Following Samsung’s BD-P1000, which we reviewed recently, this is the second Blu-ray player to arrive in Europe. Blu-ray Disc’s proponents have repeatedly told us that this is the real next-generation format for video, one that will take us “beyond high definition” and supply a far better movie experience than both DVD and Blu-ray’s immediate rival, HD DVD.
This player delivers hi-def pictures up to a resolution of 1080p, as well as 7.1-channel surround sound.
At £1,100 (at least), the DMP-BD10 costs around £200 more than the Samsung player — which already seemed overpriced to us — so it’s got some real impressing to do to justify that outlay. Of course, it also plays DVDs — upscaling them to hi-def resolutions — so we’ll take a look at its performance with those too.
Design While describing it as ugly might be slightly unfair. This certainly isn’t among the best-looking disc-spinners on the market. The main casing is a reasonably dull silver colour (it looks better in photographs than it does in the flesh), while the front LED display and disc tray to look like something from a much cheaper device. Considering the premium price tag, we expected more from Panasonic on this front.
The one eye-catching piece of styling is the thick glass plate that slowly flips down to reveal the front panel, but even that has to be done manually, rather than with the remote. Like the Samsung Blu-ray player, the Panasonic lacks the rock-solid build quality you’d get with a DVD player in this price range — but at least the shiny black Samsung is a lovely piece of design.
The connections on offer, however, manage to outdo Samsung’s selection under the 7.1-channel analogue audio output (the Samsung only leads 5.1). This means that, given enough cables, you can output eight discrete channels of surround sound to a receiver with the corresponding inputs — nice stuff if you have a Blu-ray disc with a 7.1-channel soundtrack. You also get optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, and a primary stereo analogue output.
In terms of video, the chief output is the HDMI socket. While this isn’t a fabled v1.3 HDMI that will be able to carry lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio soon, it can give both surround sound and video, the latter in anything up to 1080p quality. (For the uninitiated, 1080p is the best form of hi-def Blu-ray is capable of delivering, but you’ll also need a TV or projector capable of showing it — any old HD Ready display will not do.) This, then, is the connection you want to use. Other options are component video (capable of carrying up to 1080i hi-def), Scart, S-Video and composite video.
Features The most prominent reason to get excited about Blu-ray at the moment is its hi-def abilities. Whereas DVDs have a native resolution of 576p, Blu-ray’s extra memory capacity means it can deliver movies at 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolution — that’s up to four times the detail of a DVD. The DMP-BD10 will output all these hi-def formats when you stick a Blu-ray Disc in the tray, provided the conditions are correct (i.e. 1080p requires you use an HDMI cable and have a compatible screen or projector). To set your preferred output format, you dip into the setup menu and select it from the list — any unavailable sizes will be greyed out and unselectable.
It will also upscale DVD video to your chosen format using its Pixel Precision Progressive Processing (P4HD) video technology, which should make them look much sharper and more detailed.
Panasonic has included several image-adjustment tools, which are accessible both in the setup menu and via a dedicated button while a disc is playing. These can be used to sharpen a picture, adjust the contrast, and so on. It doesn’t hurt to have them there, but as your HD Ready television or projector probably has much the same options, it’s not always necessary to touch them.
Unfortunately, the remote control bundled with the player is, well, rubbish. It seems pretty good on first viewing: the main controls are well laid-out, and there’s a clean, uncluttered feel thanks to many of the less-used functions being hidden away underneath a flap. Picking it up and using it, however, reveals it to be annoyingly unresponsive, especially when you’re trying to change menu settings. The fact that the navigation buttons are part of a loose, spinning wheel (used to skip forwards and backwards when watching films) doesn’t help either. It’s quite simply a dog’s dinner of a remote control — and a device as cutting-edge as this deserves a perfect one.
Performance To test out the 1080p quality, we hooked the DMP-BD10 up to a 50-inch Pioneer PDP-5000EX (full review coming soon) — one of only a handful of 1080p-compatible plasma screens available. It’s fair to say that it looks streets ahead of DVD, even DVD upscaled by the most expensive players on the market, and there’s also more detail and far less noise and fewer compression artefacts than you see with the movies on Sky HD.
It’s quite simply the best picture you can get at home (without shipping in a proper cinema projector and a few reels of film, anyway).
It’s better than the Samsung BD-P1000 — and this is where that extra £200 makes itself known. We should point out, however, that having also tried 1080i and found it looks no worse, we’re not sure all the fuss over 1080p is justified. At least, not yet — it could well be due to the discs having to improve slightly. Sound quality is also excellent, but not any better than the DVD at the moment.
Upscaled DVD playback isn’t quite so impressive, and there are cheapish DVD players out there that do a better job of this — but hey, who buys a £1,100, bleeding-edge Blu-ray player to watch DVDs?