Turning to the exterior, the BD85 is a bit deeper than the BD45 but in all other respects it’s identical. The black finish and blue light below the disc tray offer a touch of glamour but it’s no great shakes compared with some of the other players out there. Rear video connectivity includes HDMI, component and composite outputs, while for audio you get analogue stereo, coaxial/optical digital audio outputs and gold-plated 5.1-channel analogue outs, which are used in conjunction with the analogue stereo pair to form a 7.1 set.
And on the front, the USB port and SD card slot (which accepts SDHC and SDXC cards) enable you to play your digital media library from USB memory devices. Supported formats via USB include DivX HD, MP3 and JPEG, while AVCHD and JPEG can be played from SD cards. But the card slot’s more valuable function is to provide the 1GB of memory needed for BD Live downloads, as Panasonic hasn’t integrated it into the player itself. All of this hands LG’s BD390 an advantage, given its more generous format support and built-in memory.
What LG’s deck lacks, however, is the proprietary processing developed by Panasonic Hollywood Labs – P4HD and PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus – which aim to squeeze every last drop of detail from the picture and paint colours with the sort of accuracy that cinephiles strive for. Panasonic calls this ‘Original Cinema Quality’ and draws on the company’s links with the movie industry to deliver the sort of pictures you’d see at your local multiplex – including, of course, the ability to output them at 24 frames per second.
But Panasonic has lavished just as much care and attention on the audio side. The BD85 can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks and output them from the analogue outputs, and there’s a couple of new audio modes designed to enhance the sound further. HDMI Jitter Purifier aims to deliver a robust digital signal to enhance bass performance, while the Digital Tube Sound Simulator might sound like something from the mind of Chris Morris but actually aims to replicate the warm sounds associated with tube amplifiers.
The operating system uses the same simple layout as the BD45 and previous Panasonic players, with welcoming colours, clearly resolved text and a (mostly) straightforward layout. Although it’s ostensibly user-friendly, certain things start to grate after prolonged use. For instance, to access most of the main functions (USB, Network, Blu-ray etc) you have to hit the Functions button. But annoyingly the Setup menu isn’t listed here – you have to select ‘To Others’ at the bottom, select ‘Setup’ from the subsequent box then wait for the menu to appear after the player handshakes with the receiver and TV again.
Then there’s the deck’s slow disc loading times, which can be a real nuisance when chopping and changing discs for a review. Like the BD45, Terminator Salvation took one minute 22 seconds to load, with Spider-Man 3 taking about 50 seconds.
There are however some very nice touches like the onscreen banner, which offers all the picture presets and manual adjustments found on the BD45 but adds some advanced settings that affect chroma processing. On the audio side, the display lets you select audio enhancement modes like Re-Master, Digital Tube Sound and Dialog Enhancer. Something else not found on the BD45 is the Playback Information Window that summarises all the disc’s vital statistics such as video/audio codecs, bitrates and frame rates.