The Panasonic DMP-BD60's tantalising blend of eye-popping pictures, slick Blu-ray functionality and killer features sent it soaring to the top of the hi-def player premiership, but now we turn our attention to the step-up version, the Panasonic DMP-BD80.
As the company's current top-end machine, it features the most comprehensive line-up of features ever seen on a Panasonic player, which is really saying something given how generously equipped its predecessors were. Stealing the headlines once again is Viera Cast, which uses the player's Ethernet web connection to stream videos and photos to your screen, using the built-in YouTube and Google Picasa portals.
But what does that £100 premium over the DMP-BD60 get you? For starters, the DMP-BD80 adds 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs, which will appeal to owners of older amps who want to savour the hi-res delights of Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio. The unit decodes these formats into uncompressed PCM without compromising their sound quality, and outputs them as analogue signals from these ports. The BD80 also features superior audio circuitry to the BD60.
Another additional feature is a playback information window that can be called up while watching a movie, displaying all the details of the current disc. The information includes the native resolution and frame rate of the source content, the HDMI output format, the video/audio codecs and bitrates used, plus the current HDMI audio settings. It's all very interesting and a useful tool for video anoraks, but we don't think this or the analogue outputs offer a compelling reason to stump up an extra £100.
We also expected the Panasonic DMP-BD80 to offer superior build quality to the DMP-BD60, but apart from being 5mm taller this version appears to be identical. It lacks the rock-solid build quality of the latest Pioneer players, but the BD80 is still robustly constructed and attractive - the reflective fascia and black finish is a fetching combination and the digits inside the display panel are easy to read. It's nowhere near as snazzy as the latest Samsung and LG decks but then again few players are.
Like the BD60, the BD80 sports USB and SD card slots on the front that can be used to play back digital media, and because the deck is BD Live capable you'll need to insert an SD card with a capacity of at least 1GB to store web downloads. Lining up alongside the HDMI and multichannel analogue outputs on the rear are component, composite, stereo audio and optical/coaxial digital audio outputs, plus an Ethernet port. Sadly Panasonic hasn't yet embraced Wi-Fi or built-in memory like the Samsung BD-P4600, which would have made the DMP-BD80 an even more tempting proposition. But there are plenty of other features to make up for it, the most significant of which are in the picture processing department.