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Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray Player
Not so long ago we tested the Panasonic DMP-BD35 and were quite frankly blown away by its superb hi-def picture performance and comprehensive feature list, which were made all the more remarkable by its reasonable price tag.
So it's with a great deal of optimism that we turn our attention to the step-up DMP-BD55, which costs around £100 more than the BD35 but offers some significant extras - we'll find out whether or not these additions are worth the extra cash in due course.
But for many people, the most pressing issue is how quickly Panasonic has replaced the stunning DMP-BD50, which we reviewed as recently as July and has already disappeared from Panasonic's website. The launch of this updated version is bound to be a bone of contention among those people who forked out for the BD50, but at first glance there doesn't appear to be a great deal of difference between the two, barring the addition of some new picture technology (more on this later).
Aesthetically, the BD55 and BD35 are almost identical. Once again it sports an attractive reflective fascia with the seemingly mandatory blue light in the middle and a pleasing lack of clutter, but at 55mm the BD55 is slightly fatter than the BD35.
On the right hand side is a drop down flap that conceals a few playback buttons and an SD card slot, which lets you view AVCHD and JPEG files and plays a key role in the deck's Blu-ray functionality. Because the BD55 is a fully-fledged Profile 2.0 player but doesn't have the necessary 1GB of memory built-in, you have to slip an SD card into the slot if you want to download and store BD Live content from the Internet. It's worth noting that this slot supports SDHC cards with a capacity of up to 32GB.
Around the back, there's a generous selection of sockets and taking centre stage is the HDMI v1.3 output, which handles those lovely hi-def pictures and HD audio bitstreams, while the Ethernet LAN connection is your passport to a world of BD Live webchats and poorly superimposed mugshots.
They're joined by component and composite video outputs, while on the audio side you'll find optical and coaxial digital audio outputs (the BD35 offers optical only), analogue stereo output and a set of 7.1-channel analogue outputs. The latter is the most significant upgrade from the BD35, as it allows you to enjoy high-resolution audio formats even if your receiver lacks an HDMI input.
The other advantage the BD55 has over the BD35 is its superior audio circuitry (better capacitors and insulators, for example) which we don't feel is really enough to justify such a big jump up in price, as the rest of the feature lists are identical.