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Even more impressive is the deck's eye-popping picture quality, which is perfectly demonstrated by the sumptuous Iron Man disc. Right from the start, the Panasonic's sublime detail handling capabilities are clear to see, as it effortlessly picks out the rocks and bushes of the barren Afghan landscapes as the Army convoy drives through. But throughout the film edges look sharp and objects are reproduced with a crispness and depth that beggars belief - particularly dazzling are the gleaming metallic surfaces and intricate machinery during shots of Tony Stark's workshop.
What's also impressive is how clearly detail is rendered during dark scenes, which means you're able to clearly make out what's going on as Tony builds the prototype suit in the dingy cave. Compared with the Samsung BD-P1500 its pictures look marginally sharper, and it gives the Pioneer BDP-LX71 a run for its money in terms of pure picture clarity.
PHL Chroma Processor Plus also appears to be doing a terrific job with colours, as Iron Man's red paint work looks deep and dazzling, while subtle shading and delicate hues look smooth and natural. Black level and shadow detail is also top-notch, as demonstrated by Tony's tuxedo jacket, which is solid but stops short of looking like a black hole thanks to the visibility of the creases and folds within it.
Shots of Iron Man flying through the air reveal smooth motion at 24fps, especially during the scene where he evades the two F15s. Switching to DVD, the BD55's upscaled picture quality is very good, with loads of detail, deep blacks and vivid colours, but there are still a few traces of the noise and jagged edges we saw on the BD35.
The BD55 gets a clean bill of health with hi-res audio soundtracks, improving upon the great work done by the BD35. Using the analogue outputs, Iron Man's Dolby True HD track is delightfully direct, expansive and detailed, which helps to convey the scale and drama of the film's big set pieces. Dialogue is prominent and effects are relayed with the confidence of a much pricier player. The fact that there's very little difference between this and digitally-piped audio (bitstream or PCM) from the HDMI output is testament to the deck's competent audio circuitry.
The Panasonic also earns its corn with CD playback, which sounds cleaner and more dynamic than the BD35 - and most other budget players for that matter.
The Panasonic DMP-BD55 is without doubt the best Blu-ray player available right now. It boasts an unrivalled feature list, which includes full BD Live compatibility and wide ranging format support, plus it's slick, easy to use and delivers even better picture and sound performance than the BD35 - all of which makes its price tag look pretty reasonable, especially when you consider there are Profile 1.1 players that cost almost twice as much.
The only downside is that the added audio features don't completely justify the extra expense over the BD35, so if you don't need 7.1-channel analogue outs then it might be worth saving money and going for the cheaper option. But if you want the very best Panasonic has to offer no matter the cost then make a beeline for the BD55 immediately.
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