Technology

Panasonic's Blu-ray Special


Dmp-bd10_110x100
Editor's Rating: star rating

The high-definition picture and sound of the DMP-BD10 Blu-ray Disc and DVD player rival moviegoing, but for $1,299.95 retail, is that enough?

The buzz around next-generation movie players surrounds their ability to bring high-definition picture to the home theater. What I first noticed about Panasonic's DMP-BD10 Blu-ray Disc and DVD player, however, wasn't the picture. It was the sound.

Opening music for Mission: Impossible III insidiously crept through the room during the first scenes of the film before exploding during the initial action sequence—just like in the theaters. Panasonic designed this player to support high-resolution audio, and it's easy to hear it. The player can broadcast up to 118 decibels. That's louder than an average rock concert or blasting truck horn, and plenty of sound for a typical home viewer. After all, less than 15 minutes of daily exposure to that level of noise is enough to damage hearing.

The DMP-BD10 can handle the Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS sound formats, enabling home viewers with quality sound systems to feel more like they are in a real theater instead of sitting on their couch. It also plays MP3s.

Future Audio Upgrade

Of course, the sound isn't fully theater-quality yet. The player does not yet support DTS-HD Master and Dolby TrueHD, both of which offer sound closer to theater quality. It lacks HDMI 1.3 compatibility, which is used to support these higher-resolution formats. However some players can broadcast the higher-resolution audio without HDMI 1.3, and Panasonic has promised to release a firmware update later this year that will enable players to support both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master.

It is important to note that the inability to support the higher-quality formats is more of a future issue, as several players do not yet even broadcast in Dolby Digital Plus and most lack HDMI 1.3 capability. Panasonic's audio options are better than most. The player comes with a 7.1-multichannel analog output, whereas many players offer only 5.1 channels. It also has a host of outputs to hook up your stereo.

After being wowed by the sound, I turned my attention to the picture. The player can broadcast up to 1080p, the highest quality available. The picture was crisp and clear. I could see detail in scenes where the picture was dark, such as when Tom Cruise and Keri Russell are running through a dimly lit warehouse at night. Faces appeared sharper than when watching discs in a regular DVD player. Similarly, colors were more vibrant and brighter. Seeing a Lamborghini Gallardo get blown up in HD is particularly painful. It's worth noting that, in addition to its HDMI output for top-quality video, it also has component, AV, and S-Video outputs.

Weighing Picture and Price

Call me spoiled by HD television, but the picture only met expectations. It did not exceed them. For a suggested retail price of $1,299.95—about half the cost of a decent 50-in. plasma-screen television—I wanted to be blown away. I wanted the player to so enhance the picture on the 50 in., 1080p-capable DLP television I was watching that I would stand up and swear never again to waste time or $10.25 at the movies.

Admittedly, those are some pretty high expectations. But this player comes with a pretty high price-tag. Especially when considering that Blu-ray and HD-DVD are fighting it out to be the standard format and, if Blu-ray loses, the player risks become relatively obsolete (and considering that the Sony PlayStation 3, which supports Blu-ray discs, is going for between $500 and $1,000 on eBay).

It's somewhat understandable that Panasonic's player would be pricey. The technology is cutting-edge, and that's always going to demand top dollar. The price-conscious, like me, will probably want to wait until the technology becomes a bit more mainstream. Video- and audiophiles, and those with limitless cash, will want the latest and greatest right now. This player certainly will fit their bill. It's just not fit for my budget.

Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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