Friday, April 26, 2013

Electronics Review: Panasonic DMP-BD35K Blu-Ray Player



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great audio and superior picture
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
It's five years later
And this blu-ray is still great
Still glad I bought it

I'm Happy I Waited to get a Blu-Ray Player Until I Could Get Panasonic's 35K

About a year ago, I started wandering through electronics stores more frequently, ogling the HDTVs.  Along the way, I saw the ads showing off scenes from blu-ray releases, and my jaw was always on the floor in envy.  As soon as I bought my TV, I started plotting taking the next step.  A couple weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and bought the Panasonic DMP-BD35K.  I was thrilled in a heart beat.

One of the reasons I waited, besides the format war and prices, was the profiles.  It's just been in the last few months that the final blu-ray profile, 2.0, has been released.  This profile includes an Ethernet connection to connect directly to the internet for firmware updates and Blu-Ray Live.  This latest is a way that movie studios can provide interactive bonus features over the internet.  So far, the few features offered on movies for Blu-Ray Live have been less than impressive.  But as long as I was going to buy a player, I wanted to get the final profile so if, at some point in the future, there is some content I am interested in, I wouldn't be forced to buy another one.

I was very pleasantly surprised at the price.  The Panasonic 35K was released last month with a suggested price of $299, which I am sure will fall over the next year.  For a brand new player, that's a good price.  And it's the cheapest profile 2.0 player I am aware of right now.

The player comes with the unit itself, a power cord, a remote, two AA batteries (a nice touch I am beginning to notice more and more), and an audio video cable.  I'm a little surprised by the last one since everything is moving rapidly to HDMI cables, but I'm not going to complain.

Hooking it up was a snap.  I plugged it into an HDMI cable connected to my TV and that was all there was to it.  The picture and sound both flowed through that one connection.  All I had to do was sit back and enjoy.

Picture

The picture on this unit was everything I had hoped for and more.  My Samsung 42 inch Plasma TV is only 720p/1080i, but even without the best quality display, I could tell an immediately difference.  A former roommate came over to help me break it in, and he commented on how much better it looks than even the HDTV signals I get with my digital cable.

As well as just watching movies, I took some time over the next couple of days to do some picture comparisons.  I used Sleeping Beauty, Cars, and Enchanted.  I'd find a scene and pause it, then do the same thing with my DVD copy on a DVD player hooked up to the same TV, flipping back and forth between them to see how they compare.  The differences are amazing.  You can see the gravel in the pavement or pattern on a suit.  And the colors are brilliant without being overbearing.

The player can show movies in 1080p/24 frames per second, which is the best picture imaginable.  My TV doesn't quite support that, so I can't tell you for sure.  But based on the great picture I am getting, I'd be shocked if it wasn't phenomenal.

Upconverting (aka Picture Part Two)

As with all blu-ray players, this one can play your standard DVDs as well, a nice feature if, like me, you've invested a lot in DVDs over the years.  Even better, it makes the picture look as sharp as it can through upconverting.  I stuck quite a few into my player to see how it would do.

I found that older, not resorted images don't fare as well.  Specially, I tried episodes from my Babylon 5 and Mary Tyler Moore TV sets.  The pictures have plenty of grain and dust, which this player picks up on and magnifies.  Honestly, it's not enough to truly be a problem.  The main reason it bothered me was because I was looking closely at it.  If I just sat down to watch them, I'd be able to ignore it just fine.

The good news is that discs with good picture look better here.  A random episode from the TV show Lost, for example, was stunning.  And I stuck in Mary Poppins and The Love Bug, both of which looked fine as well.  No, it's not as good as true HD, but the upconverting does a decent job.

Audio

I'm sure the home theater experts have been screaming at me since I discussed setting the player up.  See, I set it up "wrong" at first.  For the best audio, you are supposed to hook the player directly up to a sound system via HDMI, then run an HDMI cable from your sound system to your TV.  The problem here is that my sound system is at least 7 years old, which makes it a dinosaur with no HDMI connections at all.  So I hooked the HDMI into my TV and then use a digital optical cable to hook up my sound system.

All that to explain why I can't comment too much on the audio portion of the player.  It is designed to play 7.1 surround with Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital EX, and Dolby Digital Plus.  The good news is that this player can decode all of that for me and convert it into what I have.  So with my system, I am still getting 5.1 surround sound.  Yes, I might have to upgrade my sound system.  But for now, it serves my needs.

The sound I was getting running the sound through my TV was fine.  But I kept playing with things, including my sound system.  I found by running the digital optical cord directly from the 35K into my sound system, the sound was even better.  We're talking fully immersive sound that will make my neighbors in my condo complexhate me when I watch movies.  I have tweaked my sound system to get it.  Since I've played with those settings, I can't compare to my DVD player.  However, I will say this system has great sound.  I can only imagine how great it would be with a modern sound system.

Loading Speed

Before I got this player, all I heard was how long it takes for a machine to turn on (due to advanced software over a DVD player) and how long it takes for the discs to load.  So I prepared myself for the worst.

I was pleasantly surprised.

True, I don't have some of the worst offenders when it comes to loading time, but I didn't think it took an unreasonable amount of time to load.  We're talking time measured in seconds not minutes.  I haven't timed any, but I'd be shocked if I ever had to wait as long as a minute for anything to come up.  Couple that with my habit of sticking a disc in and leaving the room for a last minute task, and I always find the menu waiting for me when I come back to actually watch.  And DVD's don't take any longer to load than they used to take.

Layout and the Remote

Again, the player hits it out of the park with the set up.  The unit looks sleek.  There are a few buttons either on the top of the unit or hidden under a flap that is easy to open.  Also behind this flap is the SD card slot which can be used to show pictures from your camera or for the Blu-Ray Live features.

The remote is logically laid out with all the buttons clearly marked.  Play even has a little knob on it to make it easy to find in the dark.

And one feature I have to admit I enjoy is the fast forward.  There are five speeds going forward and backward, making it easy to get somewhere fast (if you don't want to use chapter breaks, of course, which have their own buttons.)  On the slowest fast forward speed, the machine still gives you the audio.  True, they sound slightly like The Chipmunks, but you can still understand everything and get most of the emotion.  It's a nice feature if you want to get to a favorite scene without completely skipping over something else.

This unit is also more energy efficient than it's forerunners, the 30K and 50K.  While that wasn't an important feature to me when I was looking to buy, it did encourage me to support this particular model.

What about the 55K?

Panasonic released their 35K and 55K blu-ray players pretty much simultaneously.  And they are sister units.  In fact, the two even share an instruction booklet.  Through that and my research, here's what I've learned.

For $100 more (at least as of now), the 55K offers you two HDMI outputs, the ability to play DivX's (what are those?), and the ability to use analog cables to output Dolby True HD audio.  That last feature was the one reason I also went with the 55K, but in the end I decided to save the money now and consider upgrading my audio system at some point in the future.

Conclusion

Panasonic's DMP-BD35K Blu-Ray Player was worth the wait of the last six months.  I am thrilled with my purchase and foresee many happy hours enjoying the superior quality.  Now, to get more blu-ray movies.

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