Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray Disc Player Page 3
While what I'm hearing from the Panasonic's coaxial digital output on DD and DTS soundtracks is not, in general, as impressive as what I hear from the soundtracks on HD DVD (also from the player's digital out), it's very close. I doubt if anyone will be disappointed in the sound of the DMP-BD10 on the best DD or DTS Blu-ray soundtracks.
One clearly superior BD soundtrack I auditioned was Kingdom of Heaven. While it's encoded using DTS-HD Master Audio, all you'll hear from it as of now (on this or any other Blu-ray player) is the basic DTS core track at 1.5Mb/sec. The player extracts this DTS core track from the full DTS-HD Master Audio track and ignores the higher rez information. Nevertheless, this track still sounds better than the DD track on the standard DVD (apart from a rather overwrought bass on the BD/DTS version).
We can dismiss any further discussion of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio for the time being, since the Panasonic cannot yet decode these lossless formats.
But what about the uncompressed PCM multichannel soundtracks offered on some Sony and Disney BDs? There are two ways to audition these tracks, only one of which is currently available to me: the player's 5.1-channel analog outputs. (My system is currently not set up with a pre-pro that will accept 5.1-channel PCM over an HDMI link.)
But there's a problem with the Panasonic's analog outputs on these uncompressed tracks; it's too low in level. Even at the maximum setting of the level control on the NAD M15 Masters Series pre-pro (review pending) currently in my system, it would not play at a level I consider suitable for proper evaluation.
To check this out, I measured the level produced by the player's 7.1-channel analog outputs using a DD test disc with a 400Hz tone (left front channel measured) vs. the level produced by three other players. The output of the Panasonic was 5.4dB lower than the output of the Pioneer DV-79AVi DVD player, 11.9dB lower than the output of the NAD Masters Series DVD player, and 11.3dB lower than the output of the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player.
Whether or not this marginal gain will be a problem for you will depend on the gain in your pre-pro or AV receiver, the sensitivity of your speakers, and whether or not you like or are able to play your movies at realistic levels. But I would not count on the Panasonic producing enough gain for your situation without actually trying it. (To make my film sound level preferences a bit clearer, I do listen to some films at relatively high levels at home, but lower than reference level and considerably lower than I hear in most modern movie theaters, particularly here in LA where I always bring earplugs to guard against surprises.)
A more in depth discussion of the uncompressed soundtracks on BD discs, not to mention the newer, more efficient but still lossless audio codecs that no Blu-ray player will yet decode, is fodder for a future Take Two. In the meantime, if you plan to listen mainly to the standard DD or DTS tracks from the player's digital output (which can sound excellent), or are able to use an HDMI link for digital transmission of the 5.1-channel PCM tracks from player to pre-pro or receiver, these reservations will not apply.
I listened to music on the Panasonic in three ways: CD both through the coaxial digital output and the analog output, and DVD-Audio from the analog outputs.
The Panasonic was a better than competent performer on CDs via either the analog or digital route. I did prefer the digital connection; the analog link sounded just a bit dryer, brighter, and leaner—less sweet and natural, if you will—but the difference was not as pronounced at that description suggests. It will also depend on the quality of the D/A converters in your pre-pro or receiver relative to those in the player.
I also compared the performance of the Panasonic on CDs compared to that of the Pioneer DV-79AVi, both from their coaxial digital outputs. The Pioneer is my current reference for CD playback on a DVD player (when using a digital link to the pre-pro), and it did not surprise me that I found it somewhat sweeter and more neutral sounding than the slightly brighter Panasonic. But the two were close enough that I could imagine many listeners preferring the crisper sound of the Panasonic. (Yes, Virginia, CD and DVD players can sound different from their digital outputs, though the differences, as here, are usually of the audio perfectionist variety.)
Ah, yes, DVD-Audio. The Panasonic did stumble unacceptably on Paul Simon's You're the One. This problem did not occur on Pioneer's DV-79AVi universal DVD player, and the disc is in excellent condition. One disc unplayable on this player but playable without a glitch on a universal DVD player indicates a problem. Apart from this misstep, which is not negligible if you plan on using the Panasonic to play back DVD-A discs, the sound from DVD-Audio discs on the Panasonic was a definite step up from what I heard from any other source material on the DMP-BD10—sweeter, smoother, and more naturally detailed. While DVD-Audio itself is on life support in the marketplace, this experience could almost be considered a sneak peek of what we might expect from Dolby TrueHD. There is more than a little DVD-Audio technology in TrueHD: both make use of Meridian Lossless Packing. We'll have more to say about that when we get a real chance to evaluate the new lossless formats.
CD playback on the Panasonic gives no indication of the track number in the front panel display; as with video discs, all you see is the running time. With a CD the track number does flash for a couple of seconds when you select it, but then goes out. On DVD-Audio, you sometimes don't even get that brief flash—it depends on the disc.
Strangely, the lower output level from the analog outputs, noted earlier, was a problem only on Blu-ray or DVD, not on CD or DVD-Audio. But there was one exception. To put it mildly, I got some very strange results from the player's bass management on its multichannel analog outputs with DVD-Audio recordings. These oddities did not occur with CDs. To describe this as simply as possible:
1. If you set all the main speakers to Small and designate a subwoofer, you'll get plenty of output level and fine performance overall on DVD-A. Any LFE on DVD-A discs will be routed only to the subwoofer.
2. If you set all the main speakers to Large and designate a subwoofer, the volume level will be ample as in 1, above, and LFE will again go only to the sub.
3. If you use a setup that designates Large L/R front speakers and no subwoofer (the L/R fronts will automatically be set to large if you deselect a sub) you'll get a drastically reduced output level from all channels of the multichannel analog outputs—roughly 10dB lower than in examples 1 or 2, above. If you have full range speakers and no subwoofer, therefore, you must set the front L/R speakers to Large and designate a subwoofer in the setup, even if you have no subwoofer. This will "trick" the setup into providing full range in all channels and a proper output level.
4. LFE is reproduced only by the sub and never redirected to the main speakers, even if they are set to large. With no subwoofer, the LFE will not be reproduced.
5. The low-pass rolloff of the subwoofer is too gradual; there is too much mid and upper bass, and even some very low midrange, coming from the sub. In my setup, this was not a problem with the other speakers operating, but it could be an issue depending on where your subwoofer(s) is located.
Judged purely as a DVD/CD/Blu-ray player, the Panasonic is a superb product. It does an outstanding job playing back Blu-ray Discs, is a fine DVD player with good upconversion capabilities, and is a good CD player as well.
It does have several weaknesses. Its analog outputs will not be optimum in some systems, and its DVD-Audio playback is problematic. If you are counting on these other features, I recommend caution, or at least a trial run. But if you want top quality, first-generation Blu-ray player, it's definitely worth a close look.
Highs and Lows
Superb playback of Blu-ray discs
Fine upconversion of standard definition DVDs with excellent scaling and deinterlacing.
Excellent build quality
Lower than average levels from the multichannel analog outputs on DVD and Blu-ray
Problematic DVD-Audio playback