It was with a touch of trepidation that we loaded up The Departed into the disc tray, given our disappointment at the DVD performance of Panasonic's latest Blu-ray players. And although the DVD-S54's performance is better, it still isn't quite up to the standards of other similarly priced players on the market.
The main problem is that the image seems washed out, lacking the depth and punchiness to give our test film that important cinematic look. The situation improves with the Cinema picture preset engaged, but not enough. The image also looks grainy, most visibly in the shots of Leonardo Di Caprio inside the office towards the start of the movie - the room's background walls pulsate with noise. We also spotted a fairly heavy white outline around dark objects, the tell-tale sign of over-sharpening.
But it's not all bad. Images look sharp, with focused reproduction of patterns and textures and artefact-free upscaling. Its colour reproduction is also assured, with convincing skin tones and dazzling reproduction of vibrant hues. Motion is tracked smoothly, and when the action really hots up there's no danger of the deck losing the plot with fast-moving objects.
But a run through of the Silicon Optix test disc brings more bad news - with the Transfer mode set to Auto, it selects the Video setting and makes a mess of the colour bar test pattern, failing to resolve the black and white horizontal bars, while suffering from excessive strobing. It's only when you select the ‘Film' mode that the problem stops. Jaggies and noise are also prominent in the tricky Flag clip.
There are no complaints over sound quality though, as the deck turns in a hugely enjoyable CD performance, which sounds well-balanced and detailed, and film soundtracks are a blast.
There are many things to admire about the DVD-S54, such as its attractive looks, wide-ranging format compatibility and its easy-to-use operating system, but it will ultimately be judged on its picture quality and sadly on that score it fails to impress. It's by no means a disaster but not up to the standard we've come to expect from other DVD upscalers, and as a result it's worth throwing a few extra quid in the kitty and picking up the Toshiba XD-E500 instead.