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Like the XP50, the XP30 is a shade taller than two inches and takes up precious little space in an entertainment center. Still, this deck looks best atop a silver TV because its few buttons--Open/Close and Transport--are mounted on the top rather than out front. In fact, the only things that fit on the slim, mirrored face are the disc drawer and a spacey, violet-backlit LCD.
That novel display is the XP30's biggest flaw: it's tiny, hard to read, very bright, and impossible to dim. In terms of irritation, just imagine a 10-foot-tall exit sign at the front of the movie theater. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.
The rest of the XP30 is far more copacetic. The remote's buttons, while not backlit, are arranged well, which allows for easy navigation by feel. The setup menus lack explanatory text, but navigating them is simple enough. Another plus: a well-designed display menu gives access to more advanced functions that are relevant during playback, such as Search and Picture modes.
As noted, the XP30 isn't quite as decked out as the XP50 in the features department. While this Panasonic handles a multitude of formats--including DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RW--it doesn't support DVD-RAM and DVD-A discs. DVD-A uses 5.1-channel, analog-audio outputs and requires a receiver or a pre-amp with matching inputs. Also, the XP30 leaves out such audio bonuses as Panasonic's Remaster feature, which resamples CD music to 24 bits, and Audio Only, which shuts off the video circuitry to supposedly reduce interference.
The XP30's MP3 capabilities are among the best that we've seen, and along with the XP50, this deck is one of the first to support WMA files. The XP30 displays filenames and the disc's file tree, including folder names (for instance, album titles). It can play an entire disc of MP3s at random and can even search for a song anywhere on the disc when you enter a few letters of the filename--very nice.
Since the XP30 lacks aspect-ratio control, owners of certain older, wide-screen DTVs--those that can't resize a progressive image--will have to watch nonanamorphic discs in lower-quality interlaced mode. This player is also missing a coaxial digital-audio output. An optical output is available, as are jacks for component video, S-Video, video, and stereo audio.
In terms of video performance, the progressive-scan XP30's matches that of the XP50. The Mulholland Drive DVD that we used to test the XP50 also looked very good on the XP30. Detail and color were excellent, down to the reflections in the teardrop in an extreme close-up of Rita's face. We noticed very little noise in the shadowy scenes at the Silencio nightclub. The player rendered pans around Betty's Los Angeles apartment with minimal noise and no moving lines. Video sources appeared free of jagged edges, thanks to the Sage DCDi chip. Unfortunately, the XP30's conversion of anamorphic discs to 4:3 introduced motion artifacts and jagged edges.
The XP30 lists for $300, but you can find it for less than $225 online, which is still a bit more expensive than competing progressive-scan decks from Zenith and Toshiba. However, like the XP50, the XP30's combination of slick design and good video performance makes it a solid value. We have no problem recommending this player, particularly to those who don't care about DVD-A support.