DVD Players

Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Player - Full Review

ARTICLE INDEX

 

Setup and Operability

The BD30 uses the same menu structure as most of Panasonic’s DVD line and is also very similar to the BD10. When you power on, the player goes through a very short setup for language and such and then you have the option of doing a more advanced setup from the main setup menu. In here you have the customary video and audio setups with a few twists.

Since this player supports a secondary video stream, you have to make selections for what you want the audio to do. Unfortunately, the instructions are completely clear. You need to select the secondary audio to Off in order to get full bitstream support of the advanced audio options. Otherwise, it will only be legacy support (Dolby Digital/DTS). They explain in a way that makes you think it will only degrade the audio if a second video stream is detected, but that is not the case.

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There are also some video adjustments in the display menu. I don’t know why companies continue to bury important setup options in layers that don’t make sense. If there are options for your video output, create a video setup selection in the SETUP menu. How hard is this? Once you have something playing you can hit the display button, and you’ll find some setup options for video, including progressive mode and some picture tweaks. I recommend leaving progressive mode to Auto and setting all the picture modes to Off or default values, as the player is fine without adjustment.

The remote is almost identical to the BD10 and is a hit or miss design. I don’t like Panasonic’s menu layout. With standard DVD playback you hit Menu and it asks you what menu you want rather than just having a title menu key and a standard menu key. The layout isn’t bad, but it takes some getting used to. But like any other product, it wasn’t that big a deal once I got used to it. Again this product supports Panasonic’s EZsynch system, so it can operate other products in Panasonic’s line.

Blu-ray Video Processing Performance

I’ve tested just about every Blu-ray player out there, and it’s been interesting to see the differences in video processing performance. The early Blu-ray players had a decoder that simply put out 1080i60 and fed a secondary video processing chip that converted this to 1080p. Even the Panasonic DMP-BD10 used this method, employing a National Semiconducter video processing chip for its interlaced/progressive (I/P) conversion. The BD10 even went another step further by using separate decoders for standard DVD playback compared to Blu-ray playback, which helped tremendously with the quality of their DVD playback performance.

Most of the Blu-ray players released since are very similar to one another in terms of video processing performance because they are all using the same chips. Most of the designs are centered around a Sigma Designs decoder, which handles I/P conversion, scaling, video processing, and HD and SD decoding. Standard DVD players went through a cycle like this in the early days of progressive DVD players too.

The problem with this design is the decoders aren’t very good at video processing once you get past the basic functions. Sigma has proven that their output for 1080p60 or 1080p24 is just fine, but when you start messing with video content or I/P conversion of 1080i sources, things get a bit trickier.

So far, the BD10 and the Samsung BDP-1200 have been the only players with better than average video processing performance. The BD10 used the National Semiconductor chip which I’ve only seen used once before (Classe CDP-300), and the Samsung used the popular Silicon Optix Reon processing solution that we’ve seen in several A/V products.

Panasonic has once again used a more advanced video processing solution than just relying on the decoder chip, but its performance still isn’t reference quality. Most of the Blu-ray players I’ve tested recently can’t even de-interlace 1080i60 to 1080p60 correctly. This only affects a handful of software on the market today, but as the format matures, it may become more of an issue. For the BD30, Panasonic is using its own video processing solution, and it does do the I/P conversion with 2-3 (film) based material correctly. This is one of only a handful of players that do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare as well with 2-2 (Video) based material. This comes into play with concerts shot in 30p, such as the Blu-ray release of Nine Inch Nails’ Beside You In Time. The player will simply do a “Bob” style process, and this hurts resolution overall. You can read more about the importance of proper 1080p processing in our feature article here.

Outside of this quirk, the DMP-BD30 does a great job with Blu-ray playback. I ran it through our gamut of HD tests for core video performance, and it came out unscathed. This player outputs proper black and white levels and does not clip head or toe room. There is also no clipping from the active image on any side, so the output retains the entire 1920x1080 resolution.
The BD30 outputs the full resolution of the luma (black and white) and chroma (color) signal with absolutely no sign of roll-off or exaggeration. The decoder also showed no signs at all of chroma upsampling error (CUE) regardless of the cadence used.

Overall, the core video performance of this player is pretty much flawless which translates to an exceptional video image with standard Blu-ray playback. The 24p output is also timed properly (an issue we’ve seen with some HD players), resulting in stutter free playback and smooth panning with film sources.

DVD Video Processing Performance

Let’s face it, SD DVD is still the consumer’s number one choice for home video playback, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I am a huge fan of high definition content, and honestly I haven’t bought a single DVD in over a year, but the masses are still happy with their DVDs, and there are still a lot more DVDs coming out every week than Blu-ray discs. So, as consumers (hopefully) transition to Blu-ray, they’ll probably want to use their new Blu-ray players to replace their DVD players and free up some space on the equipment rack. Hopefully their new Blu-ray player will do a great job with DVD playback and not take a big step down from what they’ve become accustomed to from their previous player. Unfortunately, so far I’ve been less than impressed with DVD playback performance from most Blu-ray players. Off hand I can only think of two that did a decent job: the Panasonic DMP-BD10 and the Samsung BDP-1200. The rest leave a lot to be desired.

The DMP-BD30, unfortunately, fits in the latter category with less than stellar SD DVD playback. The BD10 used a completely different decoder chip for its MPEG decoding duties and relied on the National Semiconducter chip for its video processing functions. This resulted in very good DVD playback, even with difficult material. The BD30 does not go this route and employs the same decoder chip for SD as it does for HD, and doesn’t seem to take advantage of any secondary video processing solution.

The BD30 borders on one of the worst SD DVD players I’ve seen. Under no circumstance could I get it to lock on to a film cadence, regardless of the test. The player does have different progressive modes, but they all seem to be video based processing. This puts it in line with the PS3 in terms of DVD playback, which couldn’t lock onto any film based cadences either in our testing.

For video based material, the BD30 did alright. It is motion adaptive, which is a plus, but it could not lock onto a 2-2 cadence. I was actually surprised by this one because normally even flag based video processing would pass this test.

On the core video performance side, the BD30 is about average. The player suffers from two types of CUE and failed our 2-3 Alternating CUE test and our ICP 4:2:0 test. The player is cropping one pixel from the bottom of the image with SD material, which is surprising given that it doesn’t crop any with HD material.

General navigation of DVDs is quite good, though I am still not a big fan of their menu structure and interface. Using our high bitrate layer change test, the BD30 clocked in at a rather sluggish 1.75 seconds for a layer change, which is a bit long.

People looking to use this player as their primary DVD playback device may want to consider other options. There are sub-$100 DVD players on the market that would do a far better job.