanted jaggies. Obviously I was outputting the movie as a 1080p 24Hz signal, and had the TV set to 1:1 pixel mapping.
And that's the key to a player like this. If you want to get the very best out of it, you also need to invest in a very good screen. I'm not saying that the BD50 won't look great on a cheaper TV, because it still produces stunning pictures on Panasonic's more reasonably priced TH-46PZ80 46in plasma. However, the difference between this player and a lesser model is that bit more stark when it's hooked up to a truly great screen.