The Panasonic DMP-BD65P's $150 price 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, the 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. There was more contrast and detail in chapter 3 of the Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray (2004 version). One judge thought the DVD version of the same scene was slightly superior to the PS3, 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-style Technicolor and Vistavision photography that the DMP-BD65P could handle better than it could more recent films.
The DMP-BD65P comes with quite a few Internet streaming video options, including the usual Netflix and YouTube. Netflix is still 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 computer). The Netflix image quality is watchable, but as expected nowhere close to 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 a Wireless LAN Adapter for $80. Still, by the time you add that into the mix, you could buy a model that has it built-in already.
Although the DMP-BD65P has no local network media capabilities (you can't enjoy music or photos on your computer through it) you can enjoy them off 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. Although the manual claims that the player supports AVCHD and MPEG2 files, it 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 this question.
The DMP-BD65P also has an SD Card slot, buy it only supports .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 these 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 well-placed and large, but it's difficult to differentiate Pause from Stop by touch, as you'd likely have to in the dark. 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 onscreen menus are blocky and unattractive, and not as easy as they should be. For example, 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 onscreen 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, time elapsed and complete time. But there's no way to display the time remaining or 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 three 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.
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 only costs $150? When you answer that question, you'll know if the DMP-BD65P is right for you.