Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Player Page 2
The DMP-BD30 is also said to be compatible with discrete 7.1-channel soundtracks. The new high resolution formats offer this increased channel capability. The player can retrieve these soundtracks and pass them on, in bitstream form only, to an AV receiver or pre-pro capable of decoding them. New Line's recently released Hairspray is among the first Blu-ray Discs we're aware of with a 7.1-channel DTS-HD MA track.
The player's HDMI output is 1.3, though Panasonic does not mention this in its specs. It does mention Deep Color, which requires HDMI 1.3 (Deep Color is a bit-hogging application that is, at present, vaporware).
The DMP-BD30's disc loading drawer is hidden behind a panel that drops down automatically when you press the Open/Close button or Play. A second, translucent, manual panel hides an SD card slot (see below) and the Search, Stop, and Pause buttons. The Power button is located on the player's top left corner and the Open/Close button is on the top right. While a bit counterintuitive (the Open/Close button is located on the side furthest from the drawer) this makes these buttons easy to find in the dark—a small but much appreciated feature for the two on-player controls you're most likely to use.
There are no surprises around back, just the usual complement of outputs, including (thankfully) both coaxial digital and optical for those of us who prefer to use an SPDIF output for music playback from CDs (or who still lack the option to use HDMI for soundtracks). There's also an outlet for the (quiet) cooling fan and a jack for the detachable (non-IEC) power cord. But, as noted earlier, there is no Ethernet port.
The DMP-BD30 will do all the things you expect of a Blu-ray player. In addition to BD, it will play most common consumer forms of CD and DVD, including recordable discs and MP3 on CD. It will not, of course, play back HD DVDs. Nor will it play SACDs or DVD-Audio (the previous Panasonic BD player was the only Blu-ray machine that would play DVD-Audio).
As mentioned briefly earlier, the player also has a memory card slot that will accept SD and SDHC cards. It will play back not only still photos recorded on one of these cards, but high-definition (AVCHD) video as well, such as that recorded on an SD-equipped HD camcorder. While I did not test this function in my own studio, I did see an impressive demonstration of it during a recent visit to the Panasonic Hollywood Labs.
While the front panel display window can be dimmed, the blue SD Card LED, located top center, cannot. It was in my line of sight and so annoyingly bright in a darkened room that I had to cover it with a piece of tape. Panasonic should have made it dimmable as well.
The player offers a range of onboard picture controls, including several picture fixed modes of the sort you normally see on TVs: Normal, Soft, Fine, and Cinema. A User mode provides five different video controls: Brightness, Sharpness, Color, Gamma, 3D Noise Reduction, and Integrated Noise Reduction. You might find these useful, but most of the time I'd recommend leaving these video controls in their default (Normal) setting, which is how I tested the player. There are also audio Sound Effects and Dialog enhancement controls, which I also recommend leaving Off.
The Panasonic may be set to output any of the usual video output resolutions. In HDMI, these include 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p/60, and 1080p/24. For component, the player adds 480i and drops 1080p (both 60fps and 24fps).
There's also a Screen Aspect control with two controls besides Normal. These might be useful in some cases but will likely be redundant with the similar control found in any modern video display. Stick with the usual TV Aspect setting, which the Panasonic also has and which, as in all video disc players, offers the usual 4:3 and 16:9 options for matching the screen shape of your set. (Anyone who buys a high-definition player to use on a 4:3 television, however, is either badly misinformed or has an odd sense of priorities.)
The player also is equipped with Panasonic's EZ Sync "HDAVI Control" based on industry the standard HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). This allows the unit to be linked with other compatible equipment via HDMI for mutual control. "Compatible equipment," however, usually mean equipment from the same manufacturer. It might work with "alien" gear, but it might not. In my experience, in fact, it might also cause gremlin-like problems in the system operation. Fortunately it can be turned off.
Apart from the lack of backlighting, I like the DMP-BD30's remote. The buttons are, thankfully, of various sizes While the Stop button is just below the backward Skip button, a design glitch I've criticized in Toshiba's HD DVD remotes, the skip buttons here are far smaller and thus easy to find in a darkened room without inadvertently hitting Stop.
The chapter search function works fine on the Panasonic, but I could find no way to search for a title. Title search is only useful on a few test DVDs, but when you need it, you really need it. Without it, for example, I could not easily access most of the test patterns on the Digital Video Essentials standard definition DVD. The manual has a few ambiguous lines on the subject, but was not helpful.
The manual is, in fact, poorly organized in many respects, particularly in the many explanations that are riddled with footnoted exceptions.
Eyes and Ears
All of my video and audio observations were made over an HDMI connection.
When I first experienced this player at its recent LA launch, viewed side-by-side with Panasonic's original DMP-BD10, I was impressed. It outperformed that earlier player, and while the differences were subtle, they were significant.
When I finally took a closer look at the DMP-BD30 in my own home theater system, it was clear that this is an exceptional Blu-ray player. But apart from the first, unfortunate Samsung player, the BD-P1000, no Blu-ray player I've seen has disappointed me in any way with its high-definition picture quality.
So when I tell you that the Panasonic is capable of a superb image—either in 1080p/60 or 1080p/24—on the best-looking Blu-ray discs such as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Kingdom of Heaven, Immortal Beloved , Alexander, and Ratatouille--it may not come as much of a surprise.
But not a lot needs to be said. The image quality on today's best high-definition players disarms serious criticism until there's another major leap forward—which is neither imminent nor needed. What you can see now, at home, on a good display from the best players, is as good or better than what you'll see in all but the very best movie theaters on a good day. The only area where those theaters will excel (perhaps) is in sheer screen size. And that description certainly characterizes what you'll see from the DMP-BD30. Its colors were vibrant but natural, its retrieval of detail excellent, and its shadow detail superb (yes, it will go below black and above white).