Many people have been waiting for Blu-ray players to hit the magic price point of $200, where people think mass adoption will start to take place and it will slowly overtake DVD as the dominant home video format. However, there’s also another range of players that are starting to come out now, those of reference quality designs with virtually no expense spared. The BDP-09FD from Pioneer is their entry into that arena. Featuring a top of the line analog section, full compatibility with all areas of Profile 2.0, and high quality internal and external parts, how would it compare to a standard Blu-ray player?
- Design: Blu-ray Player
- Supported Formats: BD-Rom, DVD-ROM, DVD-R DVD+R, CD, CD-R/RW.
- Codecs: Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio (Internal as well as Bitstream)
- Supported Video Resolutions from HDMI: 480i, 480p, 1080i, 1080p60, 1080p24
- Dimensions: 5.9″ H x 16.5â€ W x 14.2â€ D
- Weight: 30.5 Pounds
- MSRP: $2,200 USA
(Check out the video tour of the player’s features at the bottom of Page 2.)
(Check out the video tour of the player’s features at the bottom of this page.)
If I hadn’t known how well built the Pioneer was going to be, my first clue would have been when the UPS driver had to use the hand truck and elevator to deliver it to my condo instead of just carrying it up the stairs as they will do with most deliveries I get. Opening the box, the Pioneer was packed decently in a couple of Styrofoam cutouts and it was in perfect shape, though I had expected that they might pack it in something a bit more secure and reusable, as that type of packing tends to break down or break into pieces after a few uses.
Also contained in the box was a remote (identical in layout to the other Pioneer BluRay players, but with metal construction instead of plastic and glow-in-the-dark buttons), manual, Ethernet cable, BNC to RCA adapters for the component video jacks, and standard RCA audio and video cables. Unfortunately, Pioneer still doesn’t see fit to include an HDMI cable inside the box of their Blu-ray players, but includes a standard composite video cable that will almost certainly never be used by someone purchasing this player. The remote, which has a design that I am not a fan of, was designed so if you have other Pioneer components (Plasma display or Receiver), the remote layout will be familiar and you can use it easily, but if you don’t have these other components, then the layout is just not that well designed. Anyone that is buying this player will almost certainly have a universal remote solution I would imagine though.
The Pioneer BDP-09FD is constructed unlike any other BluRay player, or other AV component, that I have had the opportunity to use. Weighing over 30 lbs, the BDP-09FD is constructed with gold plated outputs, a solid steel base plate, internal crossbar supports, and separate power supplies for the audio and video sections of the player. The player also features a Blu-ray recorder drive mechanism, which has stricter tolerances than the standard Blu-ray drive mechanism, and a very attractive glossy finish that made getting a photograph without my reflection for this review a challenge, but didn’t distract when it was in my AV rack.
The back panel of the Pioneer features a full complement of outputs, notably including dual HDMI outputs, allowing you to run one to your display and one to a receiver/processor, or one to a projector and one to another display or your receiver/processor. I hooked them up in the display/receiver setup to make sure that nothing would cause any loss of quality in the video section, while still allowing me to send all the audio over HDMI.
However, sending audio over HDMI from this player would negate one of the major advantages of it: a full complement of 8 Wolfson 8740 DACs operating in Dual mode, one of every channel, which allows you to control all of the audio settings in the player: Speaker distances, size and crossover, and level adjustment while using the high quality DAC’s which are used in Pioneer’s Elite SC-05 and SC-07 receivers, as well as many other high end audio products. Since the Pioneer can internally decode all of the new audio formats (Dolby TrueHD, DTS Master Audio) and perform all of these speaker level adjustments over the multi-channel outputs, and has higher quality DACs than most receivers and processors, I did most of my evaluation using the analog audio connections instead of the single HDMI cable, but the HDMI outputs were tested for audio as well.
Additional features found on the BDP-09FD are an Ethernet jack for BD Live capability and firmware updates, a feature that was sorely missing on the BDP-51FD that I recently reviewed. Unfortunately, while their previous Elite Blu-ray players could use the Ethernet port to play media from DLNA servers on your home network, the new Renesis chipset that Pioneer is using for this player lacks that feature and so the Ethernet port can only be used for BD Live and Firmware updates. Also included are Composite, S-Video and Component outputs for video (since I wondered about this, Pioneer assured me that keeping legacy Composite and S-Video jacks on the panel doesn’t affect the design in any negative way, since those capabilities are built into the chipset they use for the player), and Coaxial and Optical outputs for audio.
For BD Live support, the BDP-09FD features 4 GB of memory on the board in the form of an SD HC card for downloaded content. As most movies typically only require around 4 MB of space, you should be able to hold the downloadable content for close to 1,000 discs before you run out of room. I was unable to test what happens if you fill this memory up but was told that you would need to manually delete data to make room from the Setup menu, which unfortunately required you to delete all of the movie information in memory, not individual titles as the PS3 allows you to do. This means if you do manage to fill this memory up in the future, you would have to completely empty it out before you could access the content of a new disc, so hopefully they will allow you to delete individual titles from memory in the future.
One final feature that I was unable to test, but was very interested in, was Pioneer’s Precision Quartz Lock System for playing audio CD’s. If you have a compatible Pioneer receiver (the SC-05 and SC-07 both work) and have the player connected over HDMI, for CD playback the machine will use the higher quality clock signal inside of the receiver instead of the poorer quality video clock inside of the BDP-09FD. This works to eliminate jitter from the disc to the point that Pioneer can claim that the signal is actually jitter free, which should produce an audible increase in audio quality. Pioneer has also said that this is an open standard that other manufacturers are welcome to adopt in the future, and in the future they plan to support this jitter reduction for video playback as well with new products, so hopefully this feature will become something that other manufacturers adopt.
If you would like to take a video tour of the player’s features, click on the photo below which will download the *.wmv file that will play on your Windows Media Player.
My previous Blu-ray player had reminded me how wonderful it was to setup new components now that HDMI is a standard. I simply removed my current DVD player, inserted the new BluRay player, attached a single HDMI cable and power cord, and everything was working. With the BDP-09FD I had a lot more work to do in able to get all of the extra performance out of it, hooking up 5.1 analog outputs, dual HDMI outputs (one straight to my display, and one to my receiver for bitstreaming audio), and an Ethernet cable.
Pioneer has built a nice setup menu that guides you though the configuration of the BDP-09FD in order and will grey out selections that don’t matter for your setup based on previous selections. After choosing a 16×9 aspect ratio, I decided to go with multichannel analog outputs, which opened up another list of choices for me. First choosing which speakers I had hooked up, whether they were large or small, and what crossover I would prefer for routing bass to the subwoofer (unfortunately a single global crossover and not an individual channel selection), then onto how far each speaker was from my primary listening location, down to inches and not the more typical half foot increments, and finally individual channel level settings. As many receivers and processors will bypass all internal crossover and level settings when you use a multichannel input, it’s very important that Pioneer builds this functionality into the player for those that will use the multichannel outputs.
Next I’d configure my video settings, including what I wanted to do with my secondary HDMI output, if I had support for Deep Color or Control over HDMI, which Color Space I wanted to use for output, and some additional options for if I was using a Kuro display or Pioneer receiver. Finally, one nice option that Pioneer has is the ability to test your Network Connection without having to download an update. With some previous players I have used, the only way to make sure that you are online correctly is to try to update the software, which can then take a long time, but the Pioneer lets you simply test to make sure it’s working correctly.
Outside of the Initial Setup menu, there is a separate Video Adjustments menu. It contains some presets for certain display types (LCD, Plasma, Pioneer Plasma, Projector) as well as three custom types that you can configure. These will let you easily change certain settings (Black Level, Pure Cinema Mode, Block and Mosquito noise reduction, Gamma Correction) to fine tune the output of the player based on the source material and your display.
As many of us are routing all of our components through a receiver or processor into a single input on our display, we can’t easily calibrate that input to be exact for all of our sources, but using the settings on the Pioneer we could adjust the Pioneer internally to make those small adjustments that it might need. You could also use the memory settings based on if you are watching a Blu-ray movie (which would typically have a much lower level of blocking and noise due to more advanced codecs and space) or a DVD, which might need more block noise reduction due to the lower quality MPEG-2 compression used.
Selecting your output resolution can be done while you are watching video, in addition to your initial settings. The Pioneer features all of the common output formats (1080p at both 60 and 24 fps, 720p60, 1080i60, 480p and 480i), but also features Auto, where the player chooses based on what the display tells it over HDMI, and Source Direct, which will output the media at whatever format it was recorded at. This is an option for those using an external video processor or scaler , but I chose to stick with 1080p60 as my display will not support 1080p24. The Pioneer always detected my display as 1080i60 for some reason, no matter if I was using the HDMI through my receiver or connected directly to the display, but that was simple to fix. While the BDP-09FD took a bit longer to setup than most players due to its plethora of features, the setup process was very intuitive and it didn’t have me jumping back and forth between different menus as some equipment can.
Performance â€“ Music
As soon as I had the Pioneer hooked up in my system, the first thing that I wanted to test was its audio performance. The Wolfson DAC’s have been used in many other highly regarded, dedicated CD players and I wanted to hear how they would sound. Listening to â€œKid Aâ€ from Radiohead, the Pioneer offered up a very refined, relaxed presentation and I listened to the whole disc without any fatigue, completely enjoying the experience. Moving forward or back a track was a little slow compared to my Oppo player, but I never had any issues beyond that. After listening to a few more albums on the Pioneer over the week, I wanted to evaluate it head-to-head with the Oppo, which is a very nice budget CD player in addition to being a fine DVD player, and see how it compared.
Taking some time to make sure all of the settings on the receiver and the players were setup correctly and that the receiver wasn’t introducing anything additional into the signal, I setup some albums to play at the same time so I could easily switch back and forth between them. Additionally, I found that using the Pioneer in Pure Audio Mode 1 (no video signals at all) produced a noticeable increase in sound quality during CD playback, so I left that enabled while I performed these listening tests as well. To my ears, the Oppo provided me a bit more high-end detail and a bit of a wider soundstage, whereas the Pioneer provided some extra weight behind the voices and instruments. Listening to just a human voice, the Oppo would let me hear a little bit of extra detail at the top end, but the Pioneer would express the power that they were putting behind their singing.
The presentation of the Oppo was more forward as well, putting the vocals in front in the speakers, where the Pioneer seemed to pull them back behind the speakers a bit and stay more relaxed. With Pure Audio disabled, I was able to easily tell the players apart and felt that the soundstage of the Pioneer shrunk, and the instruments and vocals sounded like they were hiding behind a curtain, losing a good bit of detail. In the end, while I liked the extra detail that the Oppo added, some might find that it’s more fatiguing to listen for a long period of time, or prefer the extra weight that the Pioneer can put behind the music. Given that the Oppo player has been a consistently well regarded CD player, I think Pioneer can be happy with how the BDP-09FD sounded.
For playing back music from non-CD sources, the Pioneer supports very few extra codecs (most bitrate mp3s and lower bitrate WMA’s), but no lossless formats such as FLAC, and no support for WAV files beyond 16-bit and 44.1 KHz sampling rates. The new chipset that Pioneer used for this player was chosen for pure performance on Blu-ray, DVD, and CD playback and support for more advanced media codecs wasn’t important in comparison to that. It did manage to playback the mp3’s that I tested it with, but I would doubt that many people are going to purchase a player like this and used it to play back lossy, compressed audio files.
I did have one big fault with the Pure Audio setting, however. The load times on the Pioneer are not exceptionally fast, in part due to its use of a recorder transport that is more accurate but not as speedy as the typically disc transport, and while it is loading you are not able to stop it until it’s read the contents of a CD, or gotten to the menu of a movie. Unfortunately, Pure Audio does not have a setting where you can have it be automatically enabled for CD playback and then disabled for BluRay or DVD playback, and to disable it you need to stop the disc and physically press a button on the player as there is no button on the remote. A couple of times I would go start a movie, forgetting that I had listened to a CD the day before, and be treated to a black screen as the disc loaded, since Pure Audio was disabling the video output of the player. I would have to wait a couple of minutes for the BluRay disc to get to the main menu, then stop it, walk up to the player, switch off Pure Audio, then start the disc up again and wait a couple more minutes for it to load once again. If Pioneer could add a menu setting for this based on media type, or at least a way to disable it from the remote, that would be nice.
Performance â€“ Video
I had been very happy with the performance of the Pioneer BDP-51FD previously, and I must say that they did a fantastic job with Blu-ray playback once again. Watching a variety of movies, from the better-than-expected â€œKung Fu Pandaâ€, to The â€œDark Knightâ€ and â€œBand of Brothersâ€, the Pioneer played back everything and looked fantastic doing it. Looking at test patterns I would see that it could pass BTB and WTW signals allowing for an easy calibration to make sure I was getting the most out of it.
Unfortunately, Blu-ray discs were still a bit slower to load compared to my PlayStation3 console. Watching â€œKung Fu Pandaâ€, I could get to the main menu in 1:30 on the PS3, but it took 2:17 on the Pioneer. That didn’t bother me too much as every player takes a while to start on a Blu-ray disc it seems, but I wish the Pioneer could eject a disc from being powered off quicker than the 40 seconds it takes right now.
With a recent Firmware update, the Pioneer has added support for DTS-MA decoding inside the player, so now all of the audio formats can be decoded and sent over the 7.1 analog outputs. Sound quality from movies was nothing short of spectacular. Band of Brothers continued to draw me in, and the sound of the bullets flying everywhere in the battle scenes was fantastic. Listening to â€œDave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio Cityâ€, I wanted to turn it up as loud as I could to hear all the detail from their guitars. A few years ago I had grown tired of Dave Matthews, but that disc on a good player sounds so fantastic that I can keep going back to it over and over now, and the Pioneer brought out all of the detail in it.
The Pioneer also did a good job of standard DVD playback. Scaling to 1080p I didn’t detect any motion artifacts, encountered no lip-sync issues even on some titles that people have had issues with on other upscaling players, and generally made a DVD look as good as possible. I would never mistake the upconverted picture for a true Blu-ray disc, but it did as good a job as any player that I have seen and that is what I am looking for.
With their recent firmware, Pioneer has also finally added support for BD Live using the players Ethernet port and 4 GB of storage. Discs that I had tested connected quickly and worked great, supporting all of the extra online features that discs now offer, except for the one Disney title that I was able to test (WALL-E). Since this was an early release of the firmware before it has gone through the entire QA process, I’ve made Pioneer aware of the issue and they should have this resolved before it is released to the general public, currently planned for late April. With DTS-MA decoding and BD Live support, the Pioneer BDP-09FD should now support all features available on BluRay discs at this time.
Unfortunately, one feature that I was unable to test was the bit-depth conversion that the Pioneer can perform internally. Color data on DVD and BluRay discs is stored in an 8 bit format, so when you scale the picture to a different resolution, or perform any extra processing on the image (noise reduction, gamma correction), you can easily introduce errors that can be seen as unsmooth gradients of color, or blotchy areas of an image, since you’re only using those 8 bits per color. The Pioneer converts everything to 16 bits internally, and does all of the processing at 16 bits, only going back to 8 bits at the very end of the output stage. This allows for smoother gradients, and could allow for a better looking upconversion for DVD sources. Unfortunately, to output this extra detail you would need an HDMI 1.3 compatible display (so it can display Deep Color) and my display does not support that unfortunately. However, since I didn’t see any of these issues when I was testing the player, those with HDMI 1.3 displays might see some extra detail that I could not.
Video Performance (Benchmark)
The BDP-09FD performed very well across the board on all of our benchmark tests. Measurements with the Tektronix Oscilloscope were taken from the component analog video outputs measured at 1080i resolution. The BDP-09FD showed strong performance in our core video tests passing all of the tests that check for chroma upsampling error test, having no problems with Y/C delay, and displaying a white level that is spot on at 100 IRE. In addition the BDP-09FD retains the full screen image and zero pixels were cropped. The frequency response from the analog outputs, as shown in the graph, is very smooth throughout the spectrum with a slight tapering off in the highest frequencies which translates to excellent picture quality.
In our HD section of the Blu-ray benchmark the BDP-09FD performed equally well passing our tests for banding, and 1920×1080 pixel cropping. As a motion adaptive player, the Pioneer was able to apply diagonal filtering to material, thereby enhancing the image when there are a lot of jagged or diagonal lines present. Proper 1080 i/p conversion is a must for a reference player and the BDP-09FD was able to convert material with 2:2 and 3:2 cadences properly so even concert footage or documentaries will play properly without any loss of resolution. Since Blu-ray players have hit the market there haven’t been that many that have really good digital noise reduction. The Pioneer BDP-09FD on the other hand, has excellent digital noise reduction and has the most robust menu I have seen to date with individual adjustments for mosquito, luma, and chroma noise reduction. The end result is the ability to fine tune the picture very precisely.
Standard DVD Performance
Not many Blu-ray players to date also have offered good standard DVD performance as well as solid Blu-ray playback. That isn’t true of the BDP-09FD however. On our de-interlacing tests the BDP-09FD passed most of the tests with flying colors and only showed some hiccups on material that is encoded with bad edits or incorrect progressive flags. Hopefully Pioneer will address these issues in a future firmware update.
On video based material the BDP-09FD had excellent performance. The player is motion adaptive and has excellent recovery time switching back and forth between film and video modes with minimal delay. The player had superb playback of high detail material as tested in our Super Speedway clip and also showed impeccable performance on the more difficult Coliseum flyover scene from Gladiator.
The only area the BDP-09FD didn’t shine was in the usability section of our benchmark. The player only had average performance when it comes to response, and clocked in at a good but not great 1.1 seconds for layer changes.
Audio Performance (On the Bench)
Distortion measurements were made within an 80 kHz bandwidth.
At 1 kHz, recorded at – 5 dB, THD+N was only 0.007%.
IMD was also very low, at 0.009%.
The frequency response was flat at 20 Hz and down 0.2 dB at 20 kHz.
Overall, the Pioneer BDP-09FD shows reference quality audio performance.
The Pioneer BDP-09FD is a player that aims to be reference quality, and performs exactly that way on the bench with solid standard DVD, and Blu-ray playback, and reference quality analog audio performance. The menu system that is included is excellent and movie playback was perfect for both audio and video. I would be quite fine to have it as my only CD transport as well. By adding support for BD Live and DTS-MA, the BDP-09FD is no longer missing any features that I feel I would need to enjoy Blu-ray movies. There are certain features that could be improved upon such as the remote control, load times, a fix for Pure Audio when watching movies, and FLAC streaming from DNLA; however none of these affect the experience once the movie has started. In addition, this player is impeccably built and looks fantastic. It might not be priced for everyone, but there are many people with reference quality audio systems that don’t have HDMI inputs and need the high end analog outputs, or need dual HDMI connections, or just want the best built player out there. The BDP-09FD delivers in spades and should probably be on the very top of your short list.