Editors' note: Panasonic has introduced an updated version of this Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD10A, which is essentially identical. Because the DMP-BD10A has a much lower MSRP and comes bundled with five free Blu-ray movies in the box, we recommend that all prospective buyers get the DMP-BD10A rather than the DMP-BD10.
While most people are plenty satisfied with DVD, home theater enthusiasts are getting geared up for the next generation of disc-based video formats, Blu-ray and HD-DVD, which compete directly against one another. While HD-DVD won the first round earlier this year--its Toshiba HD-A1 and most HD-DVD movies definitely looked better than did the initial Blu-ray player, the Samsung BD-P1000, and its accompanying Blu-ray movies--the difference between the two formats is disappearing quickly. Just in time for the new year, the second wave of Blu-ray players is coming out, including the Philips BD-P9000, the Sony BDP-S1, and--of course--the recently released Sony PlayStation 3. The Panasonic DMP-BD10 is also part of this second wave and has a lot in common with its brethren: high price ($1,300), high performance, and little guarantee that this format won't go the way of Betamax.
Overall, the Panasonic DMP-BD10 is a fine unit, but it's far from perfect. We didn't like its ill-conceived remote, its slow load times and sluggish chapter skips, and an annoying bug that taints its otherwise excellent video upconversion of standard DVDs. If you're paying this kind of scratch, you might also be annoyed that the BD10, along with all other non-PS3 players currently available, lacks HDMI 1.3 compatibility. In fact, in just a few weeks it's likely that several HDMI 1.3 compatible players will be announced, potentially at a lower price. Which leads us to our primary beef with the Panasonic and all current Blu-ray players: price. You can currently get the very capable PS3 for considerably less than $1,000 on eBay, and over the next few months, it'll be available for even less. Despite being one of the better players on the market, price makes the Panasonic DMP-BD10 a tough recommendation for all but the most dedicated home theater enthusiasts.
Save for the power button in the lower-left corner, the Panasonic DMP-BD10 has a sleek look that's free of buttons. In fact, it's so sleek that its disc drawer is completely hidden--until you flip down the front panel to reveal the drawer and several additional front-panel buttons. We'd expect such a panel on a player this expensive to be motorized, but the Panasonic's is completely manual, and we had to open it every time we wanted to change a movie. Lazy as we are, we also didn't like the lack of an open-close button on the remote; we had to walk up to the main unit open the panel and drawer. Of course, you could just leave the panel down, but then the $1,300 darling of your home theater system looks like some cheap, no-name DVD player.
We did like the large LCD display, which is viewable through the front panel. There's also a blue light on the top--a not-so-subtle reminder this is --which thankfully can be dimmed; the dimmer also affects the main LCD screen. Visual aesthetics aside, the player feels solidly built--its heft and frame make it feel like a more serious component than the Samsung BD-P1000, for example.
On the other hand, the remote looks cheap at first glance, although the big blue Stop, Pause, and Play buttons stand out well. The bottom half of the remote is distinguished by its combination directional pad/scrollwheel, which we really couldn't stand using. The slippery wheel makes navigating with the directional keypad unnecessarily annoying and far too easy to accidentally spin into scan mode--you have to hit the Play button for it to resume playing at normal speed. Happily, the wheel's scan function can be deactivated in the menu, which we did as soon as we found out.
To access the more advanced functions, you have to flip up a hatch on the top part of the remote. Underneath you'll find a full number pad, the setup button, and some other keys. We found ourselves using the setup button frequently enough to wish it was on the remote's main surface. In all, if you're willing to spend this much money on a Blu-ray player, do yourself a favor and buy a decent universal remote.
The setup menu itself is easy enough to use and will be familiar to anyone who's played with a Panasonic DVD player in the past. We were a little disappointed that the company didn't upgrade the graphics for this high-end player--the Philips BDP9000, for instance, has high-def graphics that are much easier on the eyes. Of course, if you don't plan on tweaking the settings frequently, you won't see the menu often.
The Panasonic DMP-BD10's main feature, of course, is the ability to play Blu-ray discs, but its compatibility in other areas is also better than that of some Blu-ray players. It one-ups the Samsung BD-P1000 by including support for the high-resolution audio format, DVD-Audio. That's not quite as good as the SACD functionality of the PS3--SACD is a slightly more popular format--but ultimately, it depends on which discs, if any, you collect. High-resolution audio support is an important feature among home theater enthusiasts who already have a library of discs. The DMP-BD10 also handled standard audio CDs without a problem.
In terms of Blu-ray and DVD soundtrack support, the DMP-BD10 handles standard Dolby Digital and DTS, and can send both of them over HDMI in either bitstream--to be decoded by an AV receiver--or linear PCM (LPCM) formats. It also has support (with a firmware upgrade) for new higher-resolution sound track formats, such as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD High Resolution; you can take advantage of these formats by setting the DMP-BD10 to PCM mode (rather than bitstream) and sending the PCM signal via the HDMI output, or using the 7.1 multichannel analog outputs. Audiophiles should take note that it's currently the only standalone Blu-ray player that has support for these high-resolution soundtracks--although several HD DVD players have this functionality, as well as the PlayStation 3.