Editors' note: Panasonic has released a new Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD30, which meets the requirements of Blu-ray Profile 1.1 (more info here) and adds bitstream output for high-resolution audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. However, the DMP-BD10A is still worth considering as it has built-in decoding for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, plus it has 7.1 analog multichannel outputs--which may make it a better choice for audiophiles with older receivers.
When Panasonic rolled out the DMP-BD10 last September, we were impressed but ultimately gave it only a lukewarm review. Despite good performance, the BD10 had an MSRP of $1,300, which ultimately was just too much. And although Panasonic promised a firmware update to add support for internal decoding of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution--two of the new, high-resolution surround sound formats--we've been fooled too many times by the "we'll fix it in the firmware" attitude to take this kind of promise at face value.
Now just nine months later, Panasonic has released the DMP-BD10A, which has the exact same hardware as the BD10, but there are a few key differences. For one, the BD10A comes with the newest firmware, which enables support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution out of the box (BD10 owners can gain this functionality with a firmware upgrade). Secondly, the MSRP has taken a serious nosedive, all the way down to $600. And to further sweeten the deal, the DMP-BD10A comes with five Blu-ray movies packed in the box (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Transporter, Fantastic 4 and Crash). Those factors make the BD10A a much better deal than the BD10, but savvy consumers will note that you can buy a PlayStation 3 for that price and get a whole lot more functionality. If you're set on getting a standalone player, and are deciding between the DMP-BD10A and the Samsung BD-P1200, the short story is this--the BD-P1200 is more expensive, has a nicer design, and slightly better DVD upconversion, while the less-expensive DMP-BD10A comes with superior soundtrack support, DVD-Audio compatibility and five free movies.
Save for the Power button in the lower-left corner, the face of the Panasonic DMP-BD10A has a sleek look that's entirely 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. Unfortunately, the flip-down panel isn't motorized, so you'll need to flip it down yourself, manually, every time you change a disc. 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 to open the panel and drawer, instead of having it already be open by the time we got up. Of course, you could just leave the panel down, but then the 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 that this is
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/scroll wheel, 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 we could.
To access the 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, you'll probably be better off buying a good universal remote.
The setup menu itself is easy enough to use and will be familiar to anyone who has played with a Panasonic DVD player in the past. We were a little disappointed that the company didn't upgrade the menu 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-BD10A'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-P1200 by including support for the high-resolution audio format
In terms of Blu-ray and DVD soundtrack support, the DMP-BD10A handles standard Dolby Digital and DTS, and can send both of them over HDMI in either bit stream--to be decoded by an AV receiver--or linear PCM (LPCM) formats. It also has support for new higher-resolution soundtrack formats, such as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution, and you can take advantage of these formats by setting the DMP-BD10 to PCM mode (rather than bit stream) and sending the PCM signal via the HDMI output, or using the 7.1 multichannel analog outputs. Audiophiles should take note that the DMP-BD10A and Sony's older BDP-S1 are the only standalone Blu-ray players that have support for these high-resolution soundtracks--although several HD DVD players have this functionality, as does the PlayStation 3.