Like all of Panasonic’s 2012 players, the DMP-BDT500 is exceptionally easy to use from the moment you first boot it up. A installation wizard sets all the basics before you even begin watching a movie, and once completed you launch into one of the best GUIs around.
It’s the same one-touch system used on Panasonic’s cheaper players, where you don’t have to press enter to select an option, just the direction keys. The Home menu looks warm and welcoming, with pretty icons and eye-catching colours. There’s a Multi-User mode that lets you customise it for different people. This clean, straightforward approach permeates every menu.
But perhaps the biggest difference between this and Panasonic’s other 2012 players is the remote, which combines physical buttons and the new touch pad. That means you swipe the pad to move around menus and tap it to press enter, while physical buttons are used for playback controls, numbers and other often used functions.
We weren’t entirely convinced by the touch pad on the BDT320, which would often think we’d tapped enter when we swiped left or right, and the same thing happens here – very frustrating when entering text on a virtual keyboard. But most of the time it’s fine, and will feel natural to the iPhone generation. With the inclusion of physical keys for most of the other functions – as opposed to onscreen virtual keypads like the BDT320 – you get the best of both worlds. It does makes the remote remarkably long though, and will no doubt dominate your coffee table.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT500 boots up and loads discs quickly (41 seconds to start playing Terminator Salvation) and as expected it’s a sensational picture performer with Blu-ray discs. It resolves fine detail with an acuity bordering on the life-like, making pictures look sharper and more textured than any rival at this price point – and even many pricier decks.
Blacks are incredibly deep when they need to be – like the inky recesses of space during Thor – yet the deck has the sensitivity to pick out shadows and gradated tones during dark scenes, ensuring you miss none of the detail or texture.
And colours look positively gorgeous too. Slip a disc like Avatar in the tray and vivid hues explode from the screen, looking bright and rich but never garish. Skin tones, whether blue or peachy, are nicely balanced and natural, and in complex areas where various bright colours clash (like the flora lining the floors of Pandora’s rainforests) the sharply contained edges contribute to the amazing clarity.
These qualities apply whether you’re watching in two or three dimensions, likewise the graceful and judder-free motion. It doesn’t even wobble when handling the Silicon Optix HQV disc – every test is crisply resolved and free from artefacts, except for a touch of flicker on some of the boxes on the Film Resolution Loss test.
Great pictures then, but it’s with sound that the DMP-BDT500 really excels. Music on CD sounds wonderfully smooth, open and engaging with twinkling high frequencies and pleasing bass weight.
Complex, fast-paced beats are snappy and forceful, while vocals soar and brass solos are easy on the ear. Network streamed music sounds great too, particularly FLAC files, but even lower bit-rate MP3s benefit from the DMP-BDT500’s high-quality circuitry. As we’ve found on previous Panasonic decks the Digital Tube Sound modes lend an pleasing layer of richness and punch. This extra sonic prowess is worth the added premium if you’re rocking a high-end system that can really make the most of it.
It’s great to see Panasonic back challenging the likes of Denon, Marantz, and Onkyo with a high-end, audiophile-focused Blu-ray player, and thanks to its superlative picture and sound quality, coupled with a killer feature list, it’s better value than the brands above can offer – although true audiophiles might be put off by the lack of DVD-Audio and SACD playback. Overall though, the DMP-BDT500 is an accomplished Blu-ray player, truly worthy of its flagship status.