The main reason the DMP-B15K works as a standalone player is its HDMI output. Connect the DMP-B15K to an HDTV and it's capable of outputting high-definition video and high-resolution audio, just like larger units. For older TVs, there's also a composite AV output to be used with the included breakout cable. An SD slot is included and you'll need to insert a card (not included) to use
Also adding to the DMP-BD15K's value is the inclusion of a few car accessories. There's a headrest mount that easily snaps into the back of the built-in stand, plus a cigarette lighter power adapter so you don't run out of juice on a long road trip.
Even with extensive standalone Blu-ray functionality and car accessories, the DMP-B15K's price is still a major issue. For example, Sony just announced a new line of entry-level laptops with Blu-ray drives, the cheapest (Sony NW180J/S) having a list price of $880. Sure, the laptop doesn't have all car accessories or a remote, but it does have an HDMI output, a much larger screen (15.5 inches), higher native resolution (1,366x768 pixels), built-in Wi-Fi, and can obviously do more than just play back Blu-ray movies. We haven't tested the NW180J/S, so we don't know how well it performs, but we wouldn't be surprised if most consumers thought it offered a lot more value than the DMP-B15K.
When Panasonic rolled out the DMP-B15K at CES 2009, much of the tech community responded with skepticism about the usefulness of Blu-ray on an 8.9-inch screen. When many people claim to have a hard time seeing the difference between Blu-ray and DVD on a 50-inch screen, the DMP-B15 seemed like a step in the wrong direction.
However, we were surprised with the DMP-B15K when we actually put it through our testing procedure. You can see a difference between Blu-ray and DVD on the 8.9-inch screen, but you need to sit very close to it--about one foot away. That might sound like a sarcastic dig, but on an airplane, especially in coach, that's a realistic seating distance.
We had "Batman Begins" on both Blu-ray and DVD, so we swapped back and forth between the two discs. The Blu-ray version was clearly superior on scenes with a lot of detail. For example, in the monastery scenes in Chapter 2, the DVD had obvious softness and compression artifacts in the images like the finally detailed throne, while the Blu-ray looks excellent comparatively. However, the difference between the discs goes away almost immediately as soon as you move your head back another foot. The difference in image quality certainly isn't enough to justify the cost, but there's no denying that Blu-ray movies look better than DVDs on the DMP-B15K.
Panasonic rates the battery life at 3 hours, but in our tests, we got 2 hours and 28 minutes--enough time to get through "Batman Begins" but not "The Dark Knight." It's definitely on the short side, and as the battery ages, you'll probably have difficulty even making it through a standard two-hour long movie. On the other hand, more flights are offering power outlets these days, so battery life may be less of a concern than it has been in the past. The included cigarette lighter power adapter also mitigates the issue somewhat for in-car use, although we'd prefer to not have the cable clutter. According to Panasonic, it will offer a six-hour battery later this year, but no details are available on its pricing or if it will add to the already bulky design.
Despite its small size, Panasonic likes to claim that the DMP-B15K has "all the technology found in its standalone brethren, the DMP-BD60." However, that's not exactly true. When we connected the DMP-B15K via HDMI, we found that it cannot output Blu-ray movies in 1080p at 60 frames per second--the format that is commonly accepted by most HDTVs made in the last few years. Instead, the DMP-B15K can either output at 1080i or 1080p at 24 frames per second (1080p/24).
What that means for performance is that the DMP-B15K doesn't have much impact on image quality. If you choose 1080i output, your HDTV will be responsible for deinterlacing the signal to 1080p (or whatever its native resolution is), so image quality will largely depend on your HDTV's video processing capability. If you choose 1080p/24, the DMP-B15K doesn't do much processing of its own--instead it simply takes the raw 1080p/24 data on the Blu-ray Disc and passes it to your display. That being said, Blu-ray movies in 1080i or 1080p/24 looked as impressive as any standalone player on a variety of displays we checked.
Beyond image quality, we did experience a few freezes and glitches with the DMP-B15K. The first full movie we watched, "Batman Begins," made it all the way through glitch-free but playback got "stuck" for a couple of seconds during the credits. We ignored the stumble at the time--chalking it up to the fact that the battery was about to run out--but then we ran into more persistent issues with "Mission Impossible: III," with the screen freezing or becoming garbled at few moments during the movie. On the other hand, we made it through both "Notorious" and "Slumdog Millionaire" glitch-free, so the behavior isn't consistent.