The first Blu-ray players that I reviewed for Secrets many years ago were Pioneer models. Up until then, the only player I had used was a PlayStation 3, and was looking forward to a regular box that my universal remote could control and would be easier for my wife to operate. While the Pioneer players did fulfill those requirements, they were also far slower in use than the PS3 was, and as was common for most players then offered no online capability at all.
Skip ahead a few years and at the CEDIA Expo, Pioneer was displaying players that were not only much faster and smaller that those early models, but had online streaming capabilities and other features as well. I asked them to send along a unit as soon as they could, and they happily provided me with their BDP-43FD model from their Elite line.
- Design: Blu-ray Player
- Audio Codecs: DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD (via HDMI)
- Streaming Support: Netflix, Pandora
- Connections HDMI 1.4a, Component Video, Composite Video, Optical Audio, LR RCA Audio, USB, Ethernet, RS-232
- Dimensions: 2.9″ H x 16.6″ W c 9″ D
- Weight: 7.2 Pounds
- MSRP $499 USA
Design and Setup
Compared to the Pioneer players that I reviewed a couple of years ago, the BDP-43 is radically smaller in size. Despite the reduction in size, the Elite model is still a very solid feeling player that weighs in at close to 8 lbs., far more than many other players of the same size. Much of this is due to its Armored Chassis Construction, which features a double-layered chassis, center mounted drive mechanism, drive stabilizers and shock absorbers, all designed to help reduce possible vibration and interference.
A look at the back panel of the Pioneer reveals not much of a surprise, but it contains all the standard features we are looking for in a Blu-ray player: HDMI and Component outputs, RCA LR and optical outputs for audio, a 10/100 Ethernet port for BD-Live, streaming content, firmware updates, as well as device control, and an RS-232 port for control systems. Though no wireless is included, an optional adapter is available for a rear mounted USB port.
The front of the unit is the standard Pioneer Elite finish, but that is always a good thing. With a nice glossy black finish and amber display, the BDP-43 certainly looks classy in your AV rack compared to most players out there. The playback controls are all accessible on the front panel, though carefully integrated into the design to not draw attention to them. Also on the front panel is a USB port for playback of audio or video files.
Setup of the BDP-43 was very straight forward, as I connected it to my processor via HDMI and hooked it into my network by Ethernet. I ran through the settings menu quick to make sure that my preferred settings were selected (1080p, 24p compatible, bitstream audio) but there were some options missing in the menu system. There is no setting for color space over HDMI (4:2:2, 4:4:4, or RGB) and also no source direct mode. Though most people probably don’t know what these are or how to set the color space correctly, using an incorrect one for your receiver or display can cause you to suffer degraded image quality. The Pioneer uses 4:4:4 as it’s color space, and automatically engages Deep Color if the display supports it as well. The lack of a source direct mode means that the Pioneer would not be a good unit if you are looking to use it with an external video processor.
After the BDP-43 was hooked up and ready to go, my wife and I settled in to watch the first part of the Harry Potter series finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1. My main complaint with prior Pioneer Blu-ray players had been their lack of speed when loading a disc. It could easily take 2+ minutes for a movie to start playing from the time you inserted the disc, but thankfully delays like that are a thing of the past. Harry Potter spun up into action quickly and both looked and sounded fantastic. Watching at 1080p24 the picture was very detailed with good shadow detail and a very nice, film-like texture. The Pioneer was doing a great job of taking what was on the disc and presenting it on the screen without any apparent issues.
The Pioneer does have online content support, but at the current time that consists only of Netflix and Pandora. Those are probably the two most popular online content providers, but there is a lot of other content out there as well. Netflix support was quite nice, with the Pioneer being the first player I have used that allows you to both browse by category and search directly from the player. At a time when many other players are still locked into only using titles already in your Instant Queue, this is a welcome addition. They also have support for HD picture quality, though all audio is still Dolby Digital 2.0 at this point with no support for surround sound.
I launched my standard Netflix test clip of The Iron Giant to see how the Pioneer could handle it. The opening scenes are a pan across the earth from space, as well as a couple more pans down on earth that can cause issues for many streaming devices. The Pioneer rendered the pan incredibly cleanly, with virtually no hitching that was visible, and what was may have just been from the 24p speed of film. The HD detail in the picture was very nice as well.
Using the ability to browse through content, I found that the Ken Burns TV series Baseball was now available for streaming and so I sat down to begin to make my way through the series once again. Buffering was reasonably quick on the Pioneer, though a bitrate meter would be a useful addition to the information screen. One issue I did find is that hitting the up arrow takes you back to the menus, but when you resume playing a program, you need to hit the down arrow again, otherwise the picture continuously stutters until you do so. I imagine Pioneer can fix this with a firmware update in the future.
On The Bench
On the test bench, the Pioneer did well with the SD clips for both film and video cadence, with no issues seen over HDMI. Once I moved to HD material there were a few issues that came out. Using the wedge patterns on Spears and Munsil to test the deinterlacing, the Pioneer managed to lock onto the cadence of the clips correctly, but introduced a lot of noise that shouldn’t be there. Where the wedges should be clean, straight lines up until the very top, there were patterns throughout that indicated that some additional processing was going on as they aren’t in the source material. This appears to be due to Pioneer engaging some details edge enhancement that cannot be disabled by the user, and so this is a fail on these tests. There was no noise reduction control available to us, and no apparent noise reduction being done either. Testing of the component video output on the oscilloscope wasn’t done due to the lack of support for resolutions beyond 480p on DVD content.
Once I noticed the image enhancement that was going on, I watched some of the other test clips on Spears and Munsil, including the Ship test for jaggies on a sailboat. While the it passed the jaggies test, around the sails and the wires there was a distinct halo present, as you would see on a bad Blu-ray transfer that was filled with edge enhancement. Once I saw this ringing on screen, I went back to some video material and began to notice it there as well. It was most apparent with dark images on a bright background, where you can observe a distinct halo, but this is something that is magnified the larger the screen you have.
On our new HDMI testing, the Pioneer did very well as the YCbCr 4:4:4 data that it output perfectly matched what the reference values were expected to be. Of course, the Pioneer did output this as 12-bit color, and there were no other colorspace or Deep Color options available to us to test. However, if your system can handle this format properly, then you won’t have to worry about the colorspace conversion on the Elite.
The Pioneer did fairly well with loading times on the discs tested.
The Pioneer player has improved a lot from their past players in many regards. Boot up and playback times are quicker than before, and the quality of the Netflix streaming was one of the best I have seen. However, the picture quality itself has some issues with their support for the 4:4:4 colorspace only, but far more troublesome is the edge enhancement that Pioneer has seemingly enabled that I was unable to defeat. Since the Elite line from Pioneer is typically meant for higher end setups, which usually include a front projector and a calibrated image today, adding this feature means that no one will get the best image that Blu-ray can deliver from this player.
Until Pioneer can update the firmware to provide a way to disable this edge enhancement, I would have to suggest you look for another player in this price range that doesn’t suffer from the image flaws. The rest of the player might be good enough, and the Netflix support was very nice indeed, but the image quality just isn’t up to par for today’s standards.