DVD Players

Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Player - Full Review

ARTICLE INDEX

 

In Use

Without a doubt the biggest complaint that I’ve had from most HD players has been the overall usability and sluggish designs. Whether it is the sluggish power-on times, miserable load times, or tedius Java implementation, the Blu-ray players I’ve tested so far are definitely a step back in terms of operation and speed compared to the SD DVD players we’re used to working with. I think this is the area that manufacturers and software providers should take a big look at if they want the high def format to progress in the market. Consumers transitioning from DVD to Blu-ray are probably expecting next generation performance and speed, not slower operation and ridiculous load times for their new discs.

Luckily, Panasonic seems to have addressed this with their new design and delivers the fastest stand alone Blu-ray player to date that is nearly as fast as the Playstation 3 with navigation and disc loading.

The BD30 takes roughly 20-25 seconds to power on. Once the player is on, disc loading takes only a few seconds. This is a big step up from the designs I’ve reviewed recently, with some taking nearly twice as long. General navigation of disc features and menus is not quite as fast as the Playstation 3, but close. This includes some of the more difficult advanced profile Blu-ray discs with Java based features such as Cars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. These discs have been notoriously bad with the recent players I’ve tested. For example I recently had the opportunity to review the new Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD, which costs nearly twice as much as the BD30. When I loaded the new (and outstanding) release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind it took over two minutes just to get to the discs menus. It went through two different types of loading screens as well.

The BD30 was almost the opposite. It never even went into the first loading menu and was half way done with the second loading menu when it appeared on screen and finished up in just a few seconds. The BD30 loaded this same disc in less than a fourth of the time of the 95FD. I saw similar performance with all of the other discs. In fact, the only discs I thought the BD30 was a bit sluggish on were Ratatouille (which is even a tad slow on the PS3) and Superbad. While this level of operability could still be improved upon, it currently represents the best performance from a stand alone Blu-ray player to date and far more in line with what consumers would probably expect as they transition from standard DVD players.

While I was impressed with BD30 operability overall, I was blown away with video and audio performance. During this review, I mated the BD30 with the new Onkyo Pro 885 Surround Sound Processor to take advantage of the advanced audio bitstream support and the Marantz VP15S1 1080p DLP projector. This player truly leaves little to be desired in terms of Blu-ray software playback.

As most of you already know, Fox has been a long time supporter of DTS. They included DTS tracks frequently on their DVD releases and have moved on to exclusive support of DTS-HD Master Audio. This has been a bit of a double edged sword for the format. DTS-HD Master Audio is a lossless audio codec and supports full 24 bit resolution, and so far, all of the releases in this format have been full resolution soundtracks. The problem is no one has offered decoding in the players like they have for the other formats. Well, that still hasn’t changed, but what we are seeing is support popping up in the new audio receivers and surround sound processors. The BD30 transmits this format in bitstream format to these new products and is one of only three players that does. Now we have to opportunity to hear these soundtracks in their full resolution as intended.

I had the opportunity to review a few DTS-HD Master Audio releases, including Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Pathfinder, and Live Free or Die Hard. The new Die Hard film packs a state of the art lossless soundtrack that really sets it apart from the pack. The BD30 delivered the full quality Master Audio track to my Onkyo Pro 885 SSP and delivered a five star sound. The picture quality from the BD30 was also exceptional, with fine detail, depth, and contrast delivered perfectly. This is a very stylized film with amazing clarity in the image and depth of field. The 1080p24 playback from the BD30 resolved all of the intricate detail, providing one of the best Blu-ray images I’ve seen lately.

Another highlight was Disney’s recent Pixar releases on Blu-ray. The Pixar Shorts Collection, Cars, and Ratatouille all delivered the A/V experience we only dreamed of a few years ago, with picture quality that is second to none, and some of the most dynamic soundtracks imaginable. As much as I loved all three of these releases I must say that Cars represents one of the best A/V experiences I’ve seen and heard yet on any format to date. The BD30 navigated this disc far better than any other stand alone player I’ve used and delivered every ounce of the video and audio experience.

The only disc I’ve had any issue at all with during my time with the BD30 is Die Harder: Die Hard 2 from the Die Hard Collection. For some reason, this disc is authored incorrectly, and the bitstream output from the BD30 would not support the audio stream. I’ve heard reports that performance varies based on what receiver or processor you’re using, but with the Onkyo Pro 885, I was not able to get any sound in bitstream mode. Switching to internal processing took advantage of the core DTS track and playback was fine. For the record, this is a software authoring issue, but something potential owners should know about.

Conclusions

Without a doubt, the BD30 is a definite step in the right direction for Blu-ray players. It offers state of the art playback performance from Blu-ray software and piece of mind with its support of the upcoming 1.1 profile. But this player isn’t for everyone, and with its lack of advanced audio decoding support, potential customers need to know that this player requires ownership of one of the newer A/V receivers or processors to make the best of the digital output of these codecs. If you are one of those lucky consumers though, I can’t recommend this player more.