Everything's relative, not least when it comes to testing the latest home cinema kit. It can be hard to believe but put two products side-by-side and last year's deepest black levels can get deeper, and the smoothest motion silkier.
Just a few months ago the Panasonic DMP-BD80 led the way for Blu-ray players in this price bracket. With some heavyweight new competition in town, will it hold firm?
Specification still shines
Suffice to say there's no problem with specification. This is one of only a handful of players that boasts multichannel analogue outputs.
If your AV amp doesn't have an HDMI input or support HD audio over HDMI, the 'BD80 can decode on-board and send via analogue outputs.
Elsewhere, the Profile 2.0 specification tells you this player has an Ethernet connection and is BD-Live compatible, while you'll also find USB and SD card inputs. It's a little less imposing than the Pioneer BDP-320 – think less shelf space as a positive, but a little more flimsy as a negative.
Quentin Tarantino's Deathproof may not have floated everyone's boat but it certainly makes for a versatile test disc thanks to the interesting use of colour and mesmerising car-chase scenes.
And the 'BD80 remains highly capable throughout, with bold, vibrant colours, clean and clear landscapes and plenty of insight, whether watching the movie on Blu-ray or DVD.
Yet it's not quite as conveyor-belt smooth as the best players around now, and this machine isn't able to reveal every inch of low-light detail to the extent that the elite can.
High Clarity Sound impresses
Were Panasonic to produce a card for enthusiasts of its High Clarity Sound processing, we'd happily carry one, for this machine is capable of stirring sonics with this mode activated.
There's punch to effects (we'll thank Valkyrie here for a couple of ear-frightening action scenes) and a pristine top-end to add to the excitement. Dialogue sounds clear, too.
It's only head-to-head with the Pioneer BDP-320 that this player is heard to give something away in terms of scale, dynamics and, crucially, detail.
The landshift is far from epic but new machines have caught the 'BD80 on its toes. We thought this latest generation of Panasonic players might have stood still rather than pushing on, and so it looks to be. Nevertheless, this remains an accomplished device.