Please note for the purposes of this review the DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player has been paired with the newÂ Panasonic PT-AE1000E projector.
Panasonic, with these two products, has delivered home entertainment picture quality that at last matches, or even improves upon, that in the very best of cinemas. The DMP-BD10 is Panasonic’s first Blu-ray player, and the second one to be released in Australia (beaten, ever so slightly, by the Samsung BD-P1000). Blu-ray, of course, provides true 1080 progressive scan high definition video, but to take advantage of that you need a 1080-capable display. And to truly realise the advantages of this high definition, you need a picture the size that only a front projector can deliver. So Panasonic has also released a full 1,920 by 1,080 pixel front projector, the PT-AE1000E.
The DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player is essentially dedicated to the task of playing discs. It fully supports DVD Video, DVD Audio and CD, and mostly supports Blu-ray Video.
The only significant omission at this point is that that two of the new audio formats are not fully supported. These are Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, high resolution lossless systems, similar to that used with DVD Audio. Regular Dolby Digital and DTS toss away some of the sound in order to squeeze it down to a small size. The new systems don’t do that. At the moment, the DMP-BD10 converts both to their regular Dolby Digital and DTS counterparts, but full support is expected to be available next year. This will be able to be added to the unit as a free firmware upgrade.
You have to look forward to that because the DMP-BD10 has 7.1 channel analogue audio outputs, so you can get the complete, highest level cinema sound yet available. It will also deliver video at up to 1080p (progressive scan) via component and HDMI outputs, and the audio can also be carried on the latter. There are also optical and coaxial digital audio outputs in case your current home theatre receiver doesn’t support HDMI. Finally, there are composite and S-Video outputs which will work, admittedly only at standard definition, even from Blu-ray discs.
The PT-AE1000E projector uses LCD technology. LCD projectors often have two significant flaws: an excessive ‘screen door’ effect, where the fine grid of lines between the pixels are visible, and a low contrast ratio, leading to washed-out blacks. Panasonic has dealt with both of these using its ‘Smooth Screen’ technology to reduce screen door, and a dynamic iris to increase the subjective contrast ratio.
The projector comes with a couple of high end features, such as remote controlled power zoom and focus, and a programmable remote control. In addition, there are both horizontal and vertical lens shift (manually operated), and the zoom range is a broad 2:1, so installation is very flexible.
The projector has the usual options for desk or ceiling mounting, either in front of or behind the screen. I opted for using my ceiling mount, but this was complicated a little by one of the mounting points of the projector being inset somewhat into the case, requiring the use of spacers. After that, things were straightforward. There are two HDMI inputs, plus one each of all the other kinds, including SCART. But HDMI was definitely the way to go, given the full high definition capability of the projector.
The Blu-ray player came equipped with the comprehensive range of setup options that Panasonic normally provides. In addition to the functions familiar from DVD players, there are a number more specifically related to Blu-ray, high definition and HDMI. With the latter, for example, you can switch the HDMI video and audio independently on or off. I can?t imagine much use for the former, but with a direct HDMI connection to a projector switching off audio can avoid some compatibility issues. You can also switch off the button selection noise that would otherwise be generated with many Blu-ray discs. And there is exceptional digital audio handling, with independent selection between bitstream and PCM output for Dolby Digital, DTS, MPEG and Dolby Digital Plus. This last is new with Blu-ray and should not be confused with Dolby TrueHD since it still uses lossy compression, although it is far less compressed than regular Dolby Digital.
Occasionally I hear people say that DVD produces such a good picture, high definition isn’t really worth the trouble. That makes me want to drag them into my office and demonstrate this system to them. For the Panasonic DMP-BD10 and PT-AE1000E is what it’s all about.
Panasonic’s Smooth Screen technology really does work. Only at a few inches distance from the screen was it possible to discern the between-pixel black lines. At any further distance, the picture really was beautifully smooth. And the dynamic iris worked wonders as well. In dark scenes there was plenty of detail and never a sense of blacks being not quite dark enough.
But the real test was in comparison to DVD. I compared XXX on Blu-ray and the same movie in the high-end SuperBit DVD format. I played the latter on a high end DVD player, outputting the signal via HDMI at 1080p, the same as the Blu-ray player. And Blu-ray was obviously superior in producing a more coherent picture, cleaner lines and edges, and smoother colour graduations.
There are only a few SuperBit DVDs around, so I compared A Knight’s Tale on a regular DVD (this is of similar quality to the great bulk of DVDs) with the Blu-ray version. Oh wow. The DVD was just plain fuzzy by comparison. There’s a scene where Shannyn Sossamon is wearing a white woven hat. On DVD the strands merged into a hit-or-miss splodge. But with Blu-ray you could count them!
The only problem with the whole system is that the 1080p output was at 60 hertz, producing jerky camera pans. Since the projector supports 24 hertz input, it is a pity that the DMP-BD10 doesn’t provide matching output.
I had earlier had some doubts about whether the quality improvements deliverable by Blu-ray would be enough for the market. Now there can be no doubt. With this being the lowest cost full high definition front projector on the Australian market, Blu-ray is beginning to look reasonably accessible.