Panasonic DMP-B15 portable Blu-ray player review

4.5 out of 5
£500

For

BD Live, Viera Cast, DivX playback from disc, SD Card slot

Against

Slow to load, slightly impractical design, pricey

How many times have you bought a Blu-ray movie, got chatting about it with friends and agreed to lend it or bring it over - only to have to cancel plans because no one else you know has a Blu-ray player? With a lot of us now buying-up Blu-ray bargains, the problem of where to take your discs is fast becoming significant.

On the DMP-B15 are some cutting-edge features: Full HD 1080p output at 24 frames per second (so as advanced as any standalone Blu-ray deck), P4HD processing (something that’s impressed on Panasonic’s other BD players), a SD Card slot (capable of playing JPEG and AVCHD or MPEG2 video files), BD Live access and downloading (using its Ethernet LAN port) and Panasonic’s own internet portal called Viera Cast (ditto).

Despite its Full HD 1080p skills, the DMP-B15’s 8.9-inch LCD screen has a WSVGA 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, more commonly found on netbooks. It’s more than enough to show that extra dollop of detail compared to any portable DVD player on the market. As a bonus the DMP-B15 can also take all Blu-ray surround sound formats, including DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby True HD, into a HDTV via the HDMI output.

Of all of those features, Viera Cast is perhaps the most impressive. A great high resolution interface hosts portals for online access to both YouTube and Picasa. Fabulous-looking menus, customisation choices and super-fast loading make it a supremely smooth, attractive and enjoyable feature.

Sadly, when it comes to disc playback the DMP-B15 creaks into life. During our tests with various Blu-ray discs it took at least 20 seconds to warm-up and another minute or so (on average) to present the disc’s menus. Once it’s woken, however, it’s a cinch to skip around using the excellent credit card-sized remote that’s simply a dwarfed version of a Panasonic Viera TV remote.

Those slow loading times do detract from the DMP-B15’s practical ambitions somewhat. We also couldn’t get the unit to switch on while the swivel screen was in certain positions, or switch-on while plugged into the mains with the depleted battery still in place.

Though it's quoted at 3hrs, during our tests the BD15's battery never got beyond 2.5hrs - it's best attached to the mains if you're using it at home, though an in-car charger is supplied in the box for long journeys.

It’s drenched with such quality in other areas that these shortfalls are easily forgiven. Blu-ray discs look simply sumptuous and are a massive step forward from portable DVD players. Contrast and colour are exceptional, while detail is high enough to banish any fuzzy edges on what is always a smooth and filmic image. DVD is also coped with well, with the drop in detail noticeable in a lack of depth when compared to Blu-ray playback.

DivX files - which can be played from CD-R or a DVD-R only, and not from a SD Card - can look slightly exposed on the screen, with scant attention paid to them by the P4HD processing. Blocking, pixellation, jagged edges and blur are all significant problems, as well as washed-out colours.

Verdict

This is a great Blu-ray player period. If nothing else it will save space on your home entertainment rack. It needs some work on loading times and could probably do with Wi-Fi internet access to beef-up its portable credentials, but for a first effort it’s alarmingly close to perfection.