- Review Price: £82.99
One of the big factors slowing down the take-up of Blu-ray is the fact that many people simply aren’t prepared to replace their DVD collections, particularly with hi-def software prices being so high. It’s for this reason that the upscaling DVD player market continues to thrive, and why Panasonic has slipped this deck into its latest range despite offering an unrivalled line-up of Blu-ray decks.
On the inside, the DVD-S54 boasts a typically tempting feature list, but there’s a lot going for it on the outside too. For starters it’s ridiculously slim and sturdily built, plus it features a black reflective fascia that’s sure to attract fingerprints but makes the deck look alluring in an understated sort of way. Set into the reflective panel is an info display that allows you to switch between elapsed time and a simplified title/chapter arrangement. Attractive though it is, the lack of inputs on the front panel is disappointing, and somewhat surprising given Panasonic’s usual habit of gratuitously slapping SD card slots on its products.
The back panel is no great shakes either, covering the basic connections but nothing more. There’s the now familiar sight of an HDMI output, the old-school trio of component phonos to cater for progressive displays without digital inputs and an RGB SCART output. There’s also a coaxial digital output, but we’d have traded the useless S-video and composite video outputs for an optical digital output as the coaxial input on our test amp was already taken!
If you’ve got a DVD recorder elsewhere in the house, then rest assured this deck will play your recordings no matter what type of disc is used. The impressive list of supported formats includes DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD-RW (formatted in VR and Video modes), DVD+R, DVD+R DL, DVD+RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, Video CD and SVCD. It’s a shame Panasonic couldn’t have thrown in DVD-Audio playback for good measure but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Your PC media library is also in good hands, as the player supports MP3, WMA, JPEG, MPEG-4 and DivX files, but the lack of a USB port or SD card slot means you’ll need to burn them onto CD or DVD first.
Elsewhere, the deck upscales to 1080p, 1080i and 720p, which will appeal to owners of Full HD sets who want to boost the resolution of DVDs to match their screens. Upscaled video is available from the HDMI v1.3 output, which also supports Deep Colour and can therefore reproduce suitably-encoded content with 12-bit, 4096-step colour gradation, plus it supports Viera Link for unified control of several connected components.
On the audio side the player is compatible with Dolby Digital and DTS, and there are plenty of value-adding picture and sound modes on board. For pictures, there are five presets, including the unusual-sounding Soft Skin and Animation modes, plus HD Enhancer, noise reduction and a choice of YCbCr colour space options (RGB, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4). On the audio side, you’ll find Panasonic’s Dialogue Enhancer, Re-Master and three Advanced Surround (VSS) settings for expanded two-channel playback.
Delving into the setup menu, it seems a little more rudimentary than the interface found on its DVD recorders, but the wide range of options offers a greater level of control than you’d normally find on a player at this price. For example, there are six aspect ratio settings as opposed to the usual three, and you can tell the player what type of display you’re using and it alters the image characteristics accordingly. There’s even a Time Delay option to correct HDMI lip sync issues.
In action the deck is beautifully responsive and offers a few convenient playback tricks, such as a two-stage zoom, Quick Replay (which jumps back 10 seconds), and the option to play DVDs at a quick speed or in slow motion with the sound intact. The remote is excellent, allowing effortless, intuitive operation thanks to the big, well-labelled buttons and superb layout. What’s most impressive is that all of the picture and sound modes are given their own buttons, which means you don’t have to dig around in the setup menu to find them.
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.
Score in detail
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