Shootout: 3 Blu-ray Disc Players Page 4


The second standalone Blu-ray Disc player to hit the market, the $1,300 Panasonic DMP-BD10 is also currently the priciest option for high-def disc playback. For the money, this player provides compatibility with a fairly wide range of other disc types, including DVD-Audio, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/W, and even DVD-RAM. You also get Panasonic's promise of a firmware upgrade in early 2007 that will allow the player to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Thanks in advance, Panasonic!

After my head-spinning experience with Sony's PS3, I found it comforting to plug the DMP-BD10, which is very much a traditional A/V component, into my system. The player has a sturdy, high-quality build. You flip down a heavy front-panel door to reach its disc tray and front-panel buttons. Rear-panel connections include HDMI and component-video jacks, a 7.1-channel analog output for passing signals to a compatible receiver, and both optical and coaxial digital audio connections. Unfortunately, there's no Ethernet jack, which is a feature I'd expect to see on a $1,300 player.

Panasonic's remote control has the same sturdy build as the player itself. The keypad isn't backlit, but the buttons are large and easy to locate in the dark. A disc on the remote's bottom half provides controls for navigating player and disc menus, and also doubles as a jog wheel for fast or slow scanning through movies. Flipping open the remote's top half, you'll find controls to adjust picture settings such as color, brightness, gamma, and noise reduction. A multicolored row of buttons at the bottom will control interactive features on future discs.

The Short Form

Price $1,300 / / 800-405-0652
Despite a $1,300 pricetag, Panasonic's new Blu-ray player is a mixed bag.
•Sturdy construction •DVD-Audio playback
•No Ethernet port •No onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio (yet) •Chroma "bug" visible on some DVDs •Slow disc-load time
Key Features
•Plays Blu-ray, DVD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/W, and DVD-RAM discs •Plays DVD-Audio, CD, CD-R/RW, and MP3 discs •Variable picture-quality settings •Jog dial on remote control •Video upconversion of regular DVDs to 720p, 1080i, 1080p •Plays digital photo CDs •7.1-channel analog output •192-kHz/24-bit D/A converters for each channel •Outputs: HDMI, component-, composite-, and S-video, optical and coaxial digital audio, 7.1-channel analog audio, two stereo analog audio •17 x 13.5 x 3.5 inches; 10.3 lb

SETUP After plugging the Panasonic into my system via HDMI and visiting its setup menu, I selected the Lighter option from its Lighter/Darker black level settings, 16:9 from its TV Aspect settings, and 1080p HDMI resolution. When using a component-video connection with the DMP-BD10, you first need to switch the HDMI Video Mode to Off in the setup menu. And the available video output resolutions for that connection are standard-def 480i/p and high-def 720p and 1080i.

PERFORMANCE The Panasonic had the same painfully slow load time as most high-def disc players I've tested, clocking 32 seconds from disc insertion to picture display (DVDs loaded much faster). When fed one of the better Blu-ray Disc releases, its picture quality was also extremely good, with sharpness, color, and contrast on par with what I saw from both the PS3 and Samsung players. DVD playback on the Panasonic proved a mixed bag, however. On the one hand, regular DVDs upconverted to 1080p by the player looked solid, clean, and reasonably sharp. But I also saw a few instances of color upsampling error, or "chroma bug." Watching a DVD of the animated Japanese film Akira, for example, I noted a slight combing effect that showed up as jagged vertical stripes in bright red patches of color. No sign of the same issue on Blu-ray Discs, however.

The Panasonic may lack built-in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding (for now, at least), but the movies I watched all sounded spectacular. As someone who happens to have a few DVD-Audio discs in his collection, I was glad to see that it offered playback for the format. Listening to Yes's classic album Fragile was an absorbing surround experience. Not as stimulating as playing Resistance: Fall of Man on the PS3, but fun nonetheless.

BOTTOM LINE The Panasonic DMP-BD10 delivers the razor-sharp 1080p pictures we anticipate from the high-def Blu-ray format. At $1,300, however, its missing Ethernet port was a disappointment, as was its chroma bug issue on upconverted DVDs - something you rarely see nowadays. Still, if you're looking for a basic Blu-ray player that will also play DVD-Audio discs, this Panasonic's an easy choice.