Originally Posted by Brad Ley
Alright, here we go
Yes, I was able to pick one of these players up at a nearby CC, where they have just begun arriving. Those of you who frequent the BD hardware page might have seen my mini-takes on the new Samsung 1400, the Sony BD500, and the Pioneer 95. All of which I ended up returning in favor of continuing to use the PS3 for now. While the video/audio quality of these players was good to excellent, I found them all to be very flawed. The Samsung had problems with bitstream lock lags and Spiderman playback, the Sony didn't bitstream DTS-MA, and the Pioneer was essentially the Sony with DTS-MA and an extra $300 added to the price tag.
Oh, and they were all incredibly slow and clunky with Java discs. Titles like Spiderman 3 or Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer would take between 2:05-2:30 just to load initially. Unacceptable for any player (and certainly one costing $1000). To say I've been very hard on standalone players is an understatement and has made the search for a worthwhile standalone that much more irritating. I've seen (in my system) the Samsung BD1000, Panasonic BD10 (which I still have), the PS3 (which I still have), Sony BD500, Samsung BD1400, Pioneer 95, and now the Panasonic BD30.
Well, I'll say now that if you're within the 30 day return policy of the Samsung, Sony, or Pioneer players, you should return those puppies ASAP. The Panasonic BD30 is finally the player all these other manufacturers have been promising.
First the bad (and by bad, I mean the things we already knew). No, the BD30 doesn't include an Ethernet port. But while the Samsung, Pioneer, and Sony all do have Ethernets, none of the players are now, or appear to possibly ever be, profile 1.1. The Panasonic is. That makes it the most future proof player on the market right now, outside of the PS3 (but even that still isn't profile 1.1, despite the over-promised/under-delivered 2.0 firmware update).
Second, internal audio decoding. No, the Panasonic doesn't internally decode high-res audio to PCM. Those with outdated audio gear that don't provide the newest audio format decoding are going to be less impressed with the BD30. If you have the Panasonic BD10, you're obviously losing both TrueHD and DTS-HD High Res (I don't include Dolby Plus, because no Blu-rays utilize that format and I don't think they ever will at this point). For those with the PS3, the Samsungs, the Sonys, or the Pioneers (basically all other players) you're only losing internal TrueHD Not necessarily the same hit since there only appear to be about a dozen BD titles that use TrueHD, but lack a PCM track (namely some Warner stuff, Spidy 1&2, and Immortal Beloved).
But, for the purposes the player was designed for (those with the most current audio gear for bitstreaming who want a standalone that can stand up to or surpass the PS3), this is the player!
I would put the BD30 up against any player thus far released. Certainly more detailed than the PS3, the player is going to be seen as noisy by some. But what it is actually showing is more of the visible grain contained in the film. Throwing in a pure looking disc (like the stunning looking Meet the Robinsons or Kingdom of Heaven), the BD30, in my opinion, outputs a reference image (which, BTW, I'm viewing on a 70 JVC 1080p LCOS). In fact, because of the additional picture controls in the BD30, you can actually tweak settings a bit more and push a little extra performance out of the discs. I bumped up the sharpness setting on the player during Meet the Robinsons and it gave it unreal dimensionality and detail. My display isn't 24p capable, so I can't speak to that aspect of the player's performance. I also haven't really done a ton of SD upconversion looks, but based on some of the SD supplements I viewed; it appears that the BD30 does an excellent job of upconverting. Perhaps a hair softer/smoother to my eyes than some others, but I find that more appealing than an over-enhanced SD upconversion (which I find the XA2 to do. Not a huge fan of the Reon).
Bitstreaming the high-res audio to my Denon 3808, I now have every audio format available to me and it is heaven. One note If you are going to bitstream these formats out to a new receiver, you must switch off secondary audio mixing in the setup menu.
Leaving this on (as it is in the default) will reencode/transcode any audio that also includes button noises to legacy Dolby Digital. Switching this off allows bitstreaming of everything. The bitstreams are output immediately (no lag like the 4-second one on the Samsung). Not too much else to say here.
Grab hold of something!! From off to on with tray open is 22 seconds. As I earlier indicated, loading Java titles on any of the other standalones was an exercise in patience. It would generally take between two to two and a half minutes to go from 0 to 60. Well here are the load times I tested yesterday (all times were clocked from the disc tray open to the appearance of the first play screen (logos, FBI warnings).
First, a non-Java disc:
X-Men 3 - 21 seconds
Pirates 1 - 48 seconds
Pirates 2 - 45 seconds
The Fly - 49 seconds
Spiderman 3 - 48 seconds
Fantastic Four:SS - 60 seconds
Surf's Up - 60 seconds
Day After Tomorrow - 61 seconds
These load times are within 15-30 seconds of the PS3 and are remarkable for a standalone. Menu functionality is also greatly improved. One thing standalones have sucked at is the animation of complex menus. Surf's up, for example, has menus where, any time you make a selection, a penguin appears on-screen and blows a dart into your choice. On all the other players, this animation was chunky and slow, ticking through the movement one stutter at a time. With the PS3, the animation was smooth and flowed perfectly. The BD30 is very close to the PS3 in this regard. The menu movements finally don't feel like they're choking the player and put the BD30 in a class by itself as the only standalone player to offer performance that is overall on par with the PS3 (even exceeding it in many areas). Needless to say, the PS3 has now been removed my equipment shelf.
One other nice addition I was glad to see in the BD30 was the addition of a format identifier. It's not a bitrate meter (thank God), but it will tell you if a disc is AVC, VC1, or MPEG2.
Panasonic have also given us an Open button on the remote. This was one of my big dislikes about the BD10. That player required you to actually go to the player, manually drop down the face and open the disc tray. The BD30 loses that manual faceplate (although it still appears on the right 2/3 of the player to cover the control buttons) and allows you to open the tray from the couch.
I know there's probably tons more stuff I'm missing, but these are the highlights for now. Bottom line If you're looking for a player that you're going to be using with bitstreaming, the BD30 appears to be the only player you should consider. In fact, it so over-performs, Pioneer and Sony should be embarrassed of the players they just released. It appears that while those two have been doing God knows what, Panasonic has actually been working hard to make a player worth a damn.