After what feels like a lifetime of waiting and speculating, Blu-ray and HD DVD players are finally available in Europe, giving us a chance to decide for ourselves which format to go for.
But after criticism of the initial movie releases and the lukewarm reception for Samsung’s BD-P1000 deck (which spectacularly fails to justify its £1,000 price tag) the Blu-ray camp hasn’t got off to a great start – a fact compounded by the price-slashing heroics of Toshiba, whose HD-E1 HD DVD deck delivers superb performance for a fraction of the Samsung’s price.
So as a result, it’s left to Panasonic’s DMP-BD10 to fly the flag for Blu-ray until the next wave of machines from the likes of LG and Philips hit the stores later this year. Its suggested retail price of £1,300 is likely to induce shivers among even the most committed early adopter (it’s almost three times more expensive than the HD-E1), but all new technology is expensive to begin with and you certainly get a lot more for your money than the underwhelming Samsung. Of course you can find the DMP-BD10 for around £900 online, but then Toshiba’s HD-E1 can be had online for as little as £334.
First, its solid build quality makes it look and feel like a more ‘high-end’ piece of kit, but it lacks the Samsung’s aesthetic pizzazz. Pull down the reflective front panel (which sadly isn’t motorised) and it reveals a stark, minimal fascia with only the key playback buttons to keep your fingers happy. The brushed aluminium adds a bit of refinement but overall we can’t help feel that the deck looks a bit dull. And at 85mm, it’s also very chunky, which could cause chaos under your TV if you’ve only got limited space.
But there’s a positive side to the deck’s portly physique – it enables Panasonic to pack the rear panel with sockets, an area where the DMP-BD10 steals a march on the BD-P1000 and the HD-E1.
Chief among these is the HDMI output, which should be your first port of call when connecting the player to your HD display. It’s worth noting that the socket is version 1.2 and not 1.3, which means that you don’t get the extra functionality afforded by the newer version.
Panasonic also provides an RGB-capable Scart output plus component, S-video and composite outputs. On the audio front, there are 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs, which reveals that the DMP-BD10 is fitted with a Dolby Digital Plus decoder (alongside decoders for Dolby Digital and DTS) and can therefore pipe this new 7.1 format to an amplifier with the relevant analogue inputs. Trouble is, Dolby Digital Plus isn’t a mandatory sound format for Blu-ray (it is for HD DVD) and few of the Blu-ray discs released so far actually use it. You’ll also find optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, which carry regular 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks.