Kids don't know they're born these days – with their new-fangled feature-laden Blu-ray players, like the new Blu-ray deck from Panasonic, the DMP-BD80.

In my day, all we had was a top-loading VHS deck with only one stand-out add-on – the ability to add copious amounts of picture noise to already fuzzy images.

Even DVD was simply happy to list 'interactive menus' as a bonus for years. Imagine that? Just the film itself. Crazy times.

Now the kids need more than crisp, vibrant Full HD images and full-on, spine-tingling 7.1 high-res audio. They need interactive games. They need picture-in-picture documentaries, with directors holding their metaphorical hands while they skip through his work.

They need multiple media slots to pour a flood of salubriously-sourced XviD files onto their screen. They need to be able to text each other on-screen, with comments like 'b3sti3 sux balls'. They need to watch ill-conceived skateboard stunts in low-bitrates and sub-resolutions over the 'net. Which is where Panasonic's DMP-BD80 comes in…

Stream weaver

The DMP-BD80 is wired to the world wide web. However, this player, and its BD60 sibling, is not simply connected for access to BD-Live content and a Profile 2.0 badge; it features a fully-functioning YouTube portal via the company's proprietary VieraCast network.

Yes indeed, the world of happy-slapping and home-made ephemera is a big part of this player's genetics. And, do you know what? I'm sold.

Although it seems unlikely that anybody would want to make a leap into the HD world and subsequently watch 320 x 240 video shot on a mobile phone, it's all about content these days. And, if you're not already an avid 'net consumer, you'll be surprised how much is available, for free, on YouTube.

Admittedly, most of the service's library is utter tosh, puerile and vacuous (should you take leave of your senses to hunt for it, you can find a video of a student drinking tomato ketchup...).

But hidden amongst the, literally, millions of clips are, for example, episodes of Robot Chicken, clips from Armando Iannucci's excellent Time Trumpet, and a host of 1980s cartoons that are well-worth a weekend's nostalgic trawl. And if you're overly-enamoured by pets doing stupid things, you might never leave the house again.

So okay, it's not quite BBC's iPlayer, but as with the new widget TVs from Samsung, it's a gimmick you'll probably find yourself losing several hours to.

And, as rumours abound that YouTube is in negotiation with several movie studios (most notably Sony Pictures) to stream full films for free, it may become an even more essential feature in the future. Time can only tell. At least the BD80 is well-placed to take advantage.

For now, VieraCast is a clever addition that adds extra value to Panasonic's flagship player and, though flawed (streamed video at YouTube bitrates looks decidedly shoddy blown-up on screen sizes over 32in), it's more than the sideshow that BD-Live has become.

Plus, you get access to Google's expansive picture library and database service Picasa, where you can store your snaps remotely. So it gets a thumbs-up from me.

Pixel plus

In comparison, even two thumbs aren't enough to convey what I think about the BD80's Blu-ray performance. Between you and me, I can't see the fuss certain people are making about the high-end decks – not when this is available for around £350. It is a visual tour de force in a slimline box, and its audio talents punch above its weight.

As with all of my Blu-ray player reviews, I ran the deck through its paces using Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark discs (both Blu-ray and PAL DVD). These discs have, in both HD and SD versions, a series of tests that can expose lesser picture processors in different areas.

Tests include noise reduction, video resolution loss, film resolution loss, jaggies reduction (the stepping effect around diagonal edges) and more. The BD80 passed all of them. I haven't seen that before. Not with such ease anyway.

Normally, the Blu-ray performance can be exceptional but the player can fall down with DVD-upscaling. Or vice versa. Or they're both just sort of average. However, this Panasonic disc-spinner excels with both. And in the real world it makes a huge difference.

Like its predecessor Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace on Blu-ray is a visual feast – one that requires keen control of shaded areas (there's a fair bit of sneaking around in the dark) and vivid colourfields.

And the BD80 handles both so accurately that it can be afforded the ultimate accolade. Rather then study the picture intently for faults, I just fell headlong into the movie and found myself forgetting to review the hardware.

For the record, the image holds up crisp, clean and true without any unnecessary fiddling with the set-up options. And the sewer chase near the beginning of the movie looks more defined and detail-crammed than when I saw it in the cinema.

The colour-denuded clarity of An Empress and the Warriors is also eye-popping. Images of period slaughter seem supernaturally sharp. Standard DVD playback is a treat too – as evidenced with Slumdog Millionaire.

Upscaled SD pictures are not HD – and don't believe otherwise – but this deck does a great job of making them look their best. it also manages to keep fast camera pans in check, where lesser processors may initiate a fall into a blurry mess.

Multichannel mayhem

Audio performance is a step-up from the budget BD60, and its ability to both bitstream and decode DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD is admirable. The deck also offers a 7.1 analogue audio output for those without an HDMI-switching receiver.

However, while there's nothing wrong with its sound processing per se, this is clearly the area exploited by high-end Sony, Denon and Pioneer players – which many of my colleagues are now using as CD-spinners too, so good is their stereo performance. They are, though, approximately three times the price, so, with audio at least, you get what you pay for.

Actually, this is also true with build quality. This may not be a major bugbear, but the BD80 isn't exactly a looker. It's not got the same kind of design flair as, say, the Samsung BD-P4600. In comparison, it looks like a bland slab of plastic. It does, however, sit in a rack quite nicely, and that's all that really matters.

And while we're being finicky, I'm not particularly bowled-over by the player's loading times either. As a PlayStation 3 owner, I'm used to almost instant start-up and disc access. The BD80 is far removed from that.

As with many current stand-alone decks, it can take around a minute just to play a conventional BD movie (such as Spider-Man 3), and that is bound to put off those with little patience.

The rest of us, though, can simply bow down to the awesome, near-perfect images, cracking feature-set and amusing and relevant gimmickry that, for a brief moment at least, remind us what it's like to be a kid again.

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