For starters, the flagship model is better built than its siblings, the casework feeling sturdier and more substantial. The touch-sensitive controls on top of the player are not just fun to use, they're also slick and quick to respond.
As for the technical spec, it's fully kitted out, with Panasonic's new touchpad remote control, smart home networking, wi-fi, adaptive chroma picture processing, 3D playback and DLNA.
And yes it does have twin HDMI and multichannel analogue outputs (5.1 or 7.1) for connecting to older home cinema amps and receivers that don't handle 3D passthrough or HD audio over HDMI.
It even has what Panasonic calls 'Digital Tube Sound', designed to recreate the "warm, comforting sound of tube amps". There are six different sound options available with this feature, each with its own characteristics.
Panasonic DMP-BDT500: Picture quality
But let's start with picture quality: we’ve been using The Adventures of Tintin as a test movie for a while now, and the Panasonic DMP-BDT500 injects fresh new life into the film.
It’s remarkably crisp and detailed, with textures in particular rendered brilliantly: you can see the creases and wrinkles on clothes, and even the smallest scratches on wood grain and glass.
The Panasonic DMP-BDT500’s colour palette is expertly balanced, too, with lots of depth and vivacity without being overblown, and a nice, natural quality to skin-tones.
The DMP-BDT500’s biggest improvement lies in motion handling. It’s wonderfully fluid, with no discernible judder or blurring. And you’ll appreciate it even more with a Lord of the Rings DVD. The player’s impressive upscaling makes Middle Earth look beautifully detailed.
Just make sure you've set the frame rate and upscaling to the correct values in the setting's menu to get the best results. Ideally, the frame rate should be set to 24 fps, and upscaling set to 1080p
3D viewing benefits from the improved motion as well: the documentary film TT3D: Closer to the Edge looks smooth and steady, with great depth and detail.
Panasonic DMP-BDT500: Picture adjustments
The Panasonic comes with a whole host of settings to adjust the picture: for example, you have the option to fine tune the picture quality in the User Mode – where you can adjust brightness, contrast and sharpness, among others.
Panasonic’s Adaptive Chroma Process aims to produce a high resolution of rich images, and it does exactly that – the colours are vibrant and rich, although they tend towards looking quite overblown and take away the naturalness of certain textures like skin tones.
Detail Clarity and Super Resolution emphasise the leading edges of the image – which are welcome adjustments if your current screen isn’t quite up to standard.
Panasonic DMP-BDT500: Sound quality
Panasonic Blu-ray players have always sounded good, and the BDT500 adds to that by being even more muscular.
The dialogue is clear and distinct, but it’s with explosions and gunshots that you can really hear the power in the DMP-BDT500: it’s gutsy and exciting, with plenty of attack that’ll get you fully immersed in the film.
That’s also evident when playing music over a network. Stream a FLAC file of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and the BDT500 delivers a solid, engaging and lively performance.
Panasonic DMP-BDT500: Sound tuning
When it comes to adjusting the sound, you have plenty of options: Night Surround compresses dynamics and pushes midrange to the forefront so you can hear the dialogue even with a low volume; while Dialogue Enhancer quite predictable increases the volume of the centre channel.
There are three re-mastered sound options – Pop and Rock, Jazz, and Classical – which alter the tonality of the sound by putting emphasis on the higher frequencies.
Conversely, there are six ‘Digital Tube Sound’ effects, which are inspired by the characteristically warm and fuller sound of valve amplifiers. Panasonic says its engineers have been studying the sonic charasctristics of valve (or tube) amplifiers, and the six settings here aim to reproduce those.
Each option offers varying degrees of smoothing of the sound, but at the expense of making it also rather thick and dull. Switching all options off (or back to normal) makes you immediately aware of all the spacious soundstage that gets cut off when you put the effects on.
All these adjustments are helpful if your existing system has a particular tonal characteristic; for example you might want to play around with the Digital Tube Sound options if your partnering kit has a harsh or hard sound.
But on the whole, Panasonic Blu-ray players tend to have a great standard when it comes to both picture and sound quality, and you’ll find that leaving them to the default settings leaves the original soundtrack intact.
More after the break
Panasonic DMP-BDT500: Networking
Speaking of networking, you also have access to a host of online network features via integrated wi-fi or ethernet, such as BBCiPlayer, Netflix, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, and the stream is fast and uninterrupted.
It's all part of Panasonic's Viera Connect portal, which is an improvement on last year's fare, although the interface is a little clunky compared to the slicker offerings from the likes of Samsung.
You can also stream video from local storage – a computer or NAS drive, for example: any stored photos, music and videos can be pulled up with just a few clicks on the button (or taps on the touchpad), and then you’ll be enjoying your stored media seamlessly.
Panasonic DMP-BDT500: Touchpad remote
Still, Panasonic isn't afraid to try new things on the design front and this year it's chosen to take a scalpel to the player's remote, merging buttons with a touchpad.
It's a nice idea in theory but this new-fangled approach does take quite a while to get used to, and it might mean spending a couple of seconds flicking over the manual!
Having shortcut keys to Skype, Netflix and internet (aka Viera Connect) is great. When it comes to navigating settings and disc menus, you have to employ a combination of button presses together with various swishes and taps on the touchpad.
A couple of times our fingers were tied up in knots, but given time, operating it does become easier.
Still, those are relatively minor gripes. Overall, is the Panasonic DMP-BDT500 worth the extra cash over the cheaper models in the range?
Definitely. Improving on an already brilliant line-up, it’s a captivating player that will make you dig out all your discs and watch them anew.