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First look at the Panasonic DMP-B15, first portable Blu-ray player

CNET takes an initial hands-on look at the Panasonic DMP-B15, the first portable Blu-ray player.

Panasonic's DMP-B15 packs Blu-ray into a portable package, but it carries a hefty $800 price tag.
Panasonic's DMP-B15 packs Blu-ray into a portable package, but it carries a hefty $800 price tag. Sarah Tew/CNET

Blu-ray is slowly becoming mainstream, but if you've started accumulating a sizable Blu-ray collection you've probably already realized that it's hard to watch those discs anywhere other than your home theater. Panasonic's DMP-B15 ($800 list price) is the first portable Blu-ray player on the market and we've had our hands on the review sample long enough to give our initial thoughts.

Design

Yes, it's the first portable Blu-ray player, but our first reaction after taking it out of the box was "wow, it's big." The DMP-B15 feels sizable mostly because its built-in stand, which is actually required due to the DMP-B15's unusual design. While most portable DVD players sport a clamshell design--just open it up and start watching--the DMP-B15's screen is actually upside down when you first open the unit. To get the screen right-side-up, you twist it around and lay it flat, then prop the unit up on its stand. Sitting on its stand, the DMP-B15 looks like a digital photo frame and it definitely has a sleeker look than a standard portable DVD player, but we'd still prefer a slimmer unit with a clamshell design.

The DMP-B15's display is actually upside down when you first open it up.
The DMP-B15's display is actually upside down when you first open it up.

The DMP-BD15's built-in LCD display is surrounded a mirror-like blue bezel, with the speakers running along the bottom. The display itself is 8.9 inches (measured diagonally) and has a native resolution of 1,024x600; that's not enough for the full resolution of Blu-ray, but at this small size you probably can't see the difference anyway. We appreciated that the screen features a matte finish, unlike the glossy screens that have become common on laptops.

To control the DMP-B15, you can either use the controls on the top of the unit or the included remote. The top location of the controls allows the front the DMP-B15 to have a sleeker look, but you'll have to lean over the unit to see what you're doing. We were happy to see a variety of controls available, including a small joystick so you can navigate menus without the remote. One click "up" with the joystick brings up the pop-up menu and a click down makes it go away. The included remote is just a slight step up over the cheap credit-card-style remotes included on many inexpensive products. It's perfectly serviceable (although missing a mute button), but at this price we expected a little more.

Features

If the DMP-B15 was just a portable Blu-ray player, it would be nearly impossible to justify its $800 price tag. However, Panasonic has packed the DMP-B15 with almost as much functionality as its entry-level standalone Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD60, making it suitable to use in a home environment as well.

The main reason the DMP-B15 works as a standalone player is its HDMI output. Connect the DMP-B15 to an HDTV and it's capable of outputting a 1080p signal and high resolution audio, just like larger units. For older TVs, there's also an 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 BD-Live features. Rounding out the connectivity is is a headphone jack and an Ethernet port. Just like the DMP-BD60, the DMP-B15 can access Panasonic's proprietary Internet content portal, VieraCast, which includes YouTube and Picasa, with Amazon Video On Demand coming soon.

Even with extensive standalone Blu-ray functionality, the DMP-B15's price is still a major issue. We did a quick browse of laptops available with Blu-ray drives and found the Sony VGN-NS290J available for $900. Sure, the laptop doesn't have an HDMI output, but it has a much larger screen (15.4 inches), higher native resolution (1,280x800), built-in Wi-Fi and can obviously do more than just play back Blu-ray movies. We haven't tested the VGN-NS290J, so we don't know how well it performs, but we wouldn't be surprised if many consumers thought it offered a lot more value than the DMP-B15.

Full review coming soon

We'll be doing more in-depth testing on the DMP-B15's performance and usability, and the full review will be up early next week.