At its annual European press launch in Amsterdam, Panasonic yesterday announced that it would launch a series of new Blu-ray players, including a portable machine, the DMP-B15, and a freesat-recording model, the DMR-BS850. There were also jokes about windmills.
To our surprise, the company has decided that in the middle of a recession, what people really need is the ability to watch Blu-ray movies when they're on the road. We love the idea of being able to easily lug a Blu-ray player around with us, but we're stroking Sceptical Cat as to whether anyone will actually pay for it.
The DMP-B15, which had a glimpse of at CES, features an 8.9-inch, WSVGA screen and supports SDHC cards and can play AVCHD material, making it a good companion for a Panasonic camcorder. It will also, surprisingly, have access to the VieraCast system, which allows you to access online content such as YouTube and Bloomberg news.
You can also connect this player to your TV with an HDMI screen, and benefit from 'Full HD' quality in your lounge, or on your second TV in your bedroom. Let's be honest here, even the best 8.9-inch LCD isn't going to do justice to 1080p video, so it's important to be able to use it as a standalone player too -- in fact, the only benefit to the screen is that you needn't get a separate copy of the movie on DVD.
The DMP-B15 also supports BD Live, so if you connect it to your home network, via the built-in Ethernet connection, you can access online content. Even DivX gets a look in, with support for DVDs and CDs with video encoded in the popular codec.
The company also announced that, as part of its long-running deal with freesat, it would be producing a Blu-ray recorder with built-in, dual freesat HD tuners. The DMR-BS850 will be launched this year in the UK (a similar model has previously been available in France). This is great news for HD fans -- recording your favourite HD shows to Blu-ray is frankly awesome. Hopefully, such discs will play on any AVCHD capable machine, although we don't know how the content creators will feel about such flagrant nose-thumbing at potential copyright infringement.
There are also two new standalone Blu-ray players. The first, the DMP-BD60, will replace one of our favourite players, the DMP-BD35. The high-end DMP-BD55 from last year is also being replaced by the DMP-BD80. Both players will feature BD Live too.
As with its previous range, Panasonic has bestowed analogue 7.1 audio out on the BD80, with the BD60 supporting Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, but only via HDMI. Both players have PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus, which takes Panasonic's expertise in mastering Blu-ray movies and helps to increase the picture quality you get to see on your shiny new HD TV.
3D TV has also been mentioned, with Panasonic using Blu-ray to send Full HD 3D to a compatible TV. Before that can become a marketable product, however, both the Blu-ray Disc Association and the HDMI licensing group need to agree to adjust the relevant standards. So don't expect to don the dorky specs anytime soon.