One of three nominees for best product in the Home Video category at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Panasonic’s new $799 DMP-B15 is the world’s first portable Blu-ray player. Of course, savvy electronics consumers are probably asking themselves why anyone would need a portable high-def movie player when the screens attached to these devices are typically much too small to accommodate high-definition resolution. It’s a good question. And, indeed, the DMP-B15’s 8.9-inch “high-resolution” LCD does not meet the industry definition of HD. Still, Panasonic’s player proves to be a surprisingly useful and versatile little device. It’s just too bad about that sky-high price tag.
Features and Utility
The label “portable Blu-ray player,” while technically accurate, does the DMP-B15 a disservice. It is easily transportable and can play Blu-ray discs wherever you happen to take it, to be sure, but it is capable of much more.
For starters, it can be used as a fully functional Blu-ray player for your home entertainment system, sending a full HD (1080/24p) picture to your plasma or LCD television and 7.1 surround sound to your home theatre via its HDMI output. A robust little infrared remote, as well as support for Panasonic’s Viera Link control system (which lets you use your existing Panasonic television or home theatre remote to control the player) helps make the DMP-B15 as at home in your living room as any conventional Blu-ray deck.
What’s more, a LAN port means you can connect to the Internet to obtain BD-Live content, get firmware updates, and even access content from Web video sites like YouTube via Panasonic’s proprietary Viera Cast web TV technology, which was developed for the company’s high-end living room televisions. It’s just too bad that Panasonic decided not to include Wi-Fi capability. Connecting to the Web in your living room is one thing, but it would have been nice to be able to access online content from, say, the kitchen, bathroom, or deck. This is, after all, a portable device.
And if you don’t happen to have disc-based media or an Internet connection on hand, you can just pop in a secure digital high-capacity (SDHC) memory card and play back MPEG 2 and AVCHD video (DivX is supported as well, but, strangely, only on optical media). No card available? Then use the AV input to connect another device, like, say, a video camera, or even a game system.
Indeed, the DMP-B15 is nothing if not multipurpose.
The unit’s also a bit bulky. Weighing nearly four pounds, you’ll definitely feel it when you pop it out of the car and into a bag to carry for safekeeping. And though its width and height are similar to that of most portable DVD players, its 2.3-inch girth makes it somewhat portly. About a third of that depth is due to the stand, which pops out from the back to support the screen, like two cards leaning against each other. Shame it’s not detachable.
Still, you can’t say it isn’t attractive. A sophisticated looking metallic blue bezel more common to televisions than portable media players surrounds the display. And its lines are clean. No buttons are visible on the front when the swiveling screen is flipped to face forward; all controls and ports have been spread along the top and right edges of the device.
What’s more, it’s easy to install in most cars. A strap connected to a mounting bracket fits snugly around any two-post headrest. Then simply snap the player onto the mount, loop a pair of binding straps around both, and you’re done. It took about three minutes to set up, and removal was even quicker. The only problem with the mount is that the binding straps prevent access to the disc tray, which means they need to be removed when switching optical media—an unfortunate nuisance. A side-loading disc slot could have prevented this problem.
As already mentioned, the DMP-B15 is capable of delivering 1080p high-definition video, just not on its built-in 8.9-inch Viera LCD, which has a native resolution of 1024-by-600 pixels. In truth, though, any greater a resolution would be wasted; we were unable to distinguish individual pixels from a distance of 18-inches, which means more of them would have had no discernable impact on image quality. The only way truly high-definition resolution makes sense is with a bigger screen, but the bigger the screen, the less portable the player becomes. We’re not sure we’ll ever see HD screens in this category.
While the DMP-B15’s screen may not be high-definition, few beefs can be leveled at its picture quality. Clean, sharp, and colorful, the DMP-B15’s video images are inarguably a step up from your average integrated airplane or car display. Side viewing angles are weak—don’t expect someone sitting behind the driver to be able to make out much when the display is mounted on the passenger seat headrest—but this can be forgiven; portable movie players are designed to offer an inherently individual viewing experience.
Less forgivable, however, is its slow warm-up cycle. The unit takes about 20 seconds to boot up, then another 50 seconds or so to load Blu-ray disc content. That means parents of younger children who are incapable of working the player themselves might end up standing idly beside their cars as they wait to get the show started before hitting the road. Thankfully, there was no perceptible lag in operation or menu navigation once the movie was running.
We got about 100 minutes out of the battery with the volume cranked, and about 15 minutes more using headphones. That ought to be enough to get through most kids movies, but don’t plan on watching The Lord of the Rings if you aren’t near an outlet. It ships with a standard car power adapter, so consumers are set for long road trips.
By now there are quite a few people with sizable Blu-ray movie collections, and, prior to the DMP-B15, there was no safe way to watch these discs in a car (using a laptop can prove lethal in an accident). So, even if the DMP-B15 doesn’t offer a true high-definition picture, it at least facilitates the watching of Blu-ray movies in the backseats of vehicles.
Plus, you get the added benefit of being able to use the player as a fully functional Blu-ray deck for your home entertainment system whenever it isn’t in your car. Even consumers who already have a player in their living rooms may still need one for a bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen. And that’s to say nothing of the benefit of being able to connect it to hotel room sets.
Thing is, it’s expensive as all get out. Decent stationary Blu-ray decks can be had for under $200 these days, and good portable DVD players are available for even less. The DMP-B15 has plenty of attractive use scenarios, but it will need to be made much more affordable in order to gain mainstream traction.
- Can double as a player for your home entertainment system.
- LAN connectivity enables firmware updates, BD-LIVE content, and Web video via Viera Cast.
- Supports MPEG 2, DivX, and AVCHD video.
- Quick and simple vehicle installation.
- Exceedingly expensive.
- Bulky and heavy (though still pretty).
- Swapping discs while the device is mounted to a headrest is a hassle.