Excellent display: Even the best portable DVD players are limited by their source material, which is recorded in standard definition. With its ability to play Blu-ray, however, the Panasonic DMP-B15 gives videophiles a way to view their high-definition movies away from home.
Blu-ray movies look sharp, particularly when compared to the fuzzier edge detail you get from regular DVDs. Well-lit scenes are especially crisp while dark scenes in movies such as the Dark Knight retain a lot more detail than normal. The device truly shines, though, with 3D-animated movies such as Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. Such movies sport vivid colors, tack-sharp resolution and none of the grain effects seen in some live-action movies, even when viewed up close. The DMP-B15 does a great job with regular DVDs as well, rivaling the quality seen in the best portable DVD players.
Regular photos also look good when viewed with the device, which can double as a digital frame. Add its anti-glare screen — which does a good job even with a direct flashlight beam — and you have one of the better looking displays out there.
Plenty of options: Besides high-def 1080i and standard definition options, the DMP-B15 can ouput in 1080/24p or 24 frames-per-second, which is the same as film. You can also adjust color display options and save those settings, a good thing since the standard factory settings are a bit oversaturated and cause people to have reddish skin. A soft filter and noise reduction option helps reduce the grain present in certain movies.
Surround sound options are also quite good, providing an extra option over the standard speakers. The DMP-B15 doesn't come with an HDMI cable but it does have an HDMI slot for connecting to an HDTV. It also comes with a car kit that includes a mounting plate, straps and a cigarette lighter plug so you can install it in your vehicle for long trips.
Format support: Besides Blu-ray and DVD video, the DMP-B15 also supports DIVX, AVCHD and MPEG-2 formats. Picture files in JPEG format and music MP3 files are supported as well.
SD card slot: The device comes with a slot for an SD card, which also takes a MicroSD card with an SD card adapter. The card can be used to load JPEG, AVCHD and MPEG-2 files.
Internet options: When connected to broadband via a cable, the device can access Internet-enabled Blu-ray viewing options such as BD Live. The DMP-B15's Viera Cast function also means you can access the Picasa picture service, Bloomberg stock info and business briefs, Amazon Video-on-Demand, and YouTube. The latter is displayed via the right half of the screen, with video searching done via a cell-phone like text interface.
Steep price: Even with Panasonic lowering the suggested retail price from $799.99 to $749.95, that's still a pretty steep price to pay for Bluray on the go. As with any high-priced electronics product, my advice is to search online for deals. While writing this review, for example, Amazon put the device on sale for $579.99, plus free shipping. You can also check out the "Compare Prices" tab in this review for more pricing options.
Charging, battery life: Charging the battery takes anywhere from 6.5 hours to 7 hours, which is pretty long. Meanwhile, playing time with the battery is about 2.5 hours using the standard factory settings. That means you can basically only watch one full-length movie, with longer films such as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King pretty much out of the question.
Some grain: As good as the display is, I noticed some grain in movies such as Transformers and The Dark Knight, particularly for sections that are out of focus or scenes shot in low light. Using "Soft" mode and noise reduction usually helps. Grain also doesn't seem to be an issue in the 3D animated movies I watched.
Design quirks: Unlike your typical portable DVD players, the DMP-B15 does not allow you to view movies in normal "clamshell" mode (i.e. if you simply flip up the screen). Instead, you have to rotate the screen and lay it flat on the base of the body, almost like a tablet. A stand lets you view the screen vertically on a surface but also adds bulk to an already thick player. The location of the power socket also seems weird, largely due to the fact that the device is designed to function with a stand.
Loading and menu lag: Booting up the device takes about 25 seconds, which is then followed by further loading as the device reads the disc (up to another 20-plus seconds for Blu-ray). Loading speed for regular DVDs is OK but Blu-ray discs can take a bit longer to load. The DMP-B15 also does not remember a Blu-ray movie's position if you stop midway. It basically loads the movie again from the beginning.
In contrast, it does remember where you stop with a regular DVD, even if you power off the device. There's also some lag for certain menu functions from the time you input the command with the remote, which can be a bit disjointing.
Miscellaneous stuff: The DMP-B15 does not have a USB slot, which would have been a nice option. It's also mind-boggling that you can't load DIVX files and MP3's via the SD Card. Those can only be loaded by disc. I also noticed a lot more compatibility issues with my DIVX/AVI files with this player than some other devices I've tested. Also, while it's good that the player offers plenty of options, the interface for the controls isn't the most intuitive. In short, grandma is going to need a lot of help with this one.
Panasonic's DMP-B15 feels like a device that's on the verge of perfection but gets ultimately held back by the drawbacks mentioned. If price isn't an issue and you mainly care about video quality and being able to watch your Blu-ray collection on the road, then you will love this device. Display-wise, this is the best I've seen in a portable player so far (and for the price, it better be).
Personally, I'd like to see at least an extra hour of battery life, the ability to load all files via SD card, and the ability to watch movies via "open clam shell" just like other portable players. All in all, though, I think the DMP-B15 is a good first effort given its performance and feature set — provided that you can afford it. Otherwise, you can always wait for the early adopters to do their magic until prices go down.