- Written by Kris Deering
- Published on 07 January 2008
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Setup and Usability
Setting up the 95FD was pretty simple. The menus are easy to navigate and very similar in design to previous Pioneer DVD players. I don't have any music available for the player to access so I wasn't able to test out the network functions this design offers.
Users can navigate the simple setups menus to setup video and audio functions. Like the Pioneer players before it this player offers a host of different setup options for both video and audio. You can setup the audio output for internal decoding or bitstream output and you can select from a wide variety of output video resolutions, including source direct. I will go into this a bit more later in the review.
General usability was about average for a Blu-ray player. Unfortunately like most of the players on the market, this one tends to be quite slow. Initial power up is a bit sluggish as is general operation. Pioneer has offered a few firmware updates for the 94FD to deal with sluggish load times with Java based Blu-ray offerings, but so far we have only seen one for this player. Load times for some of the newer Java discs are a bit out of hand. For example I loaded the new Sony release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it took nearly two minutes before we even got to the normal menus! I tried the same disc on my Playstation 3 and it loaded within a few seconds. I got nearly the same results from the Panasonic DMP-BD30. At this price point I would hope that this player would be the market leader in terms of speed and operability.
During disc play the 95FD is also a bit sluggish with general navigation such as chapter skips and menus. This player reminded me a lot of the Samsung BD-P1400 I just reviewed in this regard. When you press a key like chapter skip you're immediately presented with an onscreen indication but the actual operation takes a few seconds longer. I don't understand why so many HD players on both formats have these issues. I think consumers who've grown accustomed to the DVD format and its quick access times and general navigation are going to be a bit frustrated with these growing pains.
Blue-ray Video Performance and Features
The Elite 95FD is based on a Sigma Designs HD decoder chip and very similar to several other Blu-ray players I've tested so far. The nice thing is, most of the Blu-ray players on the market have been outstanding when it comes to BD video playback. Sure there are some limitations, but compared to where DVD playback was at this point in its lifeline, there is no competition.
The 95FD offers playback resolutions of 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p60 and 1080p24. All resolutions above 1080i require use of the HDMI output. The 95FD uses a direct mode for 24p which changes the output resolution on the fly depending on the encoding of the content on the disc. This is a great feature for those using a display or outboard video processor when the content doesn't play to the 95FD's strength.
The video output can be tailored a bit. There are options for colorspace (RBG or YCbCr), noise reduction and black/white levels. I found all of the settings out of the box to be dead on. I used the YCbCr output to prevent colorspace changes in the player (Blu-ray discs are encoded as YCbCr 4:2:0 and the player does a simple colorspace conversion to output 4:2:2 YCbCr).
Like most of the other players on the market, this player does not do proper de-interlacing of 1080i content to 1080p. Most Blu-ray software is encoded in 1080p so this isn't much of an issue, but there are titles out there that are 1080i. If you set the output of this player to 1080p60 and the content is 1080i, the player simply performs a "Bob" de-interlacing process and sacrifices resolution. This applies for both 2-3 based film content and 2-2 based video content. You can read more about this issue in our 1080p article found here.
Honestly, at this price point this is very disappointing. If you look at the DVD player market the whole reason you saw multiple price points were features and advanced processing. The Elite line is a premium product and should try and distinguish itself from the pack by offering a step up in video processing performance. So far the only player we've seen on the Blu-ray side that has done this is the fairly inexpensive Samsung BDP-1200, which incorporated Silicon Optix Reon processing.
When you are playing back a typical Blu-ray software title, there is little to complain about. This player's resolution output is perfect for both luma and chroma response and there are no signs of chroma upsampling error with typical 2-3 content. There was no pixel cropping at all on any side of the active image and the full dynamic range of the luma signal is intact. This player does not clip head or toe room at all in grayscale. I did notice a slight amount of chroma upsampling error with 2-3 alternating content, but I've yet to see a Blu-ray disc with this type of authoring so this shouldn't impact the end picture.
While I would like to see Pioneer incorporate a higher end video processing solution for 1080i content, it's 1080p encoded Blu-ray output is hard to fault and what I would expect from a reference Blu-ray player.
DVD Video Playback
The "Elite" line of Pioneer DVD players was quite good over the last few years. Pioneer developed their Pure Progressive de-interlacing solution into a very formidable video processing solution for those looking to get the best out of their DVDs. I was hoping that their Blu-ray line of players would incorporate their interlace/progressive (I/P) solution for DVD playback but it looks like they opted to use the Sigma Designs decoder instead.
The problem with this is, when you buy into a product at this price point and know that it can handle DVD playback as well, you would hope you could replace your DVD player with it as well. Unfortunately that is just not the case here.
DVD playback isn't near the level of Pioneer's Elite line of DVD players or most of the DVD players on the market at or near this price point. It is about average for DVD playback as far as Blu-ray players go, which isn't something to brag about.
The Sigma chip is a flag based video processing solution so it only handles discs with no flag issues well. Any issue at all with the DVD's flagging and combing is evident. This player also drops into video mode easily reducing the onscreen resolution and softening the image.
The 95FD failed all of our mixed flag tests in the Secrets benchmark but passed most of the video based tests. Again this is what I'd expect from a lower line basic progressive scan player but not what I'd expect from a Pioneer Elite line product.
This player does offer a 480i output via HDMI. This allows the end user to use an outboard video processing solution or their display's video processing to overcome these issues and this is what I would suggest if you plan on using this player for DVD playback.
On the bright side, this player's responsiveness increased substantially during DVD playback compared to Blu-ray. The load times were faster and overall navigation picked up significantly. This is the same situation we've seen with several other Blu-ray designs.