Every year we look forward to Panasonic’s new Blu-ray players like a kid looks forward to Christmas, but this year’s range has inspired new levels of excitement. Why? Because the four-strong 2010 line-up not only adds all the snazzy features offered by its Korean rivals, but it also includes the company’s first 3D-capable deck, the DMP-BDD300. The 3D deck is out later in the year, but March sees the launch of three lower-specced but no less appetising hi-def players, the DMP-BD85, DMP-BD65 and DMP-BD45.
However, we’re easing ourselves in gently with the entry-level DMP-BD45, which comes equipped with a basic feature list at an attractive price, giving buyers on a tight budget a chance to sample some of Panasonic’s lauded picture prowess. The step-up model, DMP-BD65, adds Wi-Fi support among other networking features for a £30 premium, while the next one up, DMP-BD85, costs around £300 but offers ‘high-grade’ electronics, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi support, DLNA networking and everything else you could ever want from a Blu-ray deck (except 3D, of course). Look out for a review of the BD85 next week.
Like previous Panasonic decks, the BD45 is a fairly unremarkable looking piece of kit. Nothing jumps out or catches the eye in the same way as the Philips BDP7500, and the non-glossy black finish is tasteful but uninspiring. However, there’s still much to admire – the unit feels well made, is improbably slim and the display panel is large and informative, showing the elapsed time in large illuminated digits.
Below the disc tray is a thin flap that conceals an SD card slot and USB port – the former supports SDHC cards (from 4GB to 32GB) and SDXC cards (from 32GB to 2TB) and lets you view JPEG pictures or AVCHD footage shot on HD camcorders, while the latter offers a way of playing DivX, MP3 and JPEG files.
On the back, sockets are stripped down to the basics, and we mean basic – you get HDMI, composite, analogue stereo and optical digital audio outputs, and that’s your lot. No multichannel analogue ports, no component out and most remarkably of all, no Ethernet terminal.
The last one is a curious omission – it makes this a Profile 1.1 player, and as such doesn't allow you to access BD Live content. We realise that not everyone likes BD Live, and it’s clearly been omited to keep costs down, but with similarly-priced players from the likes of Sony and Samsung that do support it, this isn’t a compromise you should have to make. We're also curious to know how Panasonic has managed to launch a new Profile 1.1 player when we thought the minimum spec was Profile 2.0.
The player does, however, perform most of the other tricks you’d expect from a Blu-ray deck. It’ll feed 1080p pictures to compatible TVs at their native 24Hz frame rate, and outputs Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio in bitstream form to an AV receiver, or converts them to PCM for receivers without the relevant decoding. The lack of multichannel analogue outputs makes this the only way of enjoying hi-res movie soundtracks.