Before we crack on with the duel, it's important to point out that we always test how Blu-ray players reproduce sources in their original quality. In other words, we don't use any picture enhancing functions the devices may have for boosting sharpness, colours, improving contrast etc. as these denature the original source picture, as intentionally filmed and rendered by a movie's producers. James Bond flick Casino Royal, for example, was intentionally filmed with a certain grain to the image, so there's no reason for a Blu-ray player to get rid of that. These tests were therefore carried out with all picture enhancing functions switched off.
|On the left, we have the Philips BDP3380, a mid-range Blu-ray player from the firm's 2012 range.||On the right, we have the Panasonic DMP-BDT500, a top-of-the range 2012 Blu-ray player.|
|3D Blu-ray: Yes||3D Blu-ray: Yes|
|4K: No||4K: No|
|Web apps: Yes||Web apps: Yes|
|DLNA: Yes||DLNA: Yes|
|Wi-Fi: No||Wi-Fi: Yes|
|7.1 analogue: No||7.1 analogue: Yes|
|Dimensions: 435 x 38 x 213 mm||Dimensions: 430 x 59 x 239 mm|
|Weight: 1.47 kg||Weight: 2.6 kg|
|Processor: NA||Processor: LSI Uniphier|
The Philips BDP3380 is a mid-range 2012 Blu-ray player that's compatible with 3D Blu-ray discs. Philips doesn't give any information about the exact kind of image processor it uses.
The Panasonic BMP-BDT500 is the firm's flagship 2012 Blu-ray player. This technology-packed high-end device uses an "LSI Uniphier" processor that's supposed to deliver improved image processing.
|COLOUR FIDELITY: DRAW|
As you can see from the graphs above, these two Blu-ray players don't reproduce colours in exactly the same way. The Philips model gets an average Delta E of 1.9 compared with 2 for the Panasonic (Delta E measures colour fidelity and should be as close to zero as possible, although anything under three is considered accurate). While highly trained eyes might be able to tell the difference between products with Delta E readings of 2 and 3, only a test sensor (colorimeter) would be able to detect a difference of 0.1. There's therefore no visible difference in colour reproduction between these two Blu-ray players. Plus, they're both on par with Sony's PS3, which has an average Delta E of 2.1.
The contrast and black level are calculated using two different test cards—one that's 1% white and one that's 35% white. We then calculate the average brightness levels of the black and white, which are shown on the left-hand side of the graphs above. The orange bar on the right is the corresponding average contrast level—that's the average contrast ratio obtained with the 1% and 35% test cards.
Again, both Blu-ray players give very similar results. In fact, there's only 100:1 difference between the two contrast ratios. With contrast over 3800:1 in both cases, you'd have to be some kind of machine to see any difference here (in fact, our test sensors weren't far from their limits, as there's only one candela difference between the whites in the two devices). That's another draw, then.
|BLU-RAY IMAGE QUALITY: DRAW|
So now let's look at how each Blu-ray player renders HD content. The above extracts are taken from the films Troy, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Gran Torino. Note that any differences in colour between the shots have nothing to do with the Blu-ray players—they're caused by the camera we used to take the shots. What we're really looking at here is image sharpness and HD quality.
As you can see from the pictures above, sharpness levels are identical in all three devices (click on the pictures to see larger versions). We've purposely not labelled the pictures with the corresponding devices to drive home the message without confusing things.
We then carried out a slightly more subjective "live test", by asking users to identify the Blu-ray players in action. Four people from our lab spent a long time comparing images from the Philips and Panasonic devices displayed on two TVs side by side. The only difference they noticed was that the Blu-ray players don't handle video noise in the same way, although they still weren't able to say which was the best. Plus, this difference is very slight, and it's not the kind of thing everyone will notice. So ultimately, it's a draw in this section too.
|UPSCALING: PS3 SLIGHTLY AHEAD|
Blu-ray players can upscale standard definition content for viewing on a Full HD TV. With DVDs, for example, the image is a lower resolution than Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), so the Blu-ray player will effectively stretch the image to fit the TV's resolution. In this field, the PS3 is still slightly ahead of the game. It smooths the edges of objects more effectively so there are no aliasing effects. However, the difference in quality is very subtle. To be honest, it's not the kind of thing you'd notice when engrossed in the action. So the PS3 comes out on top for SD upscaling, but only by a whisker.
|CONCLUSION: NO REAL DIFFERENCE IN IMAGE QUALITY|
Throughout this duel, we've seen that no matter what device you use—whether it's a PlayStation 3, a basic Blu-ray player or a high-end model—the sharpness and colour fidelity of your Blu-ray discs will effectively be identical and equally as faithful to the source.
However, that doesn't mean you should go out any buy any old Blu-ray player. There are still important differences between products, particularly in terms of build quality, responsiveness, options and extras.
Another key extra is "image enhancing" technology, as found in the Panasonic BMP-BDT500, which can boost detail in the image or accentuate contrast (by modifying the gamma). Obviously, some users like these kinds of functions and the added boost they can bring to movies, but that in no way means a player with these functions delivers better image quality. The original picture—the one encoded on the disc—is altered by these functions, which is why we test Blu-ray players with these things switched off. That said, we understand that the results may look flattering and may please certain users. Each to their own.
As far as we're concerned, ever since we started testing DVD and Blu-ray players, we've aimed to measure how accurately these devices display the actual image as encoded on the disc (or other source) with no extra tweaks. After all, the "pure" unadulterated images look just how the directors and producers indented them to look. We're happy with this test procedure and we'll be sticking to it for the foreseeable future.