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Panasonic DMP-B15K review: Panasonic DMP-B15K

Panasonic DMP-B15K

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
7 min read


Panasonic DMP-B15K

The Good

Lets you watch your Blu-ray collection on-the-go; HDMI output for use as a standalone player; full access to YouTube and Picasa if connected via Ethernet; comes with cigarette lighter adapter and headrest mount for car use.

The Bad

Very expensive, with Blu-ray-equipped laptops available at similar prices; bulky design; short 2.5 hour battery life; small screen limits the capability to see the full detail of Blu-ray; can't output a standard 1080p signal; less reliable playback than standalone players.

The Bottom Line

The Panasonic DMP-B15 is the world's first portable Blu-ray player that can function as a standalone player, too, but ultimately it has too many caveats and costs too much.

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 letting you 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 that 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-B15K'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. Sitting on its stand, the DMP-B15K looks like a digital photo frame and it definitely has a sleeker look than a standard portable DVD player does, but we'd still prefer a slimmer unit with a clamshell design.

When you first open up the DMP-B15K, the screen is upside down. You need to flip it around and fold it down to view movies.

The DMP-B15K's built-in LCD is surrounded by a mirrorlike 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.

When viewed straight on, the DMP-B15K look like a digital photo frame.

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 of 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 included remote is just a slight step up over the cheap credit-card-style remotes included on many inexpensive products. It's usable, but at this price we expected a bit more.

If the DMP-B15K was just a portable Blu-ray player, it would be nearly impossible to justify its $800 price tag. However, Panasonic has packed the DMP-B15K 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 DMP-B15K has much more connectivity than you'd expect for a portable player.

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.

The headrest mount easily snaps to the back of the DMP-B15K's built-in stand.

Also adding to the DMP-BD15K's value is the inclusion of a few car accessories. There's a headrest mount that easily snaps into the back of the built-in stand, plus a cigarette lighter power adapter so you don't run out of juice on a long road trip.

Even with extensive standalone Blu-ray functionality and car accessories, the DMP-B15K's price is still a major issue. For example, Sony just announced a new line of entry-level laptops with Blu-ray drives, the cheapest (Sony NW180J/S) having a list price of $880. Sure, the laptop doesn't have all car accessories or a remote, but it does have an HDMI output, a much larger screen (15.5 inches), higher native resolution (1,366x768 pixels), built-in Wi-Fi, and can obviously do more than just play back Blu-ray movies. We haven't tested the NW180J/S, so we don't know how well it performs, but we wouldn't be surprised if most consumers thought it offered a lot more value than the DMP-B15K.

Portable performance
When Panasonic rolled out the DMP-B15K at CES 2009, much of the tech community responded with skepticism about the usefulness of Blu-ray on an 8.9-inch screen. When many people claim to have a hard time seeing the difference between Blu-ray and DVD on a 50-inch screen, the DMP-B15 seemed like a step in the wrong direction.

However, we were surprised with the DMP-B15K when we actually put it through our testing procedure. You can see a difference between Blu-ray and DVD on the 8.9-inch screen, but you need to sit very close to it--about one foot away. That might sound like a sarcastic dig, but on an airplane, especially in coach, that's a realistic seating distance.

We had "Batman Begins" on both Blu-ray and DVD, so we swapped back and forth between the two discs. The Blu-ray version was clearly superior on scenes with a lot of detail. For example, in the monastery scenes in Chapter 2, the DVD had obvious softness and compression artifacts in the images like the finally detailed throne, while the Blu-ray looks excellent comparatively. However, the difference between the discs goes away almost immediately as soon as you move your head back another foot. The difference in image quality certainly isn't enough to justify the cost, but there's no denying that Blu-ray movies look better than DVDs on the DMP-B15K.

Battery life is relatively short on the DMP-B15K, but it's enough to make it through most Hollywood movies.

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 two-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 six-hour battery later this year, but no details are available on its pricing or if it will add to the already bulky design.

Standalone performance
Despite its small size, Panasonic likes to claim that the DMP-B15K has "all the technology found in its standalone brethren, the DMP-BD60." However, that's not exactly true. When we connected the DMP-B15K via HDMI, we found that it cannot output Blu-ray movies in 1080p at 60 frames per second--the format that is commonly accepted by most HDTVs made in the last few years. Instead, the DMP-B15K can either output at 1080i or 1080p at 24 frames per second (1080p/24).

What that means for performance is that the DMP-B15K doesn't have much impact on image quality. If you choose 1080i output, your HDTV will be responsible for deinterlacing the signal to 1080p (or whatever its native resolution is), so image quality will largely depend on your HDTV's video processing capability. If you choose 1080p/24, the DMP-B15K doesn't do much processing of its own--instead it simply takes the raw 1080p/24 data on the Blu-ray Disc and passes it to your display. That being said, Blu-ray movies in 1080i or 1080p/24 looked as impressive as any standalone player on a variety of displays we checked.

Beyond image quality, we did experience a few freezes and glitches with the DMP-B15K. The first full movie we watched, "Batman Begins," made it all the way through glitch-free but playback got "stuck" for a couple of seconds during the credits. We ignored the stumble at the time--chalking it up to the fact that the battery was about to run out--but then we ran into more persistent issues with "Mission Impossible: III," with the screen freezing or becoming garbled at few moments during the movie. On the other hand, we made it through both "Notorious" and "Slumdog Millionaire" glitch-free, so the behavior isn't consistent.


Panasonic DMP-B15K

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6