But once the disc is up and running, all frustration slowly melts away as you get drawn in by the DMP-BD10’s stunning picture quality. Viewed on a 50in 1,366 x 768 Panasonic plasma and a 1,920 x 1080 Sharp LCD, the Fantastic Four Blu-ray disc (1080p, MPEG-2) simply beggars belief, possessing an effortless clarity and vibrancy that adds another dimension to this visually striking superhero flick. Colours are deep and vivid, emphasising the movie’s comic-book visuals and giving the overall image true depth and solidity.
The centrepiece scene on the bridge is the best demonstration of the DMP-BD10’s picture prowess; minute details like the texture on Ben Grimm’s prosthetic suit are clearly visible, as is every piece of shattered glass and debris strewn across the road as the truck pile-drives into his body. Switching between 1080i and 1080p didn’t reveal a great deal of difference, as both look absolutely stunning, although 1080p seems marginally crisper and more fluid.
A Panasonic demo disc encoded in MPEG-4 also looks terrific despite the ropey content. Its uncompressed 7.1 PCM soundtrack gives us a chance to hear the format’s improved multi-channel audio capabilities and we weren’t disappointed by the rich and detailed sound quality. The DMP-BD10’s DVD-Audio playback is also excellent as the thumping rendition of Missy Elliott’s ‘Miss E…So Addictive’ attests.
The quality of upscaled DVDs is also of the highest order. It gives the Fantastic Four DVD a superb spit and polish in 720p and 1080i, making everything from facial close-ups to panoramic cityscapes look clean, sharp and natural (though it’s still no match for the Blu-ray version). Try though I might, I couldn’t see any traces of noise or artefacts resulting from the upscaling process either.
From a performance perspective, there’s no denying that the DMP-BD10 is a sensational product and in terms of features it’s miles better than the Samsung BD-P1000. But there’s also no denying the fact that it’s wildly overpriced, costing nearly three times as much as the Toshiba HD-E1 HD DVD deck and twice as much as the step-up HD-XE1.
Having seen the picture quality of both the HD-E1 and the DMP-BD10, there isn’t £850 worth of difference in picture quality between the two (or even £550 at street prices), even taking into consideration the BD10’s 1080p capability. And when you consider that the Panasonic lacks the Ethernet connection found on the two HD DVD decks, then it becomes even harder to justify its lofty price tag.
With more Blu-ray decks being launched in 2007 and the PS3 just around the corner it’s far too early to predict who’ll win the fight to become the hi-def replacement for DVD, but one thing’s for sure: HD DVD has won round one…