The Panasonic DMP-BD15K is the first portable Blu-ray player, and at first it's easy to write it off as useless since much of Blu-ray's visual superiority doesn't translate on its 8.9-inch screen. But that's missing the point. If you're a home theater buff with a growing Blu-ray collection, you might be frustrated that you can't watch those movies on a plane or even in your bedroom.
The real niche of the DMP-B15K is allowing you to watch your high-definition discs in more locations (rather than making the immersive Blu-ray experience portable), and the DMP-B15K is well-suited to the task. It has a full suite of car accessories and an HDMI output that makes it easy to use as a standalone player, too.
However, like many first-generation devices, the DMP-B15K has plenty of caveats--a bulky design, short 2.5 hour battery-life, and less reliable playback than standalone players. Even more crippling is its sky-high $800 list price, making it only slightly cheaper than entry-level Blu-ray-equipped laptops.
Ultimately, we're onboard with the idea that there's a need for a portable Blu-ray player, but, unfortunately, the DMP-B15K's price and shortcomings make it difficult to recommend to all but the most well-off Blu-ray fans.
Yes, it's the first portable Blu-ray player, but our first reaction after taking it out of the box was "Wow, that's big." The DMP-B15K feels sizable mostly because of its built-in stand, which is actually required because of the DMP-B15's unusual design.
While most portable DVD players sport a clamshell design--just open it up and start watching--the DMP-B15K'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.
To control the DMP-B15K, 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-B15K 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 DMP-B15K's built-in LCD is surrounded by a mirror-like blue bezel, with the speakers running along the bottom. The display is 8.9 inches (measured diagonally) and has a native resolution of 1,024x600 pixels; that's not enough for the full resolution of Blu-ray (1,920x1,080). We appreciated that the screen features a matte finish, unlike the glossy screens that have become common on laptops, so you won't get as much glare in bright environments.
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 BD-Live features. Rounding out the connectivity is a headphone jack and an Ethernet port. Just like the DMP-BD60, the DMP-B15K can access Panasonic's proprietary Internet content portal, VieraCast, which includes YouTube and Picasa, with Amazon Video On Demand coming sometime this summer, according to Panasonic.
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 2-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 6-hour battery later this year, but no details on pricing or if it will add to the already bulky design.