I found out right after I got this player that it required a firmware update to play back some of the newer titles on the market (Kingdom of Heaven was one of them). Before I installed the update, I played back this disc to see what would happen. The player would not allow me to select scenes from the scene selection menu and would eventually lock up. You can find the new firmware by following the link provided in the slip with the disc or by going to the Panasonic website. The newest firmware version is 1.2. I'll talk about this firmware more later, as it introduced some issues that the previous firmware did not have.
Audio and Video Support
But, the audio side is all over the place. For example, both formats have optional and mandatory audio support. (DVD had this too: DTS and SDDS were both optional audio specifications for the DVD format, though we never saw any titles mastered in SDDS.) This means that studios are free to use any audio codec they want, but whether or not the player supports it is up in the air. Then, figuring out what the player does with an audio format it doesn't support becomes a mystery. How hard would it have been to just support all of it so the end user doesn't have to worry about it? Or better yet, do some actual engineering tests and figure out which ones deliver the best presentation while offering the compression needed and just use that. Unfortunately that isn't what happened.
Blu-ray currently has a flurry of audio options. Titles currently on the market have a mixture of audio options, including Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby TrueHD (lossless), DTS-HD Master Audio (lossless), and uncompressed multi-channel PCM. The specification also supports Dolby Digital Plus and standard DTS-HD, but we haven't seen titles mastered in either format yet. On top of that, you have to use either HDMI (and have a receiver or SSP that supports HDMI v1.1 or higher) or multi-channel analog audio connections to get the most out of over half of them. The only formats supported by the common Toslink or coaxial digital connection are DTS and Dolby Digital (the same applies to people using HDMI with older products that don't support at least HDMI v1.1) or a scaled down version of the advanced codecs that essentially converts them back to the standard Dolby Digital and DTS fare.
The Panasonic DMP-BD10 currently supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, uncompressed multi-channel PCM, and DTS. It also supports DVD Audio and CD playback.
Dolby Digital Plus is extremely common with HD DVD but is slightly different in the Blu-ray specification. It is only required for soundtracks with more than 5.1 channels of information (e.g. 6.1 or 7.1). This is one of the reasons Panasonic included a 7.1 analog output on the back panel.
As of this writing, the BD10 will not decode the new Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtracks. It will extract the core 5.1 legacy soundtracks from them and pass them on as a bitstream. I verified this with the Legend's of Jazz release (Dolby TrueHD) and various Fox titles that feature DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Panasonic has released a statement saying support for these formats is expected in the first quarter of next year and there is a registration letter that comes with the player that you can fill out so they will send you the firmware update disc when it becomes available. We really hope that Panasonic comes through on this, as the BD10 is the only player on the market with announced support of DTS-HD.
For video, the BD10 supports all of the Blu-ray specified video compression formats. This includes MPEG-2, AVC, and VC1 encoded discs. This player does not support discs that are PAL and it does not support DivX.
With the Panasonic BD10, it will output standard DTS and DD soundtracks as a bitstream and retain the full resolution of uncompressed PCM audio. Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks are decoded in the player to PCM and output in their full resolution. (An HDMI v1.1 compliant receiver or surround sound processor is required to take advantage of multi-channel PCM soundtracks via HDMI. Check your components manual to ensure proper compatibility.)
If you select HDMI for audio, the analog outputs for 7.1 are disabled and no setup screen is provided. If you don't select HDMI, the outputs are enabled and you have options for bass management, time alignment, and channel level. The default crossover used for bass management is 100 Hz, which is a bit higher than I would have preferred. If a manufacturer is only going to use one crossover point, we would prefer to see 80 Hz used.
Time alignment is configured in milliseconds rather than feet, which is ALWAYS a pain. With math co-processors the way they are today, why don't manufacturers just offer feet or meters? Is it really that hard? The settings are also for the difference between any channel and the mains. So if your front left and right speaker are 8 feet from you and the surrounds are 6 feet, you put a 2 ms delay. The funny thing is, you cannot adjust for channels that are further from you than the mains. I imagine this may be an issue for those who have a center channel slightly farther away. Personally I think you should be able to input the distance to each speaker individually and have the decoder adjust accordingly. Again, this is nothing new in surround sound time alignment controls, but it seems like manufacturers are all over the map in terms of how they handle things.
For setting channel levels (volume), Panasonic has included a built-in test tone that cycles through the channels. You can adjust the mains in increments of 0.5 dB from 0-6 dB and the other channels can be adjusted up to 12 dB. Since this test tone doesn't seem to be in reference to anything, I recommend finding a test disc and using that to set levels with the appropriate volume setting on your receiver or surround sound processor.
The video setup is simple. There are separate setup menus for component and HDMI, and both outputs are active full time. You can set the component output for progressive playback of standard DVDs, and you can adjust the resolution of the HDMI output. Like most of the other Panasonic players I've reviewed, a lot of the more in-depth setup features, including progressive modes and picture controls, are actually in the display menu. I've never understood this personally since most people would think that video setup features would be in the setup menu, but I guess you can commend Panasonic for being consistent.
For HDMI you can select Auto, 480p, 720p, 1080i, or 1080p for output resolution. Unfortunately, the BD10 does not offer 480i via HDMI. Component has the same selections minus 1080p, but it offers 480i. Standard DVD playback is limited to 480p via component, but all resolutions are offered with HDMI.
There are two Auto modes for Progressive playback and a video mode. Based on the results of our DVD benchmark tests, the player doesn't need anything more than Auto 1.
Typical picture controls like Brightness, Contrast, and Color are included, but we don't recommend adjusting them. Digital image controls directly affect the dynamic range of the picture and can introduce artifacts into the image such as noise and banding. We played with the brightness and contrast settings a bit and obvious banding crept into the image when viewing a reverse gray ramp on our HD test disc.