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    IGN's review of the Panasonic Q (GAMECUBE/DVD Player)

    This just in from IGN.

    Meet the Panasonic Q -- a hybrid machine that combines a Nintendo GameCube and Panasonic DVD player into one. It's a package that competes with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in form, but its retail price holds it back from being the most valuable player. The Panasonic Q is currently only sold for retail in Japan, however it can be purchased through import retailers. To help garner the attention of import consumers, establishments such as Upstate Games have gone the extra mile to make it totally region friendly, enabling you to play all region DVDs in addition to Japanese and US GameCube software. In following we will discuss the value of the core functionality of the Q as well as its import value with region modification.

    Features
    Plays GameCube software and DVDs

    Plays retail CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs

    Stainless steel chassis and sturdy handles for lifting

    Backlit LCD display for monitoring modes and settings

    Consolidated mechanical disc tray holds GameCube optical discs, DVDs, and CDs

    Dialogue Enhancer attenuates voices and center sounds

    Cinema display modes for brighter or darker movie visuals

    Two surround modes to widen normal stereo signals

    Bass Plus feature deepens low frequency response for subwoofer owners

    Separate subwoofer jack to utilize Bass Plus

    Optical out supports Dolby Digital and DTS encoded signal for movies

    Two RCA stereo jacks allow for multiple room music playback

    Four front-mounted controller ports trimmed with a blue light

    Mirrored faceplate protected by polished glass surface

    Can be region modified to play almost any DVD and Japanese/US GCN software
    With the purchase of the Q you get the system, a gray Panasonic-branded controller, a set of RCA AV cables, power adapter, remote control with batteries, and instruction manuals. Of the course the labeling on the remote and text in the instruction manuals is in Japanese. It comes with everything you need to get started, save for a DVD or GameCube game. Hook-up, even if you can't read Japanese, is simple and intuitive.

    Using Q for games, DVD, or CDs is also self-explanatory, but there are a few quirks to the system. For starters if you eject the disc tray and place your choice of media in there the Q doesn't seem to automatically recognize the format and switch modes. It defaults to the last mode you were using. So, if it's on the "GameCube" mode you will have to power down and press the play button on the top of the system to get it to power-up in movie mode -- same for CDs and vice versa for the games. It's hardly a glaring fault, but it can be aggravating. To further add to annoyances it takes Panasonic Q longer than average to power down. This can cause delays when trying to switch between GameCube and DVD playback it. It's not instantaneous.

    Playback Enhancement
    Playing to the beat of a slightly different drummer, the Panasonic Q offers up a few enhancement modes for game, DVD, and audio playback. This is in stark contrast to the Xbox and PS2 which are more prominently game consoles with DVD players embedded into them. In the case of Q it definitely feels very much like a DVD player and has some added features to back it up.

    Surround: For analog audio you can activate two forms of surround for movies and one for gameplay. These modes will stretch the stereo signal a bit more for a fuller, richer surround experience. It's a similar feature that is also often found in televisions, but in the case of Q it has a few options.

    Bass Plus: The Q comes with a dedicated subwoofer output. If you use it in conjunction with the Bass Plus mode you can crank out some seriously loud -- perhaps too loud -- bass. You can use this for game, music, and movie playback.

    Dialogue Enhancer: This feature only works with movie playback and attenuates speech fairly distinctly. See our movie playback section for more details.

    Cinema: You can toggle between a normal and cinema display mode. There is a slight difference in contrast and brightness that you will want to take advantage of.

    GameCube Playback
    The Q works just as you would expect it to for playing GameCube software. The case design might be new to you, but it's still the same trusty GameCube hardware built into the system. In this regard nothing is different barring the disc tray that is a bit slower (but much cooler) to use.

    Where the Q does offer a few new options for gameplay is in the audio department. Using the Surround mode -- there is only one compared to two for movie playback -- you can widen out the surround space a bit more. You're not going to suddenly hear all the Dolby Pro Logic II effects in Star Wars Rogue Squadron II, but its something that will definitely appeal to those with merely a stereo television.

    Additionally, the Bass Plus mode can be used to get a separate subwoofer kicking in for gameplay. Because the effect is generally the same in games as it is in movie playback, you can learn more about its effectiveness in the following section. You can find more info on the "Cinema" mode there as well. Dialogue enhancement does not work with games, though it would have been interesting to see how it worked with in-game cut-scenes. Another disappointing feature, or lack thereof, is that the optical out does not output game audio. So, you'll have to have your normal RCA audio for games as well as the optical hooked up for DVD.

    This review gave us the first chance to really put our new demo room through its paces. We've been using the room non-stop since Dolby left the building on that sweet day, but for the Q review we got to run everything back to back. In order to evaluate the DVD playback, we watched the same scenes of Terminator 2 on the Q, PS2, Xbox, and then the house DVD player. And the results weren't all that surprising.

    While none of the consoles exhibited DVD playback on par with a high-end dedicated player, none of them really tanked either. The Q performed similarly to the Xbox, and both aced the PS2. However, we don't want to turn this into a rant against PS2 DVD playback -- and don't get me wrong, we think it's a hell of a console -- so let's stick with the positive aspects of the Q.

    If you don't already have a DVD player, then the Q would make a nice home unit. It performed about as well as our Sony -- not that the Sony is anything out of this world -- and could keep pace with most players in the $250.00 range. And before you say that you can find a progressive scan player for that much, keep in mind that budget progressive players are more budget than they are progressive. "Progressive scan" has become a very useful marketing/sales tool. Several cheap, crappy chips can technically achieve this performance, but the drawn picture still doesn't look very good. Nothing's free, people.

    DVD playback on the Q looked somewhat darker than the others in the room. It was immediately noticeable, but not necessarily a bad thing. Through out the darkest areas, detail and clarity were still high. There a section of T2 where the future Connor is walking among his rebel forces. The chiaroscuro of the scene makes for a good test of blacks and dark detail in general. The Q brought out the small shadowy area very nicely.

    Like many average-level DVD players, the Q had some difficulty in extremely dynamic scenes. Bright, explosive scenes got a bit blurry and loose. However, when you consider that this is a GameCube as much as it is a DVD player, relatively small visual hiccups don't seem so problematic.

    One of the niceties of the Q is the universal playback. Part of the modding process involves the removal of region lockout. The ability to watch DVDs from anywhere in the world will no-doubt be a big draw for you anime fans, and foreign film lovers in general.

    The playback enhancements that Fran mentioned earlier in the review are actually more important to movie playback than gameplay. You might not use them very often, and some of them are downright silly, but they are appreciated nonetheless.

    No piece of consumer electronics would be complete without some crazy bass boost system. The Q has Panasonic's Bass Plus, which seems to emphasize the mid and low notes in order to create the illusion of overall increased bass response. Unless you have a first-rate thumper you will find most of the accent unbearable. And no matter what you do, turn your sub way down before you engage this mode, as it could hardly be described as subtle. Oddly, Panasonic equipped the Q with an additional output specifically for this feature. If you are simply running the audio via the RCA analog outs, then it won't make a bit of difference in the sound. You must have a sub connected through the sub out to take advantage of this extra. And no, it doesn't work with movies if you're running out through the digital optical output. (You can adjust that with your receiver.)

    More useful is the Dialogue Enhancer. This DSP pulls up the midrange frequencies, which is where voices usually are. The affected band of frequencies is actually quite narrow, so much so that Qui-Jon Jin's voice was hardly changed at all while Anakin's was pushed to the front of the soundstage. This mode is only available while you're using the RCA outs. We found the Dialogue Enhancer useful, if only because it wasn't too distracting. (Often these effects are way too dramatic, to the point of displeasure.)

    While we generally shy away from ersatz surround processing, the Q's Surround modes worked pretty swell - again, largely because they were subtle. Surround I simply spaces the stereo signals farther apart, but not by much. If you were going to use one of these at all, we would suggest using Surround II. This mode further separates the stereo signals and lends a bit of phase and/or reverb to the highs. While you'll never think you suddenly have a 5.1 system, the sound is greatly widened and is pretty engaging. This would be perfect for someone with a good TV but no surround system. We ran it through our WEGA, which has some damn nice built-ins, and were very impressed.

    Lastly we have the sole video effect: Cinema. We still can't quite figure out what this does to the picture, and it's annoying the hell out of us. Weirdly, it seems to make dark scenes brighter and bright scenes darker, thereby creating a somewhat less dramatic, but more even-tempered image. The effect is very subtle, but it is nice enough.

    Conclusion

    If you can manage to buy direct from Japan, you can own this beauty for about $300. A pretty fair price considering its functionality. When directly compared to the Japanese Xbox and PS2, it's slightly more expensive, but has a definite advantage in total DVD features. However, chances are if you're reading this you are not a Japanese gamer and you're interested in more than just the standard features. What other options do you have? Import retailers can fully modify the Panasonic Q to play DVDs region 1-6. It just so happens our version from Upstate Games works quite perfectly with these various regions and comes in quite handy.

    The icing on the cake is that the Q can be further modified to play both Japanese and US GameCube software. Once again in the case of our Q, Upstate Games performed an impressive and transparent modification. Turning the system on normally will result in an automatic boot-up for Japanese software. Hold the power button down for a few seconds as it turns on, and you'll see it magically ready itself for US software -- very impressive. This total region friendly GameCube will run you a cool $475, but in essence you're buying several DVD players and two GameCubes. Is it worth it? Absolutely, if you're an avid multi-region DVD watcher and often purchase GameCube software from both the US and Japan.

    You can purchase the Panasonic Q fully region modified at the following online import outlet:

    UpstateGames.com
    Closing Comments

    I've seen a few revisions of the Panasonic Q along the way. The original version we had could only play Japanese DVDs and had a much uglier modification switch. However, when we received the newly modified, totally region friendly Q in the office we were pretty excited. This above all is what makes Q a viable purchase for anyone considering it. Yes the DVD player is quite suitable, it is encased in metal, comes with its own vanity mirror, has surround sound enhancement, and even has shiny blue lights and a backlit display. However, the real incentive to buy this beauty is the fact that it can be an all-in-one system. No more switching between DVD players, CD players, and GameCube. It's all in one convenient package that.

    Owners with only a US GameCube and no DVD player of any kind should look into the Panasonic Q. It doesn't look like it's coming stateside anytime soon. It's also not even a bad consideration to imagine selling off your US cube and DVD player for this. My biggest complaint I can think of is that you have to use the remote (as best as we can tell) to access some DVD features like the menu, so if you lose it you could be put in quite a sticky situation. Other than that, I highly recommend it if you're looking for this kind of functionality all in one package.

    --Fran Mirabella III

    My feelings about the Q were mixed from the start. I sort of gravitate toward highly specialized products instead of convergence devices that don't do anything particularly well. However, after spending some time with the Q I've grown quite fond of it. If you didn't have a straight GCN and were looking for a second DVD player -- I know that every IGN reader already has a DVD player -- then I would recommend getting a Q. As a DVD player, it produces a generally good image, has a nice array of features, and is slick looking. It might not have progressive scan out or component output, but it's not supposed to be a high-end machine. And the balance between game machine and DVD player is nicely struck.

    The only drawback is price. At too-close-too $500.00, you'd better be damn sure this is what you want. Perhaps an easier way to think about it is that you'd pay about this much for a GameCube and decent DVD player. (No, that $99.00 Samsung doesn't count as "decent.") Plus, you get the added benefit of a region-free machine. If you've been waiting for a GCN and a DVD player, then the Q would be a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

    -- M. Wiley

    Performance
    The DVD movie playback performance is solid and on par with average DVD players. GameCube, of course, performs identically to Nintendo console. 7.0
    Build Quality
    Debatable chassis design, however overall build quality is excellent. Button size and awkward layout may frustrate some users. 8.0
    Value
    As the base Japanese unit, Q is probably not worth your import. However, with total region modification Q can be considered a good buy as a consilidated system. 7.0
    Features
    The extra RCA and subwoofer outputs are nice additions, but the lack of coaxial audio and component video outs gives it a dated feeling. Additionally, the lack of progressive scan support for DVD -- while understandable for price point -- is a let down. The playback enhancement features are nice extras, but aren't anything out of the ordinary. 6.5
    Overall Rating (Not an average) 8.0
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