Panasonic DVD-L10 Portable DVD Player

      Date posted: July 23, 1998

Panasonic DVD L-10 DVD Player

Sugg. Retail: $1999 (CAN)
Distributor: Panasonic Canada Inc.,
5770 Ambler Drive, Mississauga, Ont.
L4W 2T3
(905) 479-4411 FAX (905) 946-7427

(Reprinted from the Summer 98 Audio Ideas Guide)

      This product caused a lot of buzz at WCES in January, and the first production samples appeared in late April, with production following in May. They are selling so fast, even at the price, that it seems everyone but yours truly is surprised. I’m surprised at something else, which I’ll reveal presently

     The DVD-L10 has a 16:9 CD screen that measures 5 1/4″ diagonally, and is 5″W x 2 9/16″H. It’s a double clam-shell design, with the screen section flipping up first, and then the DVD/CD lid. Power switch, headphone jack, and volume control are on the left side, while S-video and mini-jack A/V in s and outs, and an optical digital out are on the rear. The transport controls are right up front on a sloping panel, and flank the LED array, while the cursor control array, Menu and Title buttons are at the left front corner on top. The DVD-L10 comes with a remote control, special adaptor cable for the unusual optical out jack, battery pack, charger, and AC power supply.

     Actually, I was surprised at a couple of things, the first being the resolution of the small screen when I saw it in Vegas, and this turned into wonder when I got the review sample home and started running movies through it. I’ve started using the Video Essentials DVD produced by ISF guru Joe Kane for evaluating DVD players and other video equipment. Using the test patterns, I could see resolution of about 350 lines on the DVD-L10’s own screen, which is quite amazing, especially when I directly compared it to my Sony Watchman, with its 4″ 4:3 LCD screen. The L10 was also much brighter, as well as clearer, able to be watched in full daylight or room illumination. On our 51″ monitor, the picture was not quite as sharp as some recently reviewed players, coming somewhere between 400 and 420 lines. On the Sneel & Wilcox “follow-the-bouncing- ball” test pattern, this player produced an excellent result, with very little colour moire, and good resolution on patterns up to 4.43 mHz. Its colour bar and grey-scale accuracy were remarkably good, as was colour temperature, which closely matched in hue, saturation and overall balance, our ISF calibrated Pioneer SD-5193K rear projection monitor. Surprise was turning to amazement. This isn’t just a cute little TV/DVD player, it’s a tool, a portable evaluation device of great accuracy. Joel Silver of ISF tells me that Joe Kane has already bought one of these, and I can understand why.

     With all this detail and colour accuracy, the picture doesn’t even look like what we know as an LCD grid, there being no pixelization whatsoever, with just the slightest shimmer on pans and some other motion shots. It’s an amazingly detailed and lifelike picture for one so small. And, as well as recognizing anamorphic DVDs automatically, it also has a top-and-bottom crop mode that lets 4:3 pictures fill the screen that increases overall image size with pan & scan pictures and off-air TV (from my Watchman’s tuner).

     I’ll come back to the video performance, but now to the second surprise. Some may recall the sound and fury in the U.S. audio press over a Radio Shack portable CD player a couple of years back. Well, all that was nothing compared to what’s going to happen with this device when audiophiles start to hear it. The DVD-L10 contains in its compact chassis one of the new 96- kHz/24-Bit DACs that have been impressing those listening to CDs on their full-sized DVD players, such as the DVD-A310. Well, it’s the same chipset here, and the same sound, and it’s at least as spectacular as the picture!

     I spent a whole afternoon listening and comparing this player (out of its mini-jack line outputs) with my Pioneer PDR- 05/Meridian 518/Monarchy M-33 reference digital playback system, using a pair of synchronized T&R CD’s music selections. Now, I know all this music well, since I recorded most of it, and damned if this little silver thing didn’t sound as good, or even better than the megabuck system! I had carefully level-matched the two using the 518 to set levels on the reference system, and as I continued to listen, the only differences I could hear seemed sometimes to favour the system in the lower frequencies, but the Panasonic in the upper octaves in terms of smoothness and detail; at midrange frequencies both seemed to have identical focus and depth of image. I later listened to a number of favourite CDs, this process continuing over several days before I returned the sample to Panasonic.

     Now, I’ve had some pretty expensive CD players and outboard DACs wither sonically in these circumstances, so what I was hearing from the DVD-L10 was pretty special. I would rank it easily with CD players and DACs at its price point, even forgetting that it is a superb DVD player and small-screen monitor. You never would have imagined that a $2000 portable anything would turn out to be a high end audio bargain…and a high end video one to boot!

     But let’s get back into the realm of scientific inquiry. As with other DVD players reviewed in this issue, I subjected the L10 to the tests we normally do on CD players. With the Verany calibrated dropouts, the L10 surprised me again by playing cleanly, without a single burp through track 36 (2.5mm); it paused at the beggining of 37 (3mm) for about 10 seconds, and then proceeded to play through it with only a few ticks audible. However, it would not access 38 (4mm). I can’t remember a CD player that could correct errors of this size; perhaps there’s a circuit that allows it to interpolate with so simple a signal, a pure 400 Hz tone. The player also sailed through the narrow gauge dropouts, which is as it should be with a single laser assembly reading both the smaller DVD and CD pits. It also paused before playing through 43 (2.5mm). In the double dropouts, its performance was equally spectacular, with play through 49 (2 x 2.4mm) again, after a pause at the beginning.

     On the Canadian CD CHECK disc the Panasonic was clean through level 2, with light ticking on 3 and more severe noise added with tracks 4 and 5. Here the signal is a combined 200 and 20 kHz signal with large dropouts printed on the CD’s playing surface, these larger with each level.

     In our random error test, with a variety of dropouts created by judicious magic marker and scratches, the L10 had a lot of trouble, unable to play more than 8 seconds before locking up; I have had a number of players go through that played flawlessly right through this 2-minute-plus track. In the see-through CD it also had a problem or two, though ticking was minimal on track 2, and absent on 3, with a little bit of muting in addition to the noise on the first two.

     With results as anomalous as this it’s harder to generalize than with normal CD players. Clearly, the DVD-L10 handles simpler program material like tones much better than music, and definitely doesn’t like discs with lots of errors, or with an incompletely silvered surface (and I’ve been noticing that no DVD yet encountered in the 40 or so I’ve bought is at all translucent, whether it be single or double layer; obviously double-sided discs will not be seen through, having 2 aluminizing processes in their manufacture). Why a player that will track through calibrated test-disc dropouts as big as 2.5mm will not handle such problems on music discs is an interesting question that I can’t answer. However, I noticed no dropout problems in any of our music discs in extensive listening tests.

     The DVD-L10 was probably the most innovative and interesting portable audio/video product of 1998, and definitely the perfect personal entertainment travel companion. A little too personal, however, is the single headphone output; and once you’ve heard the sound of the tiny and tinny built-in speakers, you won’t want to listen to them again. But, those quibbles aside, this is a marvellous toy.

     POSCRIPT: Now that I’ve owned this player through the introduction of DVD Audio discs from Chesky and Classic recordings in 1999, I can add that it is an excellent player of these discs, though it has shown the occasional disinclination to play some of them, as well as dirty video DVDs. I’ve discovered the necessity of keeping the inner area around the centre hole especially free of fingerprints, becuse if the player doesn’t read the TOC correctly it will not play the disc at all.

     But when it plays an audio DVD, it does so with astonishing fidelity and resolution, better sound than I’ve heard from any CD players. There’s simply more there to hear. Even as an audio player alone, the DVD-L10 is turning out to have been quite the bargain.

Andrew Marshall

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