September 19, 2008
Panasonic Upgrades Video, Audio In New Blu-ray™ Players

A one-on-one look at Panasonic's latest Blu-ray players, the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55

By Danny Richelieu

At the 2008 CEDIA EXPO, Panasonic introduced two new Blu-ray Disc™ players, the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55. Both players feature BD-Live support out of the box and the ability to decode all of the advanced audio codecs (including Dolby® TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio™) internally.

At the show, full demonstrations of the players were not feasible, and the most information I could get on the differences between the two were that the BD55 uses higher-quality “audio parts” and an improved circuit board for video.

But on Thursday, September 18, Panasonic rented space in a Los Angeles hotel to demonstrate the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55. For good measure, the presenters were Tetsuya Itani, Chief Engineer of the Advanced Development Team and Takeshi Kuraku, Manager of the Audio Video Marketing Team, who gave an impressive detailing of the two players. Atsuo Watanabe, Chief Engineer of the Theater Design Team was also at the meeting discussing Panasonic’s new SA-BX500 receiver, but more on that in a later blog.

In our meeting, I learned that the DMP-BD55’s higher quality “audio parts” are only part of the equation, with the entire design tuned for
better audio performance than the DMP-BD35. The player includes a 7.1-channel analog output fed from a 192 kHz, 24-bit D/A converter; it can re-sample 48 kHz lossless audio signals to 96 kHz. It can also deliver the bitstream signals directly from the disc to a compatible receiver or preamplifier/processor via HDMI, or it can internally decode any of the Dolby and DTS codecs (including TrueHD and Master Audio) to PCM to be output over HDMI for slightly older receivers that can handle PCM over HDMI (the DMP-BD35 does not have an analog 7.1-channel output, but can still internally decode the codecs to PCM for output over HDMI). Decoding of the advanced audio codecs is done by Panasonic’s newest UniPhier 45-nanometer (nm) chipset, which Bill Cushman first introduced in his review of the Panasonic DMP-BD30 in Issue 130, April 2008.

Instead of using the same UniPhier chip that was used in the DMP-BD30, however, the chip was re-engineered to be custom tailored for a Blu-ray Disc player rather than a Blu-ray Disc recorder, as the previous design was engineered. By removing the video encoding capability from the chip, and with improved engineering,
Panasonic was able to introduce their Reference Chroma Processor Plus for both the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55, adding 4:4:4 video upsampling of the native 4:2:0 information from Blu-ray Discs.

This vertical and horizontal upsampling of the color information improves the resolution of color information, as they showed using a Panasonic plasma (a VIERA PZ800 model) that was capable of accepting and properly displaying 4:4:4 signals over HDMI. Comparing a DMP-BD30 (and a few recently released Blu-ray players from competitors) to the DMP-BD35 using test patterns, the improvements with the upsampling were immediately obvious. Even viewing real material, the image seemed to be sharper, with better-defined transitions between colors.

Similar P4HD deinterlacing and scaling algorithms to those in the DMP-BD30 are employed, but the narrowed focus for the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55 as strictly Blu-ray Disc players allowed the engineers to improve the 3-2 pulldown performance for all discs (the DMP-BD30 had problems deinterlacing signals off BD-R and DVD±R discs, with fewer problems with pre-recorded BD- and DVD-ROMs).

Panasonic claims that processing has been improved across the board in these two
players, and the new 45-nm UniPhier chipset provides the added benefit of reduced power consumption—from 42 continuous watts in the DMP-BD10, to 25 watts in the BD30, down to 20 watts in the BD35.

At the meeting, they were insistent on reminding me that, as with the DMP-BD30, Panasonic’s PHL (Panasonic Hollywood Labs) had a big part in designing the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55 players. Viewing Blu-ray Discs in A/B comparisons on their 380-inch screen against original master files from the studios, the engineers at PHL helped tweak the players for them to work optimally. Look for a full review of the DMP-BD55 in an upcoming issue of Widescreen Review.

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Tags: - equipment - - Panasonic - - Blu-ray - - DMP-BD35 - - DMP-BD55 - - BD35 - - BD55 - - CEDIA - - BD-Live -