The Panasonic DMP-BD15K is the first portable Blu-ray player, and at first it's easy to write it off as useless since much of Blu-ray's visual superiority doesn't translate on its 8.9-inch screen. But that's missing the point. If you're a home theater buff with a growing Blu-ray collection, you might be frustrated that you can't watch those movies on a plane or even in your bedroom. The real niche of the DMP-B15K is letting you watch your high-definition discs in more locations (rather than making the immersive Blu-ray experience portable), and the DMP-B15K is well-suited to the task. It has a full suite of car accessories and an HDMI output that makes it easy to use as a standalone player, too. However, like many first-generation devices, the DMP-B15K has plenty of caveats: a bulky design, short 2.5 hour battery-life, and less reliable playback than standalone players. Even more crippling is its sky-high $800 list price, making it only slightly cheaper than entry-level Blu-ray-equipped laptops. Ultimately, we're onboard with that idea that there's a need for a portable Blu-ray player, but--unfortunately--the DMP-B15K's price and shortcomings make it difficult to recommend to all but the most well off Blu-ray fans.
Yes, it's the first portable Blu-ray player, but our first reaction after taking it out of the box was "wow, that's big." The DMP-B15K feels sizable mostly because of its built-in stand, which is actually required because of the DMP-B15K's unusual design. While most portable DVD players sport a clamshell design--just open it up and start watching--the DMP-B15K's screen is actually upside down when you first open the unit. To get the screen right-side-up, you twist it around and lay it flat, then prop the unit up. Sitting on its stand, the DMP-B15K looks like a digital photo frame and it definitely has a sleeker look than a standard portable DVD player does, but we'd still prefer a slimmer unit with a clamshell design.
The DMP-B15K's built-in LCD is surrounded by a mirrorlike blue bezel, with the speakers running along the bottom. The display is 8.9 inches (measured diagonally) and has a native resolution of 1,024x600 pixels; that's not enough for the full resolution of Blu-ray (1,920x1,080). We appreciated that the screen features a matte finish, unlike the glossy screens that have become common on laptops, so you won't get as much glare in bright environments.
To control the DMP-B15K, you can either use the controls on the top of the unit or the included remote. The top location of the controls allows the front of the DMP-B15K to have a sleeker look, but you'll have to lean over the unit to see what you're doing. We were happy to see a variety of controls available, including a small joystick so you can navigate menus without the remote. One click "up" with the joystick brings up the pop-up menu and a click down makes it go away. The included remote is just a slight step up over the cheap credit-card-style remotes included on many inexpensive products. It's usable, but at this price we expected a bit more.
If the DMP-B15K was just a portable Blu-ray player, it would be nearly impossible to justify its $800 price tag. However, Panasonic has packed the DMP-B15K with almost as much functionality as its entry-level standalone Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD60, making it suitable to use in a home environment as well.
The main reason the DMP-B15K works as a standalone player is its HDMI output. Connect the DMP-B15K to an HDTV and it's capable of outputting high-definition video and high-resolution audio, just like larger units. For older TVs, there's also a composite AV output to be used with the included breakout cable. An SD slot is included and you'll need to insert a card (not included) to use BD-Live features. Rounding out the connectivity is a headphone jack and an Ethernet port. Just like the DMP-BD60, the DMP-B15K can access Panasonic's proprietary Internet content portal, VieraCast, which includes YouTube and Picasa, with Amazon Video On Demand coming sometime this summer, according to Panasonic.