My expectations heading into the Panasonic press event on Wednesday in New York City were pretty low. I'm the audio guy and most of the hubbub was focused on new plasma and LCD displays, and Blu-ray players.
I sat there, eyes glazing over, as Panasonic spokespeople prattled on about "exciting" new advances in Viera Link and PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus technologies--good times for me! But then something amazing happened: they mentioned sound quality! Trust me, that doesn't happen very often at these things, so I was all ears.
First, the new DMP-BD85 Blu-ray player features an HDMI Jitter Purifier, which, according to Panasonic, "affords clear, robust bass sounds faithful to the original." That sounds like something the PR department dreamed up, but it may be useful. We'll see.
Then they said the DMP-BD85 uses a Digital Tube Sound Simulator to produce the warm sound quality associated with vacuum tube amplifiers! What? They even had a small plastic display box fitted with three small tubes to illustrate the concept. DMP-BD85 owners can select between the "sound" of three different tube effects over the HDMI and 7.1-channel analog audio outputs (or turn off the effect and hear unprocessed sound). They didn't mention it, but this sort of sonic enhancement probably won't be compatible with Dolby or DTS soundtracks. That leaves DVDs, Blu-rays, and CDs encoded with PCM audio.
I'm amazed that Panasonic would even try to woo any audiophile-oriented Blu-ray buyers with 19th-century technology on its latest and greatest player. Don't get me wrong: I love vacuum tube audio gear; I just have a hard time squaring tube sound with a mass market company like Panasonic. I was so wrong!
Not that the DMP-BD85 will have any tubes glowing within its skinny chassis; the Digital Tube Sound Simulator is strictly a digital effect. How does it sound? They didn't demonstrate the Digital Tube Sound Simulator, so I'll have to wait for a DMP-BD85 to show up at the CNET office to make an appraisal of its effectiveness.
Back to analog: not everyone has HDMI equipped receivers, so the DMP-BD85 uses gold-plated terminals on its 7.1-channel analog output jacks and a 192kHz-24 bit digital-to-analog converter to complement the player's 1080p picture quality.