Editors' note, October 1, 2008: This 2007 product has been replaced by the Panasonic DMP-BD35, which offers more features at a better price.
Editors' note, June 9, 2008: The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Editors' note, November 29, 2007: This review has been edited since its initial publication to include some additional observations regarding image quality.
While the majority of home movie watchers avoids Blu-ray because of the ongoing format war and high costs, AV enthusiasts lately have been hesitant to pick up a new Blu-ray player for another reason: They've been waiting for the impending Blu-ray Profile 1.1. All Blu-ray players certified to bear that magic logo after October 31 must meet the more-stringent hardware requirements of Blu-ray Profile 1.1, which should allow players to take advantage of special features, like picture-in-picture commentary. Incidentally, the rival HD DVD format has had these features from the start. While some manufacturers have rushed to get their players out before the deadline, Panasonic has taken a different approach by releasing the first Blu-ray Profile 1.1 player, the DMP-BD30, before October 31 even hits. And while the price of the player is still high overall--$500 list--that's about the cheapest you can get a standalone Blu-ray these days. The DMP-BD30 certainly doesn't beat the value proposition of the PlayStation 3, but if you insist on getting a standalone Blu-ray player as opposed to Sony's console, it's one of the top contenders.
We were happy to note that DMP-BD30 lacks the extremely annoying flip-down panel of its predecessor, the DMP-BD10A. While a large panel still conceals most of the BD30's front-panel controls, the disc tray hides behind a separate, smaller panel that automatically flips down when you hit the Open/Close button. We definitely prefer this arrangement to having to manually lower the BD10A's panel every time we wanted to change a disc. On the right half of the DMP-BD30's face player is the LED display, which was sized to be easily legible from a seating distance of about 7 feet.
We absolutely hated the remote on the DMP-BD10A, but luckily Panasonic wised up and included a more reasonable clicker on the newer model. Toward the bottom half of the remote is the circular directional pad, which is surround by three large buttons (Top Menu, Pop-up Menu, and Display) and four smaller buttons in the corners (Sub Menu, Status, Functions, and Return). Directly in the center of the remote are the Stop, Play, and Pause buttons, and we appreciated their large size and blue color, which makes them easy to find. Because the DMP-BD30 lacks the annoying flip-down door, the clicker is able to include the handy Open/Close button--so the tray will be waiting for you by the time you get off the couch. Our biggest complaint with the remote is that the setup menu button was buried at the bottom, but overall it's one of the better disc player remotes we've used recently.
The DMP-BD30 is the first Blu-ray player we are aware of that is Final Standard Profile, also known as Blu-ray Profile 1.1. In technical terms, this means it meets several hardware requirements, including 64kb of onboard persistent memory, 256MB of local storage, and both secondary audio and video decoders. In practical terms, this should allow the DMP-BD30 to play picture-in-picture commentary and perhaps take advantage of other, as yet unspecified, interactive features available on Blu-ray Profile 1.1 discs--none of which are on the market yet. All current Blu-ray players (Blu-ray Profile 1.0) should still be able to play these discs, but they won't be able to take advantage of some of the interactive content.
Panasonic's DMP-BD30 is one of the first Blu-ray players that can output both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in bitstream format, to be decoded by compatible receivers. This feature is a boon for audiophiles, as there is currently no Blu-ray or HD DVD player on the market able to decode DTS-HD Master Audio internally, and only some Blu-ray players are capable of decoding Dolby TrueHD internally (every HD DVD player, on the other hand, can). Both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are losslessly compressed audio formats, which means that the playback on your system should be identical to the digital master and should, with the right equipment, sound better than standard Dolby Digital and DTS. Actually getting the DMP-BD30 to output the high-resolution audio soundtracks in bitstream format is a bit of a headache, too--be sure to check out our Tips and Tricks section for easy instructions.
While high-resolution bitstream output is great for owners of new receivers, DMP-BD30 owners with older receivers are somewhat out of luck. The DMP-BD30 has no internal decoding for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution, or DTS-HD Master Audio. This lack of internal decoding is particularly disappointing because the older DMP-BD10A itself offered internal decoding for all of these formats except DTS-HS Master Audio. Any DMP-BD30 owner whose AV receiver lacks built-in decoding for the new audio formats won't be able to enjoy the high-resolution soundtracks available on many Blu-ray discs (unless the disc includes an uncompressed soundtrack, as well.) Among AV receivers CNET has reviewed, the following have the requisite internal decoding capabilities: the Sony STR-DA5300ES, the Onkyo TX-SR605 and TX-SR805, and the Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH. The Panasonic DMP-BD30 does, like almost every other player, have built-in decoding for standard Dolby Digital and DTS.