Blu-ray Players

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Player - Benchmark


Feature Set

With its updated firmware (version 1.21 upon evaluation), the Pioneer 51FD has full support for many features available on Blu-ray today. While I already touched on the lack of Profile 2.0 support due to the absence of an Ethernet jack, the Pioneer supports bitstreaming of all the new audio codecs (Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD, and DTS Master Audio).

Additionally, the player can decode Dolby TrueHD internally and then pass that signal over the 7.1 analog outputs, or as PCM over HDMI so receivers with analog inputs or HDMI revision 1.2 and below can still get the full quality of lossless PCM and TrueHD tracks without needing to upgrade to a receiver with HDMI 1.3 support. Pioneer has indicated that decoding support for DTS Master Audio internally will be added in a later firmware revision (with an estimated release in February-March of 2009), much as this was added far later to the PlayStation3 than TrueHD decoding was.

Support for both internal decoding and bitstreaming of the audio codecs (compared to, for example, the Playstation3 which can only internally decode and pass as PCM) is a wonderful feature for many reasons. For people looking to purchase a Blu-ray player that have receivers with either multichannel analog inputs or only HDMI 1.2 support, it allows them to obtain the full benefit of the new audio codecs without needing to upgrade a receiver that might otherwise work perfectly in their setup.

Additionally, while my receiver is HDMI 1.3 compatible, I also makes use of the Audyssey EQ on it to help correct for issues with my room and provide a larger sweet spot for people watching movies or television. However, the processor in the receiver is unable to both process high resolution PCM (anything with a sampling rate above 48 KHz) and apply the Audyssey EQ at the same time, but it can process the bitstream of a high resolution source and apply the EQ to it.

Having the flexibility to support both of these setups is a big benefit for the Pioneer.

The Pioneer also features a Source Direct mode that will pass the contents of the disc inside directly without any scaling to a different resolution. This is a very nice feature if you have a display that can support 1080p24, or an external scaler, as it will allow you the best possible image quality available from the disc. My display does not support 24p but when I enabled Source Direct, I could tell that it was passing a 24p signal as my TV let me know that the format was not supported. Watching a DVD it would pass a 480i signal perfectly as well when Source Direct was enabled.

What surprised me was that when I put on the Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall DVD (which contains a 24/96 PCM audio track) and turned on Source Direct mode, the Pioneer both passed along a 480i DVD signal, and passed the high resolution audio track to my receiver. With every other DVD or Blu-ray player I have used, I have had to set the output of the player to at least 720p or above to get the player to allow high resolution audio over HDMI, so this was a nice surprise.

The Pioneer can also play compressed audio off of a CD if it is in mp3 or WMA format, but it cannot play any files that use lossless compression (FLAC, Apple Lossless), and due to the lack of USB or Ethernet ports, all files have to be burned to a CD to be played.

The Pioneer also features Deep Color support, but there are currently no titles available that support this feature, and my display also does not contain support for 36-bit color, but it would ensure that if titles are released in the future, you would have full support for that feature.

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Player

When I opened up the case of the Pioneer, I found that the analog audio circuitry was kept separate from the video circuitry, which should help to prevent any interference with the signal and allow for higher quality playback than other players.

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Player