Panasonic DMP-BD30 Profile 1.1 Blu-ray Player Page 2

Other Stuff
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.

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: Normal, Soft, Fine, and Cinema. I 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).

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.

The manual is 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.

It's 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 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).

The Panasonic does an excellent job deinterlacing a 1080i source to 1080p, including recognition of 3/2 pulldown. That's not important for most Blu-ray Discs, which are movies mastered at 1080p, but concert discs are often mastered at 1080i. Such programming, as opposed to movies, is important to many users, and we're likely to see more of it in the future.

The player's 480i-to-1080p (upconversion of standard DVDs over HDMI) was less pristine. Satisfactory, but only just. It was no better than fair on several tests, and it stumbled badly on others. But it passed the 3/2 pulldown tests on that same disc, and sailed through the Coliseum flyover test on Gladiator.

Despite this, the Panasonic proved to be a good standard DVD player on real program material. With HD players now demanding our attention, splitting hairs on standard DVD playback now seems so 2006. But I don't think many users will be disappointed with the quality of the DMP-BD30 for DVD playback, upconverted or not.

Getting a handle on the audio playback from the Panasonic proved a little trickier. But not with respect to the audio quality itself. No, the tricky part was trying to confirm just what I would get if I deviated from the Bistream/BD-Video Secondary Audio "Off" settings in the player's audio setup menu. In that configuration the player outputs all advanced formats, including Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, in bitstream form.

But if you switch the BD-Video Secondary Audio to "On," still with Bitstream selected, the output is plain vanilla Dolby Digital. Oddly, you get the same result even if you play a disc with only DTS-HD Master Audio track. That's right, if the Onkyo is telling me the truth, when I played Kingdom of Heaven (DTS-HD Master Audio only) with the audio DTS playback set up for Bitstream/BD-Video Secondary Audio On, the Onkyo front indicator said Dolby Digital!

The early Toshiba HD DVD players did a Dolby Digital to DTS transposition; the Panasonic now apparently performs the same trick in the opposite direction!

Seriously, though, what seems more likely is that somehow the flag that's supposed to be telling the receiver in this case that it's receiving DTS is wrong, triggering the Dolby Digital indicator instead. Or the flag is right but the receiver is reading it wrong. It seems unlikely that Panasonic would expend the resources needed to transcode the DTS bitstream to Dolby Digital for this setup, while at the same time leaving out an internal TrueHD decoder. But we can't be certain. Suppose, then, that you don't have a receiver or processor that can decode DTS-HD MA, but want to insure that you're listening to the core DTS track as DTS over HDMI. Are you out of luck? Not necessarily.

If I set up the player's DTS digital output to PCM and turned the BD-Video Secondary Audio to Off, I got a "Multi Ch" indication in the receiver's window. While there's no way to be certain that this PCM is derived from the core DTS track, since neither the player nor the receiver provides this information, it appears likely that it is. Of course you can also get a core DTS track from the standard coaxial or optical digital outputs, if you prefer to go the hair shirt route.

An HDMI Issue?
I tried it on three one-piece televisions and, so far, three video projectors. It worked consistently on all of them except the Samsung LN-T5281F (review pending). On that set in all but a few tries it flickered (visibly) and sputtered (audibly) even on the opening Panasonic screen-saver logo.

As with all such HDMI problems, it's not possible to say definitively which product is to blame, or if the problem is the lack of a mutual attraction between two otherwise perfectly fine products. But this is the first time I have had such a compatibility issue between an HD player and a display, and the Samsung set works fine with the other Blu-ray (and HD DVD) players I've tried.

While I found no compelling advantages to the Panasonic's higher Java profile level than current competing players, that may well change as more fully-featured discs hit the market in January of 2008. Its lack of onboard Dolby TrueHD decoding, however, will be more significant to readers who lack an AV receiver or pre/pro with this capability and, like me, value basic audio and video quality more than special features. But the latter are undoubtedly important to the wider market.

Still, the ability to get both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio off the disc and into your life is a real plus. You can expect to see this in future players, but with an appropriate AV receiver or pre-pro, it's available from the DMP-BD30 now.

And the Panasonic's video quality second to none. HD video on a packaged disc is the most important video development of the new millennium, and no player I've tested, so far, does it any better than this one.

• Superb audio, superb video
• Full bitstream access to Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
• Good remote and ergonomics
• No onboard Dolby TrueHD decoding

(201) 348-7000