Now that the Blu-ray format has been available for a year and a half, we’re starting to see lots of second- and third-generation players with enhanced functionality and reduced prices. Among them is the DMP-BD30, Panasonic’s second-gen model with many more goodies—and a much lower price— than the previous DMP-BD10. Even better, it outperforms its predecessor in just about every way.
The DMP-BD30’s biggest claim to fame is the fact that it’s the first Blu-ray player in the U.S. market to conform to what is called Full Profile (aka Profile 1.1). What does this mean, you ask? Full Profile mandates that all Blu-ray players introduced after November 1, 2007, provide certain capabilities that have been unavailable up to now. Unfortunately, almost no players introduced before that date can be upgraded to include them.
Chief among these new capabilities is picture-inpicture (PIP), which allows the player to display a secondary program in an inset window as you’re watching the movie, much like the PIP function found in most TVs. The secondary program can be the director’s commentary, a documentary about how the current scene was shot, and so on. There are virtually no Blu-ray discs that offer these features yet, but since all players introduced after November 1 must implement Full Profile, you can bet there will be. See avguide.com/news/2007/11/15/keeping-up-with-blu-ray-profiles/ for the whole story.
With the recent proliferation of A/V receivers that can decode the new audio codecs, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, it’s nice to know that the DMP-BD30 is one of the few Blu-ray players that can send these formats as digital bitstreams via HDMI. These audio formats can also be converted to PCM if your AVR can’t decode them. One thing missing from the DMP-BD30 is the ability to play DVD-Audio discs. The DMP-BD10 had it, so why remove it from the BD30? Maybe to bring the price down—a laudable goal—but I mourn its omission.
I’ve always liked Panasonic player remotes, and this one is no exception. It has large, well-organized buttons that are easy to find in the dark once you learn their locations, which is important since the remote is not illuminated.
On the other hand, the menu system is not very well-organized—the controls are spread among three different places. Unlike most Blu-ray players, this one provides several picture presets and a full set of picture controls, which is great for matching the player’s picture to your TV’s settings, but they are buried three layers deep. Also unusual are level and delay settings for a multichannel speaker setup, though this is unnecessary for anyone with a reasonably sophisticated AVR.
Looking at the Blu-ray version of HQV Benchmark with the player set to output 1080p, the video resolution-loss test was solid as a rock, the film resolution loss test showed just a hint of flickering, and jaggies were virtually nonexistent. The HQV Benchmark DVD looked quite good as well, but only after I set the player to “16:9 Full”—at the normal 16:9 setting, the DVD image was squeezed into a 4:3 window. In this case, jaggies were mild to moderate, and detail was excellent.
The Blu-ray version of Cars looked fantastic, with super-sharp detail and exquisite colors. Each spectator car was crystal clear in long shots of the raceway bleachers, and the texture of the road pavement was positively palpable. Likewise, the paint jobs on all the cars were simply stunning, from Lightning McQueen’s red to Sally’s powder blue to Chick Hick’s lime green.
Moulin Rouge on DVD was no less spectacular. The riotous colors of the showgirl costumes popped right off the screen, and the red and gold of Satine’s boudoir was sumptuous indeed. In terms of detail, the busy interior of the club and crowded Paris cityscapes were surprisingly sharp for a DVD—a testament to the BD30’s superb processor.
In both cases, the soundtrack was clean and clear via HDMI—explosions were suitably explosive without being too boomy, dialog was perfectly intelligible, and highs were crystalline. Switching to the 5.1-channel analog output, the level seemed to drop a bit, and the highs might have been rolled off just a tad, but the difference was insignificant in my opinion.
Listening to a CD of Concerto Palatino playing northern Italian renaissance music for cornetts and trombones recorded live in a church, I noted that the delicate ensemble was artfully rendered. The instruments were well-defined, and there was plenty of air and articulation. I heard virtually no difference between the HDMI and analog outputs.
The DMP-BD30 represents a significant improvement over Panasonic’s previous Blu-ray player, and it’s less expensive to boot. I’m bummed that it doesn’t play DVD-Audio, and I don’t care much for the menu system, but otherwise, it’s a superb Blu-ray player that I’d be very happy living with.