Panasonic DMP-BD65P: Media Streaming at a Reasonable Price
At a Glance
The Panasonic DMP-BD65P's $150 price (as of December 6, 2010) makes it downright tempting, especially for a Blu-ray player that also streams video via the Internet. But a clumsy remote control and poorly designed on-screen menus make it difficult to use. And the images that the player sends to your HDTV--while usually good, and occasionally very good--can't match what we've seen from the best players.
Our image-quality judges, for the most part, often found the DMP-BD65P to be slightly better than our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3. The colors in the animated Cars (chapter 1) were slightly better. Judging from the black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck (also chapter 1), the white balance was an improvement--by just a bit. We saw more contrast and detail in chapter 3 of the Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray (2004 version). One judge thought that its presentation of the DVD version of the same scene was slightly superior to the PS3's, but I thought it was slightly worse. In Mission: Impossible III's chapter 7, I simply couldn't see a difference.
The sole exception: It clearly surpassed the PS3 in chapters 4 and 20 of The Searchers, earning its only Superior scores. Why that film and not the others? Perhaps there's something about the lush, 1956-era Technicolor and Vistavision photography that the DMP-BD65P could handle well.
The DMP-BD65P comes with quite a few Internet-based streaming-video options, including the usual Netflix and YouTube. For Netflix it has the older interface, which requires you to set up your Instant Queue of movies on a computer (by contrast, the Vizio VBR200W allows you to select movies directly, without your PC). Netflix image quality is watchable, but as expected it's nowhere close to that of Blu-ray.
Other streaming options include Picasa, and Amazon's video-on-demand service.
The DMP-BD65P lacks Wi-Fi capabilities out of the box, but Panasonic sells an optional wireless LAN adapter for $80. Still, by the time you add that into the mix, you could buy a Blu-ray player that has the feature built-in already.
Although the DMP-BD65P has no local network media capabilities--you can't enjoy music or photos on your PC through it--you can play files stored on a flash drive via the player's USB port. It automatically finds all of the .mp3 or .jpg files on your drive (these are the only music and picture formats it supports), saving you the hassle of opening folders. While the manual claims that the DMP-BD65P supports AVCHD and MPEG-2 files, the player did not even bring up a Video option when I plugged in the flash drive. Panasonic never got back to us with an answer to our question about this issue.
The DMP-BD65P also has an SD Card slot, but it supports only .jpg photos.
Physically, this is a well-designed player. The Power and Open/Close buttons sit on the top, at the front edge, one in each corner. That makes those buttons--the two you're most likely to use on the player rather than the remote--very easy to find and press. The only other buttons on the player, Start and Stop, are solid controls with good, tactile feedback.
Unfortunately, nowhere near as much thought went into designing the remote. Smallish in size, it has too many buttons crowded together. The play-control buttons (Play, Pause, Skip, and so on) are nicely placed and large; but differentiating Pause from Stop by touch, as you'd likely have to do in the dark, is difficult. This remote is neither backlit nor glow-in-the-dark. The menu-control buttons, such as the circle of arrows, are low and difficult to reach. On the other hand, the remote is programmable.
The on-screen menus are blocky and unattractive, and not as easy to work with as they should be. For instance, the main menu contains no Setup option. You have to click the Other Functions option to bring up a submenu with only one option on it: Setup. The menus also lack on-screen explanations. Press the remote's Display button while watching a disc, and instead of information you get a menu through which you can change the soundtrack, subtitles, and other options. Another remote button, Status, gives you the chapter number, the time elapsed, and the complete time. But you get no way to display the time remaining, or any technical information such as the audio and video compression formats.
The DMP-BD65P responds reasonably well. It loaded the Independence Day Blu-ray disc in 49 seconds, which is not exceptional but better than most. It paused almost instantaneously, and skipped to the next chapter after a reasonable wait of about 3 seconds.
You can power up the DMP-BD65P in about half a second--an amazingly short time in a product category that's associated with long waits. But there's a caveat: To get that speed, you have to switch on the power-wasting Quick Start mode, which burns more electricity when your player is "off" than does the default setting.
Of course, you can get over the kludgy interface with a little practice. The real question, if you're considering buying the Panasonic DMP-BD65P, is this: Is less-than-stellar image quality a reasonable compromise for an Internet-streaming Blu-ray player that costs only $150? When you answer that question, you'll know if the DMP-BD65P is right for you.