Reviewer: Thomas Bartlett
Blu-ray is finally starting to settle down. As we’ve explained in our article Raising your profile: what you need to know about Blu-ray profiles before you buy a Blu-ray player, Blu-ray players released prior to November 2007 were ‘Grace Period’ players, unable to cope with new advanced features such as video picture-in-picture that is likely to be forthcoming on future discs. The only exception was the PlayStation 3 which, due to its computer-like interface, could be easily upgraded.
Now though, Panasonic has released the first standalone ‘Final Standard Profile’ Blu-ray player in Australia – the DMP-BD30.
What sets this player apart is the extra features that come with Final Standard Profile compliance. This includes a picture-in-picture feature, support for a simultaneous secondary audio track. It also includes an SD card slot, which can act as a ‘persistent storage’ for other special features, such as bookmarks. Plus it can display photos, and run video in the new AVCHD high definition digital videocamera format.
This player is the first from Panasonic to support the playback of recordable Blu-ray discs. On the performance front, it delivers the highest quality 1080p24 video output, and can output al the new audio standards as bitstreams over HDMI to the most recent home theatre receivers, allowing them to decode these formats themselves.
Reading the description of a Blu-ray player, and even its specifications, it can still be pretty hard to work out precisely what it is capable of doing with sound. When you play a Blu-ray disc with a Dolby TrueHD audio track, for example, how do you know the sound you are hearing is the super high resolution format, or merely the standard Dolby Digital ‘core’ that all such tracks contain within them? Likewise for DTS-HD Master Audio.
After testing with my Dolby and DTS test Blu-ray discs, it seems this player does not include decoders for any of the new audio standards, so the 5.1 cannel analog outputs and the internal decoding is limited to the older forms of Dolby Digital and DTS. Still, the bitstream output capability for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, combined with a Yamaha RX-V1800 home theatre receiver that is capable of decoding them, provided absolutely magnificent sound.
The picture quality? If anything, this Blu-ray player trumps Panasonic’s more expensive DMP-BD10A with its ability to deliver full 1080p high definition video at a cinema-like 24 frames per second. The picture quality was simply brilliant, limited only by the quality of the discs it was asked to reproduce. Even with a test Blu-ray disc with difficult interlaced material, it produced results at least as good as any other player.
It also did a decent job on PAL DVDs. Not perfect, because unlike some cheap Panasonic DVD players, there is no ability to force the unit into film mode. However most of the time the unit correctly detected the type of disc being played and applied the correct video processing.pa
The photo display from SD cards was absolutely incredible. It wasn’t that the picture quality was so wonderful, which of course it was, but that it was so fast. I am used to consumer equipment taking ten or more seconds to read each photo. This one opened up each 6 megapixel photo in less than 2 seconds.
The one standout feature upon which I cannot write is the unit’s performance as a Final Standard Profile player. The reason is that there were no Blu-ray discs demanding these additional features available in Australia in time for deadline. Expect them to start appearing in a month or two. Reports from the US suggest that this player works well with those discs.
Brilliant player, decent price. However, for the best audio performance you will need a home theatre receiver with onboard decoding for the new digital audio standards.