Panasonic DMP-BD10 £1200

1st Jan 2007 | 00:00

Panasonic DMP-BD10

One of the first Blu-ray players for the UK market arrives

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

<p>1080p picture quality</p><p>CD playback</p><p>DVD upscaling</p>

Dislike:

<p>Occasional crashes</p><p>No Dolby TrueHD or DTS master Audio</p>

At last all the talking is done, and the first next-generation, high definition DVD players are actually here. Both Samsung's BD-P1000 and this player use Blu-ray technology, giving the format a handy 'first out of the traps' advantage over rival HD DVD.

But of the two first Blu-ray representatives, Panasonic's DMP-BD10 looks better specified on paper.

For starters, it's better built, presenting a minimalist fascia to the world. It's decently connected too, with highlights including an HDMI output (sadly v1.2 rather than the potentially picture-boosting v1.3), component video outputs, and 7.1-channel audio outputs.

Arguably, its most telling feature over Samsung's BD-P1000 is its claimed ability to output native 1080p transfers from Blu-ray discs, rather than only being able to read 1080i from a disc and then using internal processing to upscale to 1080p, as happens with the BD-P1000. This should make for a much cleaner 1080p experience.

Thrown to the wolves

Also potentially significant is the level of image processing Panasonic has thrown at the DMP-BD10. Pixel Precision Progressive Processing (or P4HD for short) apparently has the power to process more than 15 billion pixels per second, and incorporates multiple rocket-science activities. For instance, frame rates are automatically detected and progressive conversion applied where necessary, plus you have the option to upconvert all sources - including standard definition DVDs - to 1080p.

Discerning the content of pixels added to an upscaled picture, meanwhile, is based on an analysis of up to 60 surrounding pixels, and diagonal processing is on hand to detect diagonal lines and remove jaggedness. Then there's automatic 3:2/2:2 pull down progressive detection and processing, joined by 16-level Motion Detection with pixel-based motion adaptive processing so that the progressive processing 'intelligently adapts' to any motion in a picture.

Audio features run to 7.1 channel output with 192KHz/24-bit DACs for all eight channels, and playback of the new HD audio formats Dolby Digital Plus (for which a decoder is included) and DTS HD. What's more, Panasonic assures us that there will be a firmware upgrade to add full Dolby True HD capability too.

There are limits to the DMP-BD10's format flexibility, though, as it transpires that CDV, SACD, Photo CD, WMA and DiVX discs are all incompatible - as are, of course, HD DVD discs.

There's been much talk regarding the first Blu-ray (and especially HD DVD) players of lengthy disc loading times, and indeed the 30 seconds between inserting our S.W.A.T. test disc and its menus appearing on screen isn't ideal. That said, once the disc is in there are no further significant delays.

Spectacular results

Fed into a brand new 'full HD' 1920 x 1080 resolution 65-inch Panasonic plasma TV, a pure 1080p feed of S.W.A.T. frequently looks spectacular. Check out the shot, for instance, where the glossy van hurtles around a corner at the film's start - the amount of detail in the van's reflective exterior and the sensational fluidity and clarity of its motion immediately scream HD. The lack of noise to accompany the clear amounts of extra fine detail is outstanding too.

Bright, colourful scenes (like the competition at the shooting range) also exemplify the 'HD difference' in the remarkable vibrancy and solidity of colour saturations, along with exceptionally subtle blends that add both three-dimensionality and realism to tones across the board, but especially skin tones.

If you focus your attention on the drab background walls during any of the scenes in S.W.A.T. HQ, meanwhile, you'll be overjoyed to see none of the colour banding, MPEG blocking or MPEG twitching witnessed to some degree on even the very finest ordinary DVD players.

To put all this into perspective, the S.W.A.T. 1080p Blu-ray transfer completely outscores our upscaled-to-1080p S.W.A.T. Superbit DVD. And you don't need a huge screen like our Panasonic TH-65PX600 to see it - the difference is visible even on screens as small as 42-inch, maybe even 37-inch. What's more, the differences are even more striking with a truly pristine transfer like the sampler disc Panasonic includes with the player.

That's not to say we don't have any issues with the BD10, though. Firstly, it has no BD online support, and doesn't come with an HDMI cable included. Also its 1080p upscaling from standard DVD is not as accomplished as that of the Denon DVD-3930 (though it is comfortably better than your average budget upscaler).

Secondly, even on a 65-inch 1920 x 1080 screen, the differences in quality between a 1080i and 1080p feed from a Blu-ray disc seem marginal. Sure, there's a touch more crispness and marginally less dot noise, but the difference is hardly the revelation we'd hoped for given the level of 1080p hype around.

Moving on to sound, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix of the film's frequently pulsating soundtrack and dynamic. Even more entrancing is a 7.1-channel PCM mix provided on the Panasonic sampler disc we mentioned - which all bodes well for the Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD formats when they start to appear.

So far as the mastering limitations of current software permits, the DMP-BD10 does make a convincing case for ditching your old DVD player - even a good upscaling one - in favour of the next generation. Paying the price

But it's impossible to talk about the DMP-BD10 without mentioning its price. Quality machine though it is, £1,200 seems scarily expensive when you think that rival HD DVD decks will be available for well under £500.

Even Toshiba's step-up HD DVD deck, the HD-XE1, with which this Panasonic is perhaps more fairly compared, only costs £650. So while for now the BD10 is quite simply the best performing DVD player ever, with the HD DVD and Blu-ray war just beginning, the phrase that most defines its position right now can only be 'you pay your money, you takes your chances'.

How Blu-ray beats the best upscaling DVD decks:

We compared Panasonic's BMP-BD10 Blu-ray with Denon's £1,100 DVD-3930.

There are times when the Blu-ray image is not much - if any - better than the DVD version of the same movie played on the Denon, but this is down to the disc transfer. At other times the Blu-ray picture is so outstanding it suggests that when disc mastering really improves the format will truly rock.

If you've got £1,000 to spend on a player, it makes sense to opt for a Blu-ray deck, because most Blu-ray discs are going to be superior to DVD. Also, a Blu-ray deck will play both formats and its DVD upscaling is only marginally inferior to the Denon's so even if Blu-ray doesn't catch on (we think it will) you'll still have a damn fine DVD deck rather than a DVD deck that can't play genuine hi-def content. But you could wait for prices to fall and enjoy Sky HD broadcasts in the meantime.

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