Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray Disc Player Page 2
There is also an audio control called Re-master. But I usually stay away from features that offer to "[reproduce] the frequencies lost during recording to give you a sound closer to the original." News flash: if it's lost during recording, you can't recover it. But this might actually be some sort of upsampling that is just not well explained in the manual. I didn't use it, but you might want to experiment with it. In any event it's hardly a make-or-break feature.
You can even turn off the beeps and squeaks that accompany selections on Blu-ray Disc menus. In fact, you'll want to turn this feature- BD-Video Function Sound- to Off, along with the PCM Down Conversion control if you want to play back program material recorded at an audio sampling frequency higher than 48kHz. If it's On, higher sampling frequencies are converted to 48kHz. (The Down Conversion control affects only the player's digital outputs.) There are a number of little tricks and traps like this one in the setup of this player, which is why I recommend a thorough reading of the densely packed, but reasonably clear owner's manual.
If you use the 5.1- or 7.1-channel analog audio outputs, the setup menu gives you control over speaker size, Small or Large, delay time, and channel level. The crossover frequency for speakers designated as Small is fixed at 100Hz. I'd prefer to see multiple options offered, particularly lower crossover points like 60Hz and 80Hz. The delay function operates only on the center, surround (both together), and surround back (both together) speakers. The lack of delay for the front left and right speakers means that if any speakers are further back from the main listening area than the L/R fronts, you can't compensate for their placement (the phase control on your subwoofer might be come in handy here). This won't be a sonic disaster—you probably won't notice unless the distance involve is more than a few feet. But it won't be optimum, either.
First, a few preliminaries. The Panasonic does a fine job upconverting standard definition DVDs. It does not, unfortunately, reproduce signals below black but will go slightly above (100IRE) white without clipping.
The DMP-BD10's performance in upconverting 480i DVDs to 1080p on my usual battery of scaling and deinterlacing tests ranged from very good to excellent. It didn't do quite as well on the 2:2 cadence test (video source) as on the 3:2 (film source), but, interestingly, it did slightly better on 2:2 when set to output 1080i rather than 1080p. This may or may not be significant. I'll have more to say about that a bit further on.
On to the real world viewing tests. Yes, we're still getting disappointing Blu-ray titles. These include Click (Sony, MPEG-2, 50GB), with its crushed blacks, odd color palette, and graininess, and the recent release of X-Men The Last Stand (Fox, MPEG-4/AVC, 25GB), which in my system had far too many scenes that were as soft as a mediocre, standard definition DVD.
But I've now seen too many superb BDs to view the above as typical of either the DMP-BD10 or the Blu-ray format itself. All three codecs are capable of excellent performance, including MPEG-2 in both single layer (25GB) and dual-layer (50GB) MPEG-2 versions.
Most amazing of all was a pristine, MPEG-2 demo disc that Pioneer produced for dealer demos. It includes both film and video-based material. The color, detail, contrast, and three-dimensionality of the images on this disc are amazing. Most of us have too much experience with good HD by this time to go into cardiac arrest when viewing this BD, though it's hard not to be impressed by what it tells you about the capability of both the format and the Panasonic DMP-BD10. But show this BD to an HD newbie, using a big screen and a good 1080p projector, and you'd better have a defibrillator nearby! It probably helped at least somewhat that this disc was apparently mastered at a relatively high average video data rate of 30Mb/sec.
Among widely available, general release Blu-ray titles, Kingdom of Heaven (Fox, MPEG-2, 50GB) is a reference disc. Yes, there are some soft-focus shots, but they don't dominate the movie. Most of the disc is stunning. The details in this costume period epic are often jaw-dropping, the colors rich and natural, and the artifacts rewarding in their scarcity. Check out the massed armies gathering on the plain outside of Karak (chapter 32). Look deep into the background; while you can't exactly make out the fear in the face of the spear-carriers 50 rows back, you almost feel as if you can. I know that most of the backgrounds here are computer generated (and there probably weren't as many people in the entire middle east at the time as you'll see in both armies here!), but it still looks very real and very believable, even on a big screen.
Or how about Haunted Mansion (Disney, MPEG-2, 25GB). The mansion here is loaded with details, both inside and out, and you can see it all, from the carvings in the woodwork to the stitching in the costumes. None of these features jump out at you, but they're there if you look for them.
All the VC-1-encoded titles I watched looked excellent, including Corpse Bride. The stunning stop-motion animation here is unlike computer animation in that it involves real figures photographed frame-by-frame under real lighting.
The player also looked super on several early BD releases, all of them 25GB MPEG-2 titles. These include Memento, 50 First Dates, and A Knight's Tale.
I did attempt a direct AB comparison of titles that are duplicated on HD DVD and Blu-ray. Since I lack two identical projectors set up side-by-side, I ran the Panasonic BD and Toshiba HD DVD player into the two HDMI inputs of a Sharp XV-Z20000 projector—the display used for this report (full review pending). And it was in this attempted face-off that I discovered another advantage for the Panasonic. Unlike the Toshiba, it did not break lock and stop whenever I switched away from it to the other HDMI input. While this was a plus for the Panasonic, the Toshiba's habit of stopping whenever the handshake between it and the display is broken (even through a switcher) made a direct AB impossible. The best I could do was watch a bit of the disc on Blu-ray, then restart the HD DVD and search for the same scene.
Using this tedious technique, and with the Panasonic Blu-ray player set to its maximum resolution of 1080p and the Toshiba set to its peak of 1080i, the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions of The Phantom of the Opera (both encoded with VC-1) were very close, but the HD DVD seemed very slightly sharper. This difference is unlikely to show up on a smaller screen, but I did notice it at a screen width of 78-inches. I probably noticed it also because I've watched several reference scenes from this movie on HD DVD dozens of times in the past.
I next tried the same comparison with the Panasonic set to 1080i and its Sharpness control increased by a single step. The two discs were now so close that it would take a direct AB on two identical displays, of a substantial size and set up side-by-side, to choose between them.
I also compared the 1080p output of the Panasonic with its output at the 1080i setting. The 1080i setting arguably produced a subtly crisper image, though the difference was elusive enough that viewers might well disagree on which was "better." This result will also will be influenced by the characteristics of the 1080i-to-1080p conversion in your display.
But if the Panasonic is indeed more detailed at 1080i, however small the difference, does that suggest that the signal passes through a 1080i conversion on the way from the disc's 1080p/24 to a 1080p/60 output, as it does in Samsung's BD-P1000?
There is no obvious way to yet determine this apart from a chip-level analysis, short of a clear and unequivocal superiority of the 1080i setting, which was not the case here. The Panasonic uses a Sigma Designs chip for most of its processing. The same chip is reportedly used in both of the upcoming Sony and Pioneer players and is capable of directly converting a disc's 1080p/24 to 1080p/60.
But does the Panasonic do this? Two observations suggest that it may pass through a 1080i step on the way. First, I claim no expertise in video circuit design, but the Panasonic offers those non-defeatable video controls. Does it have enough processing power to perform those functions at 1080p? And second, recall that the scaling tests showed one admittedly very small advantage for a 1080i output setting over 1080p. This would be very unlikely if the 1080i conversion came after the 1080p step, but quite possible if it came before.
I did ask Panasonic to confirm or deny a possible 1080i step in the conversion process from 1080p/24 to 1080p/60, but we have not yet received a response. Since the 1080i and 1080p resolutions looked very nearly the same in my tests, however, one might argue that the question is irrelevant—provided your display has good 1080i-to-1080p deinterlacing.
Sonically, the Panasonic's performance was very good, but with some important caveats. In my Sneak Peek a couple of weeks back I noted that the Dolby Digital soundtracks found on most of the Blu-ray releases sound much like the DD and DTS we've become used to on DVD over the years. On further listening, however, I've changed my mind a bit. On some discs, the Blu-ray DD tracks do sound a little cleaner and sweeter.