The hi-def format war is officially over (thank God), so if you're one of the many people to have cautiously resisted buying an HD player, then now is the time to start thinking about getting your credit card out.
But despite Blu-ray's landslide victory, which brings much needed clarity to a confused market, the players themselves are still evolving - none of the ‘Profile 1.0' decks launched so far (apart from the upgradeable PlayStation 3) supports the entire range of features that the format has to offer, which could be a real handicap if you're an avid film fan who wants to make the most of your movies.
However, the Panasonic DMP-BD30 ushers in a new era, because it's the first dedicated deck launched in the UK to support discs with Profile 1.1 features, such as dual video/audio decoders that offer picture-in-picture and audio mixing. ‘Big deal!' we hear you cry, ‘HD DVD had that since day one'. True, but its introduction into the Blu-ray arena brings the format one step closer to completion, leaving only the BD-Live profile to be introduced later this year.
The DMP-BD30 is the follow-up to Panasonic's superb-but-expensive DMP-BD10, but this time round the price tag is a lot more appetising. As a result it lacks its predecessor's high-end sophistication and bomb-shelter build quality, but it's snazzy nonetheless. A couple of black drop-down panels on the fascia hide the disc tray, playback controls and SD card slot (more on that later), giving the unit the kind of sparse, hi-tech look that suits cutting-edge kit like this.
On the back is a fine set of connections. The HDMI v1.3 output allows you to transfer Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD, DTS HD Master Audio and 7.1-channel PCM bitstreams to compatible amplifiers, plus it supports Deep Colour, but you'll need a TV that supports it and the relevant software, if any ever emerges. This multi-talented socket also shoots out 1080p pictures at 24 frames-per-second, as well as 1080/60p, 1080i, 720p and 576p/480p, and supports HDMI CEC technology, or ‘Viera Link' in Panasonic-speak. DVDs can also be upscaled to 1080p, giving your SD disc collection a new lease of life.
Elsewhere on the rear panel you'll find component, S-video and composite video outputs, plus optical and coaxial digital audio outputs (for transferring regular Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams), a pair of analogue phonos and a set of 5.1-channel analogue outputs. Sadly, the unit doesn't sport decoders for Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD or DTS HD Master Audio, so you'll only get decoded Dolby Digital and DTS from these six-channel analogue outputs. All of which means that the only way to hear high-resolution audio formats is via the HDMI output, which isn't much help if your amp is nearing retirement age.