Best Blu Ray video and for 2 channel transport?

Okay so here it goes... I have a ton of rewards points for best buy... Basically can buy a nice Blu ray player as I have everything else needed for my system.

I need the best transport for audio possible (if possible) and of course excellent Blu Ray video capability..

This unit will need the Coax Digital out, most of the samsungs have Toslink only otherwise this would have been at the top of the list with all their other features and excellent video.. So Sony, Panasonic, LG...

Whos gonna be the best transport to feed to a 2 channel dac?

Yes I know Oppo will be coming with one, but I gotta feeling I will not pay their price, and really not concerned as much about Standard DVD with this exercise, But if you know of a decent machine that can do all 3 well (audio transport, Blu Ray, S-DVD) Than great!

Thanks, oh and looking to keep pricing at the 400 or less mark which seems to be about the prime target for some of the top end players now.
Excellent question.

I'm looking forward to the answers.
Yeah interesting this does not seem to have been covered or come up yet...

Good as a 2 channel transport with digital outs and Blu ray that is.
use it on a Playstation3, prices are coming down, the blu-ray quality is among the best, firmware can be up dated on the web, gaming is a plus.
Right, but its toslink only... Needs to have coax digital out for 99% of the users here..
Keep your eyes out for the Pioneer Elite BDP series blu-ray players. I have the 94 and it works incredibly well as a transport (SPDIF RCA) into my tube DAC as well as toslink into the preamp/processor and HDMI into the TV. The 94 and 95 tend to go in the $400-600 range.
I just tried out a Panasonic dmp-bd55k, which is a profile 2.0 player. You can find specs online and a review or two. Plenty of real-world feedback on the link. BD image was superb, as was DVD upsampling. I was very impressed with how it worked as a transport (coaxial 2ch signal going to my Modwright Transporter). Build quality was not up to Pioneer Elite, or Sony ES, but better did not seem overly cheap either. Very easy interface, and easy to setup. I'd recommend it for what you are looking for. The Amazon price just went up about $20.

That said, I ended up returning mine, which was a personal decision and did not have much to do with the specifics of this particular player, and was more about the format itself. I felt the difference between the upsampled DVD signal (via HDMI) and Blu Ray were very close, though you could certainly tell the difference if you looked carefully. There are certain aspects of DVD that I'm spoiled by and prefer: The machines are faster than any BD machine (both boot-up and any menu operation). The Panny I had did not have a memory so if you stop play and eject the disk or go to a menu function it will not remember where you left off. Blu Ray discs are more sensitive to scratches and dirt and will more likely freeze up or not play at all if marked in such a way. This is a big concern if you are doing Netflix or a mega-rental chain. I'm also not a big fan of most of the material being issued in BluRay right now. Hollywood blockbuster's don't really do it for me, nor do Pixar cartoons. Again, a very personal choice. I feel Blu Ray is still in developmental stages and I am not entirely convinced it will take, especially in this economy (discs and players are more expensive). I'm sure they'll come down (and they already have), but I have my own doubts as to whether the format will be embraced, or become another Betamax. That's a whole other debate and many threads dwell on just that subject. For this one, I'd give the Panny a big thumbs-up as a transport for a good DAC and an excellent BD player and DVD upsampler.
Thanks, totally understand.. and I agree on many fronts, just figured I need a little more for fun and hobby, got some freebies coming to me, and I own some hi rez displays that have everything already so why not?

I will look into both the pioneer and panasonics..Does not have to be purchased tomorrow, waiting about a month to see what shakes out and I am sure pricing by then with new models etc... will drop probably another 50 bucks.
The Sony Bdp2000es Blu-Ray is the first Blu-ray Disc player in Sony's "Elevated Standard" (ES) line and was designed with many audio enhancements. Its an excellent CD player as well as a Blu Ray player. Athough, a used one will probably cost a few hundred above your range, it excels in both Blu Ray and CD playback.

It has rigid dual-shield construction. The high-end quality construction employs highly tuned audio parts including multi Channel 192KHz/24bit Audio D/A Converters as well as a solid beam chassis that contributes to minimized vibration and drastically improve playback. The unit's off center aluminum insulator feet combined with the aluminum top panel helps isolate the player from external vibrations , while a rigid drive bracket adds stability of the drive system and a separate isolated audio board prevents interference and keeps the signal as clean as possible delivering better sound.
Jax2 the dmp-bd55k looks nearly perfect... One issue is that the dmp-bd35k the lower model is identical in performance, and can be had much cheaper but drops the damn coax out! Literally it looks as the 100 to 150 more people are willing to spend buys them the 7.1 analog outputs(completely useless in my case) and a Coax digital out.

The bd35k only has an optical out of course my luck.

Guess I will have to pay the penalty(performance and money wise) and just to get a decent digital out and have to have another 7.1 processor built in dragging on the power supply!

Always something looking for the exact next big thing. There is a little more info on the fact supposedly although not listed by panasonic that the audio sections are futher isolated/insulated and with better capacitors than the bd35k... Not sure how much of this will translate to the transports ability however I guess it can help justify paying a little more for it in an attempt to hope that the digital side of the transport is slightly better...

There is a reviewer saying it has much better heaft and weight with resolution over the bd35 on the audio side.. And I believe that they only used it via HDMI for the 5.1 and 7.1 connection meaning that it was not the performance of the analog section but actually of just the transport working its magic, the clock and transport simply feeding it to the outboard dacs..

Whether it is fact who knows, but it will help me shovel out the extra a little more on the 55 model to get the coax out at least :-)

I guess my only question is will the panny have a menu option to down mix everything to 2 channel with the digital out? Problem is that that is the only other difference between the 55 and 35, the 35 actually has 2 channel analog outs, and the 55 does not...
Undertow - Yes, I'm very aware of the 35 model and did consider it. I ultimately did not try one so cannot comment on perceived differences. I chose the 55 for the coaxial out option (which I did use to feed my DAC). It also has an ethernet connection if you want to use BD-Live or make future firmware updates "easier". On the 55 you can easily down=mix to 2ch - interface is pretty simple. I think you can also output 2-ch audio via the 7.1 outlets and downmix settings. It was a damn good unit for the money as far as my short audition was concerned (was $346 a few days ago). You probably got a sense of that reading other's feedback. It had a very nice soundstage, even on movies, via the coaxial out downmixed. I'm sure digital via 7.1 would be even better but I have no processor (don't even know how to use them).

Likecap - I think that model has been succeeded by the Sony BDP5000ES. Looks like a nice player with a stiff price tag ($1999). I like Sony's gear. If you get into that price range you may also want to consider Pioneer's Elite players which are a bit less expensive and supposedly quite good too, and will fill as much space on your shelf with an equally heavy box. I'd make sure to read through plenty of real-world feedback on any player you are considering as some, it seems, can be a royal PITA. It is not known to be a plug-and-play medium thus far. The Panny was just that. No doubt there are others.
Undertow....I have the Panny 35 and it does NOT have 2-channel analog outs. You have to get the 55 for those.
I would recommend the Sony BDP-S350, it is cheap (I've seen it for ~$200) loads and responds like a standard DVD, is a Profile 2.0 compatible player (you'll need to update firmware and add a memory stick, but they are <$8 nowadays) and has coaxial digital outputs.

I have been a super early adopter of both HD DVD and Blu-ray, and am on my seventh Blu-ray player now and the BDP-S350 is the most usable fastest player I have ever seen or heard of, and the image quality is very good and it will output bitstream for all the new codecs.

I have the Denon DVD-2500BTCI which an awesome unit, but way slower....
Okay got the panasonic home... One place on earth had them stocked! They are so popular besides online at a few sources they are backordered virtually everywhere..

Its a breeze, Its SUPER fast loading so I can't ask for better, as a matter of fact its faster than Standard DVDS on the new OPPO I have!

Blu ray quality is perfect.... Interface is excellent, this one does it all....

Thanks Jax2... Definitely so far for the money this is the player to have, with good reason everybody seems to be after one... It is reasonable priced for how simple and high quality of build it is..

The Sonys and pioneers seemed way over convoluted and too big honestly, and did not seem as solid as a transport, not for the money anyway.. I am sure some of the upper costly models will have a bit better, but for blu ray picture and transport quality the panasonic so far wins especially due to its pricing.

2 negatives against it, but not a big deal, wish it cost about 100 less as all I paid for over the 35 was the coax!

Second negative, it does not have a standard IEC connection for the power, however at least it has a detachable, so I ordered the IEC/ Polarized DVD adapter from VHAUDIO...Now we can get a high end cord on it, as I have them laying around anyway.

Beyond that I seem to be 100% satisfied with the panasonic purchase, could not get it at best buy as they are backordered online and in store, but thats okay the credit I have there will go for new discs!
Cool beans, Undertow. Glad it worked out. I'd got mine from Amazon before the prices went up. Amazon's prices seem to be all over the place, and they are out too (right now they're outsourcing to Crutchfield). Which Oppo do you have and how does the upsampling compare (the Panny did an excellent job at upsampling DVD's)?
I did get to try out pretty extensively the SDVD now on the unit...

Its a plus in that column, for the most part any film source is EXCELLENT compared to both the 983 and 980h oppo's... As a matter of fact maybe even a little sharper, no real errors or color issues that I see.... Maybe not perfect, but nothing noteable.. One thing that the panasonic and the 983 do better over the 980's video processing is they don't Ghost, when you see somebodys face etc... or like really black smearing on the screen get that double ghosting for a second with too much movement... The panasonic for the most part I can't get it to do it at all!

In the end I did return the 983 after a couple days, a bit overpriced although it is the best machine that oppo makes, but due to the influx, and timing of the blu ray war ending to bad for oppo, and reality is now they got competition.

For a little story the first unit which I totally forgot secrets benchmark tested and kinged the budget giant killer was in fact panasonics X series players as they handled all the chroma errors etc .... perfectly like 7-8 years ago and all of a sudden were getting the ratings of the 5000 dollar denons in video! Then only shortly after Oppo came along and de-throned the panasonics as the budget killers, so its no surprise panasonic came with a good Blu ray machine doing well with standard DVD's as well...

Hey it will probably not test perfect if secrets ever finally gets the new benchmarks posted online (what has it been like 2 years?), but I doubt anybody will see much issue with the picture these days with so many advancements in the panel displays and chips anyway.. So I don't care, should be a great little machine.

Bottom line its more than good enough, Only 2 negatives of a blu ray player.... But nothing that seems to effect any performance...

They have fans, you can hear it putting your ear up to the unit, but nothing major. I noted that all the blu ray machines I came across had some sort of fan, and luckily it seemd this one has the smallest compared to the sonys etc...

Second this unit specifically so far the bd55k that is does not save the spots on a disc... So if you don't watch a movie all the way thru it just starts over after removing the disc.

I have only tested this portion on SDVD so far, maybe for blu ray it will memorize something, but not sure.

And honestly I have not dug to far into the issue yet, as there might be a way to make it save.

I think so far as long as you don't open the disc drawer that it Does save even if you shut the unit down, just can't remove that specific disc. Again I have not put much into it yet. This will be an annoying issue that oppo had the same problem with on the last generation of machines which they fixed... Hopefully there is some sorta onboard memory or putting in one of these little SDcards or whatever into it can solve that with a firmware update or something in the future.

Oh and one final surprise, this new Panny does sound EXCELLENT... Hate to say it but it easily is a bit more of a clean and natural reference sound over the oppo. Now this is not in transport terms, I have not gotten that far, but just as running HDMI audio with its onboard processing. And interestingly the panasonic has a pretty cool feature, Remaster 1-2&3, this is effective for old concert discs and makes them really sound good! Now of course its virtually the same as the oppo's Equalizer with the Rock, hall etc... settings, but the oppos equalizer really sucks, and is compressed as hell.. So another leg up in this regard. Obviously none of this is necessary for a transport anyway but worth noting.
Thanks for the input, Undertow. Yes, I'd concur and give the Panny very high marks for picture in both blu-ray and SD. I only ran sound via the digital output so good to hear it does well via analog too. I believe all the Oppo's, including the 983, downsample the analog output to PCM, even via the HDMI. Correct me if I'm wrong. Not sure how the Panny works re audio outs and HDMI as I was only interested in the digital, but it doesn't play high rez audio anyway (SACD and DVD-a). The memory issue was a big bugaboo for me. I'm spoiled by that in a DVD player - I frequently don't watch films all the way through and go back later to finish them so I value that memory feature. I also hate it when you get a Netflix or rental that skips so you have to pull it out and wash it (I don't know about you, but this is about 1/8 discs for me I'd guess) and then have the player make you find the spot you left off at rather than go right back to it. I don't think Panny has it on either DVD or BD playback. Does the Oppo? Maybe it will be a firmware update for the Pannasonic someday! I also was bothered by how slow it was to do virtually anything with a BD disc (and not so much so with an SD), but to be fair it was my first BD experience and I understand it is relatively fast for a BD player. Compared to any DVD player I've owned it is slow as molasses (so I was surprised at your comment that you found it otherwise). Glad it worked out for you and that you like it - I think it's a great bargain and seems to be one of the first BD machines to do so many things so well at a very affordable price. If you go back and read real-world comments on even the high priced machines, some mentioned in this thread (Sony ES, Pioneer, Denon 3800), you find quite a few critical remarks around their performance in one way shape or form. These are machines that are all substantially more expensive. I found that real-world comments on almost all the BD machines in the Pansonic price range to be spotty at best. I frankly could not imagine improving on the picture I saw in BD from the Panny....personally I could not ask for more. The upsampled DVD picture was not that far behind. Now it's just a matter of wait and see if BD really takes over. Again, for me, right now, virtually none of the titles available in Blu-Ray are anything I'd want to own, and most I wouldn't even bother renting. All my favorite movies, and the few I actually own, are on DVD. I ended up ordering a 983H which Oppo has now discontinued entirely (probably in anticipation that their BD player will do everything the 983H does along with BD). I'll let you know my own impressions when it arrives.
Don't get me wrong the 983 is really good.. Not sure when you had the panasonic however, maybe it has had some speed updates.

The oppo takes about 30 seconds from startup on a dvd and goes thru all the B.S. FBI warnings etc... Its fast, but still pretty sluggish..

As the panasonic it will take about a minuet to load a BD, which is maybe anywhere from 15 to 25 seconds slower, not an issue in my mind. The regular DVD seems to load as fast, however no doubt the blu ray player does have to boot up from off and will add some seconds..

Beyond that I was a little shocked that the Panasonic so far easily outshines the audio on the Oppos... Could be a taste issue, I don't know what DACS are in the panasonic, the best is pretty much one from Cirrus, and Oppos do use a Cirrus, but a lower end one, not Cirrus best chip anyway.

Good luck, the oppo is a good unit no doubt, and also will be able to play all you want in titles minus blu ray with as perfect as it gets... I just had to go up for the heck of it, and really looking to take advantage as really I don't own a ton of DVD's about 200 which I dumped about 1/3rd of them in trade for some new blu ray discs, I rarely keep many as I always trade them back at some point, so figured I don't want to get stuck with 1000 dollars worth of DVD's over the next year when already they are starting to be worth about a buck each at best on trade now.

I don't think DVD is going away, however I argued a point about SACD years ago, this is in reverse, but I truly believe that DVD will start to become as limited as SACDS in the next couple years, very fast turnaround I have a feeling, because the blu ray tech is pretty damn good now, and I see just about everybody recently bringing in a lot more rentals, a lot more stock of it, and a lot more people I know already own the machines and they love to get the best out of their 2000 dollar investments in panel tvs, so I do not believe Blu ray will be even close to a SACD issue at all.

It has way to many capabilities for all mediums.. Video games, Movies, DATA storage, and of course quality HD transfer, so its not really much of a niche product at all the way I see it, thats kinda like saying the new and improved smaller, faster, better cell phones will not sell and become a novelty, this is not SACD for sure. Plus SACD on a few fronts can prove superiority, but blu ray everybody can see the quality and quantity advantage so it will sell mainstream as it already is.

Only thing I see being corrected and I think it will happen quickly is the Blu ray disc pricing scheme... They need to more quickly come down to the 18 - 19 dollar range... People will not want to pay 25 to 30 a disc for sure, not for long anyway.. But I also feel many will just buy "Nothing" opposed to buying more standard DVD's they will just rent them until the blu discs become more affordable, and they are starting too.
I got my Panny from Amazon a few days before you started this post. I just got my 983H today and have ran my test DVD's through it (music videos which I am very familiar with from watching and listening to them over and over). Nothing special, but stuff I love and know very well. Here are my initial impressions: The Oppo default picture on my Sony CRT dispay is set a bit too dark (as it was with my friend's Oppo). A minor brightness adjustment + a bit of contrast and it was fine. Once tweaked the picture was lovely. I would say the colors occur to me as overall just a bit more natural than the more punchy colors I recall on the Panny (at default). I don't think that is anything more than a matter of tweaking...maybe. The picture itself is excellent on both players. I'd give the edge in the upsampling in terms of sharpness to the Panasonic, believe it or not. It occurred to me as a bit sharper. I prefer the more natural colors to the more punch, exaggerated colors. With one of my vids I was getting a strange artifact in jump cuts in dark scenes on the Panasonic though. For a milisecond I'd see a checkerboard (pixelated) effect in the shadows, this occurred in almost every cut where there were predominantly dark areas in the frame (common in stage concert films). That does not occur with the same vid upsampled on the Oppo. The significant difference, which I cannot fully understand or explain, and which delights me, is in the digital output via my Modwright Transporter - The Oppo is clearly and without any doubt more immediate and engaging. This holds true with CD performance as well. I don't really get that as both should be feeding the same digital stream to the Modwright TP, but the Oppo output commands more attention while the Panny was fine, but didn't have the same kind of immediacy. I wish I'd held onto the Panny to do a direct comparisons now, but this is how it occurs to me, and that actually comes as a surprise. I'd expected the Oppo to be a clear winner in video and didn't expect to hear any differences via the digital out. Anyway, I'm happy as a clam with the Oppo and I'm sure the memory thing would have really been a problem with both me and my wife. I hope Panasonic updates that soon as it's a real fly in the ointment for me, in an otherwise near perfect BD player. I'm not experiencing any unusual lag times with the Oppo and it is certainly faster than the Panasonic in starting up and cuing up and almost everything else. My Panny was current and needed no firmware updates. My Oppo is also current and probably one of the last ones they made. Can't account for the differences in our experience there... Go figure. One difference in my experience of the two players is that I had to use the Panasonic lamp cord AC power cord, while I'm using a TG 688 on the Oppo, FWTW. I've not tried out the analog output of the Oppo, mostly because I'm not interested and won't likely ever use it. I also did not try the analog outs on the Panny. I'll be very curious to see where BluRay goes from here. I do hope it makes it as it's clearly a superior format. Until they start releasing an abundance of films that actually interest me to watch on that format I'll be sticking with DVD.
Got me thinking, yeah I am going to try the Sony 350 and see what it has, being it does have the coax out on the lower model, the upper has nothing to offer accept a 7.1 output and like a sony link hdmi or something which I have no use... So I realize in the future with no Disc memory at least for a couple discs, the panasonic is going to be a problem.. And a Sony transport should be pretty good, I believe the oppos actual had a sony as well as raysonics used a decent sony transport that I had in the past.

Yeah the oppo is probably a little more film like, the panasonic is a bit more well "Digital blu ray" look... The oppo is a great machine, surprised about the digital out too myself! The oppo does sound good as a stand alone machine even without dac, so it does have a good solid transport and dac in it.

As for the panasonic with the memory issue, I will have to dig in further... Maybe I will have to stave it off as well this is a bit of an annoying issue due to not holding even 2 or 3 discs... The oppos hold 10 disc memories which is plenty.

As for startup time no doubt the blu ray players going thru the boot process takes a little time, but you can just leave the player on which actually I did all the time with the oppo as well, it does not draw any real power anyway just the display which I had set to off all the time. So this speeds up retrieval time on both units really, and keeps them warmed up a little for audio playback as well.

I also just suggest leaving your DAC on all the time, again without a signal its not pulling anything but does help for sound.

Thanks for the update!! I will be evaluating the memory issue... I will also go ahead and do some head to head comparisons with the transport sound on the panasonic against a couple other DVD players including the oppo, right now I am waiting for a DAC so in a couple weeks I will have the answer, and I have 30 days to return the panasonic if it does not "Pan" out :-)
Denon, Marantz, Pioneer Elite, NAD all make excellent units with good transports and better BluRay than the entry level units. Oppo will be coming out with one soon.
I don't think you'll improve on the Panny with the Sony 350, but I'm making that assumptions simply from the spotty real-world feedback. It's also an older machine in a technology that seems to change daily. Boy, as far as BD players, I'd stick with the Panny or wait for the Oppo myself. Your description of the differences of the pictures is spot-on: The Panny seemed more punchy and digital while the Oppo occurs more film-like. I did not try tweaking the Panny's video fine-tune controls and there may be some latitude there, but I could easily live with the imaging I saw both on DVD and BD. I really cannot explain the optical output and will look forward to yours and others feedback there. I think my Modwright Transporter DAC is capable of 96khz streaming, but even on PCM the sound of the Oppo seems better IMO. Then again, I am going from aural memory which is NOT always that reliable. I am just struck by the sound with the Oppo and was not either struck the same way, nor disappointed with the sound of the Panny. Anyway, I appreciate your input as well. I'll look forward to hearing what you end up deciding on. If I were really into the BD thing I would have kept the Panasonic. I think that's huge bang for the buck, especially in the video department.
Jax2 & Kennyt,

Okay it was nearly impossible to find a S350 from sony.. Target, walmart, best buy, circuit city, etc.. Were all sold out nation wide!!

That being said I found one new in the box stashed away in a back room that somebody missed at a Meijer store!

Anyway got it home hooked it up.

First off the sony interface is faster! It is a step above the Panasonics..

Now for the good stuff, Audio thru HDMI is not as good as it is on the Panasonics built in processor, however I don't care because I need the transport anyway.

So one up for the panasonic, however its all downhill from there!

Shockingly sony Invented this Technology and guess what? Their player is superior in function and video for blu ray, it is just MUCH more film like truly reminds me and is virtually identical performance to the smoother and less digitized presentation of the OPPOS.

And DVD upconversion on this sony player with some of my Standard DVD's against the oppo is ABSOLUTELY as good, and it loads faster than the Oppo!! Only in standard DVD it loads faster, however blu ray is a little lagging, but its Faster loading blue ray than the panasonic by about 15 seconds it seems!

And it is a sony transport mechanism which have been good to me in the past, thru Wadia players, Oppos, and Raysonic...

So for 100 less street price, the sony is definitely superior for the overall and actually is the most compact in size Blu ray player to date from what I see and read.

Its a killer unit... So in this round Kennyt wins :-) I might be the ONLY person to have seen both the panasonic and Sony in home side by side however, they are both backordered and difficult to get anywhere... Money wise the sony is the best buy at this point..

Now down to the final issue I don't understand that has been overlooked by all these manufactures it seems.. NO damn disc memory! Still you can shut off the sony and it will return to the spot on a blu ray or standard disc.. However as soon as you open the drawer its over.. .And I have a USB card that fits the sony off my laptop, it works, however it does not have anything to do with saving the spot on discs from what I can figure out so far..

Oh well... Anyway tomorrow I will be conducting now that the video is settled and Sony wins for price and features with the 2.0 profile etc... a full out transport sound test..
My friend has a samsung unit, a good DAC, and we will go head to head with the oppo... So sony vs. Oppo, vs samsung coming tomorrow feed from coax digital out thru a hi grade 2 channel DAC.

AS for now the pricing on the sony is right, and better than panasonic, and picture literally makes SDVD and BDVD nearly identical to the oppo... It was not really noticeable how digitally chopped or motion sick the panasonic was until I put the sony in and it looked as smooth and vivid as a IMAX theater!

In the end the one feature killing the total love on these machines is the fact it can't do the most simple function of saving the place on a DVD to return to it later!

So being we are on the same page Jax2 you might have missed out on the sony with the picture, you would love it with the oppo type presentation.. Just still the memory issue. And to be clear the sony is lightning fast, I mean in 3 seconds it loads a standard DVD, the oppo 980 is quite a bit slower!
"In the end the one feature killing the total love on these machines is the fact it can't do the most simple function of saving the place on a DVD to return to it later!"

Check out the Sony BDP-S550... problem solved!
A fantastic player otherwise too.
Really? Do you know how many discs it will hold in memory? And will it do Blu ray and sDVD in memory?
Sucks you gotta pay 100 more for such a basic function though.
So I luckily just worked a deal on the S550 for 8 bucks less than the 350, saving some more cash! Thanks hope your right and it will save disc spots, hopefully on Blu ray and standard.
Wow, Undertow, sounds like you'll have the ultimate affordable BD shootout on your hands pretty soon. The Sony's sound like a good way to go, especially the s550, which seems to address my pet peeve (no memory). Thanks for all the feedback. I'll look forward to hearing how all the comparos go. I'm delighted with the Oppo, but it would be good to know possible directions to go if BluRay finally starts to draw interesting titles. I sure have no intention of paying more than $400 for a player and the S550 is currently running around $320 online (doesn't seem like the Amazon vendors are out of stock) so if it's as good as you think it might be, that'd be a winner in my estimation. I can see why some folks might prefer the punchier picture on the Panasonic - it's kind of like candy. Or in film terms (for those who actually remember what film is), it's like Velvia or Kodachrome vs. Provia, Ektachrome or Kodacolor (the later being a bit extreme). I was never a Velvia guy, and almost never set my digital camera to "Vivid" to mimic that kind of film. Personal taste. Good to hear that my suspicions of an odd digital artifact were not in my imagination on the Panny. I look forward to hearing more of your observations.
Oppo scores a 94 out of 100 in 2 channel transport duties

Sony scores about a 87-88 out of 100

However to be fair the oppo had a better power cord as I don't have an adapter yet for the sony type connection, and at first we found out that the 2 coax cables we used varied a little in sound as well after swapping those a few times between transports..

In the end the sony has good potential, soundstage on the oppo is a little more vast and refined, the sony was a tiny bit more sparkle on top with a little punchier sound, but not quite as deep as the oppo. oppo is a tiny more refined, again though without fair cable equality, as literally the sony had to run up against a 14 gauge audiophile type cable on the oppo it only has a like very cheap 20 gauge or 18 gauge "Boombox" cable that comes with a walkman back in the 80's!

Also to be fair the oppo had some serious hours of use on it, about 2 years doing some pretty heavy lifting so it was not a surprise it was a little bit opened up sounding.

I can't totally say the sony is at total fault, but the oppo was a little more relaxed natural sound... I am still moving forward to try a Sony 550s as a full blu ray transport for 2 channel system for the time being. And I have a good power cord coming to work out the kinks hopefully with the body of sound coming of the sony, it still did not lack to far behind but it was a little bit drier presentation, I hope to get it tuned in with some burn in, and some cable changes, I don't think they will be very distinguishable at that point.
Oppo scores a 94 out of 100 in 2 channel transport duties

Sony scores about a 87-88 out of 100

That's pretty darn close and I'd guess the discrepancies you mention (power cord and burn-in) may account for some of that difference. Are you using an Oppo 983H for comparison. Also differences may be system dependent, and dependent on the DAC you use. Anyway, I was astonished that a transport could actually make that much difference, but certainly the difference between the Panasonic and the Oppo was significant in my system. Sounds like the Sony 550 will be a great choice for you. This should be very useful information for anyone considering a reasonably priced BluRay player at this point in the game. Many thanks for posting your impressions.
Also I found out that the sony has priority settings for the digital outs... I had it selected to HDMI vs. Coax, I did not know if this would make a difference or not... I will check it out on the new machine when I receive it.. Also there is like an audio output reduction mode, supposedly it eliminates distortion further by simply lowering the voltage coming in from the transport on the sony, but I don't know yet if this simply effects the actual Dacs power output or from all digital feeds as well... Again gonna have to be checked out. Also something that should effect the transport out is its ability to be manually chosen on the sony to output 16/44 or 24/96... I have heard this change by just switching on a movie thru hdmi, the 24/96 softened up a bit... Might be the ticket depending on the source material so I don't know if this will effect the sound Via standard CD...

So anyway a few more things to toy with once the sony gets settled, no doubt its possible in 50 60 hours of use it can in fact open up a little more as well...The oppo went thru a little of this at first too.

The oppo 980h and the 983 are identical in transport applications, I had both, the 983 is also identical on the DAC analog outs, however the 983 used a little further isolation of the dac probably with some RF type shield or something, and also has some supposedly better capacitors on the outputs of the DAC... Whether this was hugely a big enough difference seems not many found a big deal, but to say the 983 might have a little better bass due to the capacitor change.
The oppo 980h and the 983 are identical in transport applications, I had both, the 983 is also identical on the DAC analog outs

So are you currently comparing the output from a 980H or a 983H?
Currently the 980h... But again I was actually using the oppo at the time as a stand alone unit, not as a transport, then I had the 983 which pretty much is identical especially as a transport. So I am not sure if your asking via the audio attributes, or video.. I will say this, the 983 rendered better contrast in fact mostly eliminating ghosting on a bigger display where the 980 had a little less cleanup...Also the 983 was actually a tad bit sharper, kinda how the whole panasonic impression was at first, but still the 983 was a little more film like, the sony especially in blue ray however beats them both in video.
I asked because I had a friend's 980H (current production) in my system for about three weeks just before getting the 983. My impressions of it were quite different than yours, but this, of course, is in my system (same one as the 983H is currently in) and with my TV (34" Sony CRT using 1080i DVI input). I did not like the 980H. The picture was too dark at default (as was the 983, though not as much so) and tweaking it was less rewarding than with the 983 - I could not get the picture to be very impressive or nearly as seamless and sharp as the 983. It was also a disappointment in comparison to the Modwright Sony 999ES that I recently sold, which had an excellent picture (and sound of course). Audio was a world away in the two Oppos via coaxial out into my Modwright Transporter. The audio via the 980H did very little to grab me. It was OK for movies but soundstage was a bit restricted and it just was easy to get up and walk away from. The 983 audio via the same means is immediate and engaging and has a great soundstage. Again, I cannot explain this and was surprised that a difference in transport could render such a difference in sound through the same DAC. Both units were brand-new, late production, and not burned in so I don't know if and how those things may change over time. With both I was using a TG 688 cord. As far as Blu Ray I certainly agree - nothing I've viewed has been sharper and more lifelike in appearance than the Panasonic Blu Ray picture I saw. Once they start issuing something worth watching on Blu Ray I might reconsider that direction. Sounds like the Sony will be a winner!
Well I can say this, just go to the local best buy or whoever and give the S550 a shot for the hell of it… But as for the Oppo 983 vs. 980 audio transport wise it would be very strange to have anything significant, like I said I do understand the 983 had a tiny bit more attention put into the DACS power supply but identical from the transport side supposedly…

Unless oppo completely changed it out and is just not saying… Only way to really find out would be calling one of the numerous modders that do the oppos and ask are they all coming with the exact same units in them as oppo claims. I can see that the 980 was a little more tweaked when I adjusted the internal video processing, I actually reduced brightness and contrast in the 980 h, the 983 was pretty good just on the standard settings. As for the differences vs. the new sonys, they don't have or need anything done in the video, they just go straight to 1080p / 24 frame.. Perfect.. Film, video, standard DVD, Blu ray no matter its excellent, but the DISPLAY will need some serious tweaking because I found now all the adjustments are on the flat panel side at this point not the player..

Oppo had some cool tools built in which are not necessary on the sony now… I found at the panel Noise reduction either off or just on an adjustment of +1 is good… Brightness about 50% standard, Contrast at about 60%, Black level +1, and Gamma about +1 beat out all the settings adjusted in the oppo. So yeah it will all be dependent on the full system I am sure and how far one is gonna go vs. another.

Also a good question for yourself is, OPPO sends a GREAT HDMI cable with the unit, the panasonic did not come with one at all, and you might have had some Hack job Monster cable or even cheaper cable running the panasonic, the cable Oppo uses seems as it is a generic but it is not I forget the company that makes it but its about the best cable you can get your hands on, I am using that HDMI cable still with the sony as it does not come with one either.. There are many threads on oppos supplied HDMI and how superior they are to some other cables, It is by a company I can't think of the name of and can be found to order separate or from oppo even by themselves if you did chose to not keep the player, but keep that cable!! This could be a bigger difference right there, I am not sure.
I used the same Sonicwave cable on both Panny and Oppo because I require an HDMI>DVI cable. It is a supposedly very good cable, though I had nothing to compare it to. I did not use the stock cables at all.

My DVI input will not allow 1080P at all (switching to 1080p obliviates any picture at all - it will only 1080i or lower resolution. Not sure why, but probably to do with it is an earlier (2004) hi-def CRT, or perhaps something to do with DVI input. I'm not sure as I haven't focused much on the video or HT over the years.

I'm baffled by the difference in the Oppo transport. Perhaps I'll borrow my friends 980 again and do a head-to-head if I find the time.
Hmm interesting, well right there is part of the issue, you don't have 1080p that’s where all the machines OPPO, Sony, and Panny will excell so at this point I can see where your limitation is on that regard.. Beyond that yeah not sure where their would be such a variance in the Oppo transports HOWEVER there is in fact Audio settings in the oppo as well, including an EQ that is REALLY crappy, so if it is activated for instance on your friends unit and you did not know it will make it sound different and more compressed as well as can add some echo effect… In your new Oppo 983 from the factory it is off, there is also an audio button on the units that can change the bitrate I believe, so yeah to make the right comparisons you will need to really make sure all the oppo settings are correct on each unit.      
I had my friend's Oppo from brand new - he had never used it himself and I opened his factory sealed box. He has two very elaborate systems and this was a very minor purchase for him and he was going away on holiday so I had it from new to three weeks old using it in my system that entire time. He was curious to see what I thought of it. I did check the audio settings anyway to see what was there, and the EQ was off, as it is on mine. No curiosity at all to try it out so never tested either.
Panasonic DMPBD 55/35
UPDATE on S550 from sony… So I replaced the new winner S350 with the S550, Differences subtle to some, but big enough for the true bargain and sound hunter. And it crushes the Panasonic .. Close to the oppos, but still would go with this blu ray player over the Oppo.

- Problem being addressed with the Memory of a disc to resume play after removing the disc from unit is NOT solved via the S550. This is unfortunate as its such a simple function even some 40 dollar DVD players do I believe, and OPPO actually will memorize up to 10 discs for you.. OH well the performance on the S550 far outweighs this little niche at this point, just keep the movie in the tray and it will resume play.

- First difference of the S350 to the S550 is it comes with a much heaftier physical build, and the transport tray is a bit more solid and quiet.

- Second the S550 comes with its own USB card from Sony so no need to buy one that will fit the recessed USB port in the back like you need to do for the S350 if you wish to use the online features.

- Third the sound quality does seem to do as advertised as a transport or analog connection as it does sound "Studio Quality" losing that little bit of the House Sony sound found with the S350 in my opinion.

- 4th it is even FASTER than the S350!! IT loads everything Super fast… No real lag at all.

- 5th video is virtually the same on Blu ray and DVD, however its interesting as the S550 might be a tad bit brighter because I was now able to set the Gamma back down to Zero vs. +1 on the S350, and the contrast on the panel was reduced even a little more.

- 6th Motion artifacting seems basically obsolete with the S550, there might have been a small question here or there if the S350 was perfect, but the S550 seems definitely to have the processing capable of correcting any little annoyances.

- 7th has a cool backlight on the remote that the S350 does not.

In the end this does seem the best buy and very realistic Blu ray with hi end audio Transport sound onboard.. Minus the one little issue of disc memory when you remove it from the drawer. Oh well just gotta sit down and finish the movie like it should be for now on! Or shut of the player and leave the movie in and it will resume play just fine, and very fast by the way :-) For the little money more or not at all ordering online, the S550 is a decent step up in a few ways over the S350, although for those looking for just Core video standard consumer useage without all the extras in audio quality and nice perks than you can stick with the S350.