My Playstation 3 and the three Blu-ray discs to play on it haven’t arrived yet, but this afternoon I got to experience Blu-ray in the comfort of my own home for the first time, thanks to the Panasonic DMP-BD10 that Lyris managed to snag for review. It’s a rather nicely-designed piece of equipment, and it certainly boots considerably quicker than our HD DVD player, but nothing that I’ve seen so far this afternoon has made me regret the decision to go with HD DVD way back in June.
We got three discs with the player: two demonstration reels, one from Panasonic and one from 20th Century Fox, and a copy of Fantastic 4 from Fox. Of the two demo discs, the Panasonic one, which features three music performances from different artists, encoded with MPEG4 AVC and featuring a variety of audio options, including uncompressed 7.1 LPCM and DTS 5.1, was the most visually impressive, with the only visible flaws seemingly being the result of the digital photography itself rather than the encoding. The same cannot be said about Fox’s MPEG2 demo disc, which featured clips and trailers from a variety of different films, ranging from striking (Walk the Line), to decent but soft-looking (Kingdom of Heaven), to completely unimpressive (X2: X-Men United). The latter description perfectly sums up Fantastic 4, which is one of the worst-looking high definition presentations I’ve seen so far. Virtually every artefact associated with a digital transfer is present here to some degree, from light edge enhancement to heavy-handed temporal noise reduction, which causes grain to clump and textures to drag when in movement. It also looks decidedly soft, much closer to, say, Studio Canal’s Basic Instinct HD DVD than I would have expected for such a recent, CGI-heavy blockbuster. Given that it is an MPEG2 encode on a 25GB disc, I’m slightly surprised that I didn’t find more compression artefacts than I did, but they’re definitely there, and the fact that most of the bonus materials have been tossed aside in order to cram the film on to the disc speaks volumes about how inefficient the codec is.
Oh, and the Java-powered menu system is an absolute nightmare. It’s slow and unresponsive, and makes me see just how much better a deal our HD DVD player is given that, despite its slow booting time, menu access is smooth and instantaneous.
Obviously I can’t evaluate an entire format based on one film and a couple of demo discs, but so far I’ve not seen anything to wow me. If I’d just spent £1,200 (which is what this player costs in the UK) on what I’d been promised was “the ultimate home theater [sic] experience”, I’d be a bit pissed.
PS. We have this player for a couple of weeks, so I intend to make the most of this by renting and reviewing as many Blu-ray titles as possible.