Panasonic's last budget Blu-ray Disc player, the DMP-BD35, offered great performance and a full A/V feature set at a low price. But Panasonic's inventory for that player sold out so quick that it was hard for many folks to actually find one. (Thanks, readers, for your e-mails.) Fortunately, the company has followed up with an equally intriguing - and similarly low-priced - successor, the $299 DMP-BD60.
The cool new thing making its debut on the BD60 is Viera Cast media streaming. Press the Viera Cast button on the remote control and a screen appears with YouTube video, Picasa photo, and Bloomberg News icons. Amazon Video on Demand was also supposed to be added to the Viera Cast roster by summer 2009, but as of press time it wasn't available.
At just under 2 inches high, the BD60 is a sliver of a player. Outside of that, there's not much to distinguish it design-wise. A flip-up panel on its gloss-black front hides a few control buttons, along with a USB port and an SD Card slot. The card slot supports up to 32-gigabyte capacity SDHC memory cards. This makes it a convenient feature for owners of AVCHD high-def camcorders, who can simply pop their camera's card into the BD60 and then watch video clips on their HDTV's screen.
Although Panasonic's remote is somewhat bulky, the well-spaced, clearly labeled buttons on its keypad make finding a specific control easy. Along with dedicated buttons that take you directly to the Viera Cast and SD Card/USB drive menus, the remote's display button calls up an onscreen window with loads of detailed program information. You can check out video compression and soundtrack information (MPEG-4 AVC and Dolby TrueHD multichannel, for example), as well as video/sound data for any Bonus View (PIP) tracks on discs. A Picture Adjustment option also lets you select between video presets, which include a User mode with both gamma and noise-reduction settings.
Even with its Quick Start feature enabled, the Panasonic proved a bit sluggish compared with the LG and Samsung, taking 10 seconds to power up and 25 seconds to load discs. (The BD60 was actually slower than its predecessor.) The player's 2x scan mode offered up very smooth picture quality when searching discs, and the picture was also accompanied by audio in that mode.
The BD60 aced all of the HQV Blu-ray Disc tests; even the noise-reduction chapter showed that the player's noise-reduction adjustments didn't have a deleterious effect on picture detail when pushed to a high setting. It also passed most tests on the DVD version of the same program, only coming up short on the Assorted Cadences torture tests. As expected given these results, the BD60's picture quality was uniformly superb with both Blu-ray and DVD movies with the player plugged into my system by way of HDMI. With a component-video connection, resolution test patterns from the AVIA Pro test disc showed slight high-frequency detail rolloff. Even so, DVD movies for the most part looked crisp.
I wish I had something to add here about the player's anticipated Amazon Video on Demand feature. When I recently tested a Panasonic TC-46G10 plasma TV with Amazon VOD, the picture quality was quite good, and with 40,000 movies and TV shows to select from, it's an extra worth getting excited about. What I can say is that I appreciated the Viera Cast portal's weather forecasts. I was about to leave for a vacation when wrapping up my review of the BD60, so having the ability to check the 5-day outlook for multiple cities definitely proved handy.
Panasonic's DMP-BD60 is not only afford- able; it offers great video performance and expanded multimedia capabilities by way of its USB port and SD Card slot. If you're looking for a basic, high-quality Blu-ray Disc player, the BD60 is your ticket. But minus Amazon VOD, its Viera Cast streaming suite comes up short as compared with the LG and Samsung players, which provide more ways to watch movies other than inserting physical media (so old-school!). If and when Panasonic issues a firmware update offering Amazon VOD, the DMP-BD60 will become the entry-level player to beat.
• Viera Cast media portal with YouTube video streaming, Picasa photo viewing, and Bloomberg News headlines
• Quick Start power-on mode
• Five available picture presets, including User mode with noise-reduction and gamma adjustments
• Front-panel SD card slot
• Front-panel USB port
• LAN Port
• Outputs: HDMI, component-and composite-video; optical digital and analog stereo audio
• 17 x 93/4 x 2 in, 53/4 lb
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