Panasonic Blu-ray Player Makes HD Discs Look Great
By Jim Bray
If you have a high definition TV and want to exploit it to its best, Blu-ray is the way to go.
Even if your HDTV is only capable of receiving 720p HD, the BD disc will drive your TV to its maximum, giving you the most benefit from your HD dollar.
And now that the first generations of Blu-ray players are being replaced by newer, more capable and affordable units, and an increasing numbers of titles are being made available to play on them, there's less reason to wait than ever.
One of these new generation players is Panasonic's DMP-BD35, a player so slim it looks almost like one of those impulse item DVD players. But it isn't; it's a reasonably fully-featured unit that should be all most people need.
About the only thing missing from this player is 7.1 analog audio outputs, which the vast majority of people won’t miss.
On the other hand, this Panasonic will give you gorgeous 1080p/24 video and, if you have an HDMI-equipped A/V receiver (even one that won't decode the new audio formats), it'll send the high-res audio to it via linear PCM, thanks to its on-board decoding. The unit offers both Dolby TrueHD and dts Master Audio decoding as well as all the "old fashioned" stuff.
As with most standalone Blu-ray players I’ve tried, the DMP-BD35 takes forever to fire up. The first few times I pressed the “power” button after hooking it into my Epson/Rotel home theater I made the mistake of pressing the “open/close” button before it was ready, only to discover to my chagrin that my command was ignored completely. It was like talking to my kids.
A more productive use of time would have been to go for a cup of coffee until the deck deigned to obey me. Okay, that's an exaggeration.
Once it’s ready, however, the deck worked fine, though I noticed its overall operation was rather slow as well. This isn’t just a Panasonic thing, however; other players I've used also operate as if they're unionized.
My reference BD player is a Sony Playstation 3, which is a lot faster, and that tends to spoil one.
That said, once you get the thing working, the Panasonic does a very nice job on Blu-ray discs, DVD’s and even audio CD’s. It also has a built in Ethernet port so you can update its firmware as well as exploit such dubious benefits as BD-Live, which require Internet access.
Here’s a list of audio and video features of the DMP-BD35:
Setup is easy, thanks to a clear and understandable set of menus you navigate from the remote control. It only took a couple of minutes for me to configure the unit for my system, to which I connected the Panasonic via its HDMI output for audio and video.
The remote control layout is typically Panasonic, which kind of rubs me the wrong way because the buttons could be laid out more logically – and I was disappointed that it isn’t backlit, which made it very difficult to read in the darkened conditions of my Epson front projector-based theater. It works fine, though.
The player came through nicely where it really counted, with superb picture quality and excellent sound. I watched a number of reference quality Blu-ray discs, including Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”, “Iron Man”, “Hellboy” and of course “Spiderman 2” and was impressed consistently by the razor sharp images, exquisite color, excellent blacks and solid depth.
I had no handshaking issues, either, a problem whereby HDMI components sometimes argue with each other, resulting in such issues as a wonky picture (I had such an issue once that resulted in everything being tinted green, as if I were using component video with the red and blue cables unhooked).
Up converted DVD's looked very good as well – not quite as good as with our reference OPPO DVD player but certainly good enough. My favorite test disc for such is “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”; the fast-moving Battle of Pelennor Fields makes an excellent test of a player’s mettle. The Panasonic did just fine, though it also made me pine for a BD release of the Lord of the Rings movies. But that isn't the Panasonic's fault.
The high res audio formats also came through very nicely, passed as they were via HDMI as linear PCM to my Rotel RSP-1069 preamp/processor. Sound quality, channel separation and the like were first rate.
What wasn’t first rate was the deck’s performance on DVD-Audio discs, which it wouldn’t play in their high res glory, instead opting for the dumbed down (but still listenable) Dolby Digital.
And here’s a weird anomaly I discovered. At least one Blu-ray disc came up with French menus instead of English when I tried playing it in the Panasonic! I checked the DMP-BD35’s settings and it was configured correctly, so go figure. This was definitely the exception rather than the rule, but it was sure strange! Sacre bleu!
The player comes with Panasonic's Viera Link, which is meant to control your entire system. I didn't try this, but I've used such systems before and find them an annoyance. For example, while it's all well and good that the system switches your TV to the BD input when you fire up the BD player, there are times when I don't want it to do that.
For example, I may be watching the end of a TV program before watching a Blu-ray disc and – since the player's so leisurely at firing up – decide to turn the BD player on before actually switching to it. But no! Fire up the BD player and you lose the signal you've been watching, and have to switch back to it manually.
This is a small gripe, but it's a gripe indeed.
To me, the PS3 is still the best Blu-ray player around. Not only is it faster than the others I've tried, but it's far more flexible in that it plays HD games, streams audio and video, and you can download stuff for it from the Internet and store it right on its internal hard drive.
But not everyone cares about such stuff, and if you're one who merely wants to watch Blu-ray titles then this Panasonic will do the job nicely. It has all the features that matter, and it performs its duties very well.
Copyright 2009 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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