Blu-ray Players

Pioneer BDP-52FD 3D Universal Blu-ray Player

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The Pioneer BDP-52FD Blu-ray Player In Use

One big improvement that was instantly apparent with the Pioneer was that the speed of the player was improved. I believe as players are adding more streaming content, the need for a faster processor is becoming more apparent, and this in turn is leading to faster Blu-ray performance as well. The PS3 has always led the way due to its Cell processor that it needs for video games, but stand alone players are finally getting much better performance than in the past as well. I couldn’t give the Pioneer the top mark as some players are still a little quicker, but I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by the speed.

The Pioneer doesn’t have much streaming content compared to most players, but one of the first things I did was test out how Netflix performed. There is no benchmark out there for Netflix, so I used my standard test of the opening scenes of The Iron Giant. On the Pioneer, the horizontal pans that open the film were almost as good as any player out there. Other than some slight hitching that happened on the pan across the dock, everything looked almost perfect in playback and on less demanding content you probably won’t notice at all. The only flaw with Netflix was that it seemed to lack the ability to stream 5.1 audio and was limited to 2.0.

The only other online services available were Pandora for audio, YouTube for video, and Picasa for photos. At this point I would like to see support for more streaming options, including Vudu, Hulu Plus, and Amazon On Demand at the minimum for video, with Spotify, Rhapsody, and MOG for audio being nice as well. Despite not offering as many options as others, what the Pioneer has does work well and I was happy with its overall streaming performance. I also tested DLNA playback from my network, but as FLAC wasn’t supported most of my media wouldn’t play back. The mp3 files that I have did play back just fine, and so that was nice to use.

This is one area where Pioneer really needs to update their iOS controller. It has had the same design since it was released, and while many other companies have updated their controllers to make it easier to browse and search online services, or browse your media collection, Pioneer has not and many of the features seem like gimmicks instead of useful features. Navigating a large library isn’t easy to do, and a better App could make the process much better.

Once we shift the focus to Blu-ray playback, the Pioneer really did very well. Watching Cars 2 on Blu-ray the load times were nice and quick, which is good with an impatient two year old. Navigating menus was quick and responsive, and the image was bright and sharp. Live action material also looked very good, as I watched the Criterion re-release of Rushmore and all the detail in the new transfer came across. I didn’t run into any issues of skipping, lock-ups, or other issues that seem to be common now on Blu-ray players as new titles come out. I did have one issue where it would freeze while powering off and require me to unplug it, but Pioneer says they are working to fix it with a firmware update now.

Since the Pioneer is a universal player, I actually spent a lot of my time listening to the new SACD release of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. Even if you just a mild Pink Floyd fan, the SACD is worth tracking down as it is truly a reference quality recording and production. The Pioneer used in combination with their new SC-57 receiver was clear and detailed, using the PQLS system to reduce jitter over the HDMI transport. Since the Pioneer does not feature multichannel RCA outputs I did all of my listening over HDMI in order to get the multichannel audio. The Pioneer was also able to send it as DSD over HDMI, so if your receiver supports that you can get the SACD bitstream with no conversion to PCM.

I also tried out their Home Media Gallery (HMG) function for playing back audio and video over my home network. The first few videos I tried were the free download of Big Buck Bunny, which is available in multiple video and audio formats. These seemed to play back just fine, and looked very nice through the Pioneer. When I shifted to some QuickTime formatted videos that I had made myself, those would not play back through the Pioneer, and neither would some MKV files that I made myself. This wasn’t too surprising as there are so many video formats and usually just a select few have support.

Going to audio, I first tried to play some of my FLAC library, including some 24-96 content. Unfortunately, none of the FLAC files would show up as being able to play. I also tried some of the content I have in mp3 format, but none of those would show up either. The Pioneer is apparently not what you should pick if you need to play back audio over your network. Moving onto photos, none of the JPEGs that I had available would show up either. It didn’t matter if they were large images from my SLR or small images from my iPhone, they just never appeared in the listing. Overall the HMG feature was a let-down since most content, even very common file types, wouldn’t play for me.

In day-to-day use, the Pioneer BDP-52FD did very well with Blu-ray playback as well as SACD and Netflix. The load times and responsiveness were very good, and up there with the best players on the market regardless of price. The main thing I wish it included was a better remote that was backlit so it would be easier to use during playback in the dark. The HMG feature also seems to be in need of a re-write or almost removed, as it seemed to be unable to play back almost any content I had for it.