DVD Players

Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Player - Full Review

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

I had the opportunity to review the Panasonic DMP-BD10 just after it was released into the Blu-ray player market. I was impressed with its video processing as well as its feature set, and Panasonic went on to refine it even more after its release. They improved on the video performance and added full support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio decoding. In my opinion, it is still one of the best Blu-ray players on the market today and easily the most impressive first generation player from either format.

Needless to say, I was excited to see what Panasonic had to offer with their second generation player. While most of the manufacturers out there are on their third generation solution now, Panasonic has remained fixed on improving their first generation player as much as possible and then moving on. The DMP-BD30 is an entirely different kind of player though. It does improve upon the BD10 in some respects, but it has trade-offs as well. We recently published our Benchmark review of the BD30, and the current article focuses on its other capabilities.

The Design

The BD30 is a sleeker design than the BD10. It is substantially smaller in stature and reminds me more of the standard DVD players out there. A local trip to any electronics store will show you that it shares its design with the rest of Panasonic’s new DVD players.

Specifications

  • Codecs: Blu-ray, SD DVD (DVD-Video), DD+, DD True HD,  DVD-VR, AVCHD (H264), CD-DA, MP3, JPEG
  • Outputs: HDMI, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video, Toslink Optical Digital, Coaxial Digital, 5.1 Analog Audio
  • Video DAC: 148.5 MHz, 12 Bit
  • Audio DAC: 24/192
  • 1080p Conversion
  • Dimensions: 2.3" H x 16.9" W x 12.4" D
  • Weight: 7.3 Pounds
  • MSRP: $499.95 USA

The front panel is almost completely hidden beneath a drop down clear plastic door. You can still see the display, but the buttons and SD card slot are hidden from view. The tray is on the left side and is also hidden behind a drop down door. The SD slot provides JPEG photo viewing, including slide show presentations with music, but more on that later.

The back panel is typical of most of the Blu-ray players on the market, but a bit of a step down from the BD10. The BD10 is still the only Blu-ray player to date that supported a 7.1 channel analog output. This is required for anyone who wants to take advantage of the new Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks or anything else featuring 7.1 channels without an HDMI output. The BD30 features a 5.1 channel output only. On the digital side, the BD30 supports Toslink, coaxial digital, and of course HDMI (v1.3a).

panasonic-dmp-bd30-blu-ray-player-full-angle.jpg

On the video side, the BD30 features composite, S-Video, and component outputs for analog, and HDMI for digital. The composite and S-Video connections are limited to 480i, while the component video output supports up to 1080i with Blu-ray material and 480p for standard DVD playback. The HDMI output is 1.3 compliant and supports the Deep Color specification. While this doesn’t affect Blu-ray or DVD playback, it may be something consumers can take advantage of at some point for home video playback from a camcorder.

Overall, I wouldn’t put this player in the same league as the Pioneer Elite or higher end Sony models in terms of build quality, but I didn’t find anything lacking. At this price point, the build is what I expected and in line with the rest of the market.

Features

As the Blu-ray format has progressed, it has been interesting to see what manufacturers have and haven’t done in terms of hardware. I’ve seen all the ravings of the Blu-ray community on various A/V forums and their pleading for certain features, and honestly, most have been ignored. I truly feel that there is still a lot of room for growth in this market in terms of features, and a manufacturer with a bit of ambition could probably take advantage of the lack of standout features if they wanted.

The BD30 does fill a niche though and represents a great value for a small subsection of the market. It represents the first Blu-ray profile 1.1 player, though Sony has already come out and said that the Playstation 3 will be 1.1 compliant when it needs to be. The 1.1 profile provides a secondary video decoder for picture-in-picture (PIP) content. This is a feature that the HD DVD side was taking advantage of for quite some time, as it was a mandatory feature in their spec. Warner has been holding off some bigger titles on Blu-ray because of its lack of support in this area, so hopefully we’ll see some of the higher profile titles that have been withheld start to make their way into the marketplace. At this time there are no titles that take advantage of this feature, but Sony, Fox, and Lionsgate have all announced titles that are authored in this profile for January. Aside from the Playstation 3, there are no other Blu-ray players that will be able to take advantage of the PIP aspect of these discs.

The BD30 is also one of only three Blu-ray players that supports bitstream output of all of the new advanced audio codecs. This includes Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution, and DTS-HD Master Audio. Of course this requires that the end user have a receiver or processor that can decode these soundtracks (there are now several options from various manufacturers), but at least it is a viable option for support of the elusive DTS-HD Master Audio format. The downside is this player does not support internal decoding of any of these formats. This means you will only get the legacy soundtracks or PCM audio (for PCM soundtracks) if you connect via HDMI to a receiver that doesn’t support advanced audio decoding. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you’re shopping this player.

One of the glaring deficiencies with the BD10 was its lack of support for 1080p24 playback. The BD30 finally brings this to the table for Panasonic. This is an optional output that is separate from the standard output resolutions. The BD30 also offers an “Auto” mode that adjusts the output resolution to the highest supported resolution of the display it’s connected to. This is a simple query of the EDID information.

Outside of Blu-ray playback, the BD30 is about average in terms of features, and they’ve trimmed a few from the BD10. The BD30 does not support DVD-Audio playback like the BD10 did. This was probably a cost cutting decision, and overall I don’t think it diminishes value much. This player supports all the standard fare such as DVD, CD, MP3, and AVCHD playback. AVCHD is getting more popular as more camcorders are supporting it, and Panasonic has a nice line of available cameras using this codec.

The BD30 is also part of Panasonic’s EZsynch line. This is an HDMI serial protocol that allows all of the components of this line to talk to each other over an HDMI connection. It also lets you operate any one product from another product’s remote or on-screen menus. I personally didn’t have the opportunity to test this function, as I don’t have any other Panasonic products in my home, but I saw it demonstrated at Panasonic’s Hollywood Labs and it worked quite well. This is an attractive feature for those looking for seamless integration with other products in their home or trying to make an easy system to operate for the less tech savvy.