Blu-ray Players

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Player - Benchmark

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In Use

Apparently the Secrets writers have similar taste in movies, as one of the first titles that I fired up on the Pioneer was Disc 1 of the recent Blu-ray release of Band of Brothers. Being the only person I knew that still had not seen the miniseries, I had high hopes for both the movie, and the Pioneer player, and neither disappointed me. As soon as the disc loaded, I saw the DTS Master Audio light on my receiver kick on for the first time, letting me know that the Pioneer was bitstreaming the audio from the disc correctly.

The Pioneer did detect my display as 1080i for some reason (as everything went through my receiver, it could be that the Pioneer was getting incorrect information about what video formats it supported) but I switched it to 1080p60 and had no issues after that.

Watching the movie, I was completely engrossed as it went on. The Pioneer fed my display with a perfect image and no artifacts that I could detect, and the sound was absolutely fantastic. To give the player another test, I used the recently released Dark Knight BluRay, which featured a Dolby TrueHD track that should allow me to change between bitstreaming the audio, and decoding it internally to PCM and then feeding that to my receiver. One minor annoyance on the Dark Knight disc was that the default audio track was Dolby Digital instead of TrueHD, which required me to switch it with either the remote for the Pioneer, or in the movie’s menus. I do wish that the Pioneer would have an option to detect the audio tracks and automatically select a lossless track if it was available, but the Playstation3 has the same behavior, so this is more a wish from my end and not a fault of the player.

The Dark Knight disc provided a wonderful home viewing experience, with the aspect ratio opening up to full 16x9 during action sequences that were shot in IMAX (the rest of the film is in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), and a powerful soundtrack to go along with the images on-screen. Switching between a bitstreamed TrueHD track, and an internally decoded PCM track, I could not detect a difference, nor did I expect to be able to. The Pioneer just played back the material I gave it perfectly and never provided any distraction from what was onscreen.

To test the upconversion of standard DVD’s, I went back to an old favorite and watched Amelie for the first time in a few years. With a bright color palette and some wonderful cinematography, as well as a fantastic story, it is always an enjoyable movie to go back and watch again. I switched back between Source Direct (feeding my display a 480i signal) and the 1080p60 output of the Pioneer many times. The 1080p conversion from the Pioneer seemed to offer a sharper, more detailed picture than the conversion being done by my TV internally. On a couple of scenes I could notice some jagged edges caused by poor 3:2 pull-down on the 480i image that were not present on the 1080p image. While it cannot make a regular DVD look like a Blu-ray disc, it did make my DVD’s look better than either my Oppo 970 or my Playstation 3 did on my 1080p display.

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Player

However, there were two main things about the Pioneer that I did not like in my use of it. First, there was the remote. A long, skinny remote with lots of buttons, they all seemed to have labels that were too similar to describe what they were doing (buttons labeled video select, secondary video, and video adjust, as well as audio and secondary audio, where it’s not clear what the difference is). Additionally, the playback control buttons are at the bottom of the remote and smaller than far less commonly used buttons. It seems that Pioneer could have grouped the buttons on the remote intoa more logical arrangement, and made the more commonly used buttons larger and easier to locate on the remote in the dark, since it is not backlit either. For most people, this might not be an issue as you would have a universal remote to use the player normally.

The main drawback to the Pioneer player, however, was the speed. Going from powered off to opening the disc tray took around 40 seconds in my testing. Starting up a movie took over a minute most of the time, and so if you were to power on the player with a disc already in there, and then needed to swap that disc for another one you planned to watch, it could easily take 3+ minutes to get the movie playing. My wife never really took to the HD-DVD player I purchased as it took quite a while to turn on and start playing movies, and she hasn’t taken to Blu-ray yet because the only player in the house was a Playstation 3, and she doesn’t want to bother with a video game console to watch a movie, for which I can’t really blame her. My hope was that testing out the Pioneer player would get her to come over to the side of Blu-ray (and I bought her a John Mayer concert Blu-ray in my attempt to convince her). However, as soon as she had to wait for over three minutes to start watching The Dark Knight, she gave up on Blu-ray and went back to watching movies on her 26” LCD in her office. If she was going to sit down and watch a 2 hour movie, she would put up with the loading times, but for watching a TV episode on DVD, it was too much for her.