Blu-ray Players

Pioneer Elite BDP-23FD Blu-ray Player

ARTICLE INDEX


Introduction

The BDP-23FD is the least expensive model in Pioneer Elite’s Blu-ray player line-up. The BDP-23FD is not a universal player and puts its primary focus on Blu-ray. As a BD-Live capable player, it offers all the latest features to enjoy the Blu-ray format in your home theater. Let’s see how well the Pioneer Elite BDP-23FD performed.

Specifications

  • Design: Blu-ray Player
  • Supported Disc Types: BD-Video, BD-R/-RE, DVD-Video, DVD-R/-RW/+R/+RW, CD, CD-R/-RW
  • BD Profile: 2.0
  • Connections: 7.1 Analog, Toslink, (1) HDMI 1.3a, (1) Component, (1) Composite, 100 Mb Ethernet, RS-232, (1) USB
  • Supported Resolutions: NTSC: 480i, 480p, 1080i, 1080p
  • Dimensions: 3.25" H x 16.6" W 11" D
  • Weight: 8.1 Pounds
  • MSRP: $599 USA
  • Pioneer

Design

Upon taking the BDP-23FD out of the box, you notice that the player is well made and boasts very clean lines. The player itself is very light and weighs just over eight pounds. The front panel of the BDP-23FD is constructed from a combination of plastic and aluminum which is highly polished to deliver that recognizable glossy black Pioneer Elite finish. At first glance, you only notice three buttons on the front panel. The power button on the left; the play button on the far right and a small eject button to the right of the disc tray. There are four transport buttons to the left of the disc tray but they are concealed in the thin bezel that runs through the center of the front panel. When the player is turned on, the labels for the transport buttons (pause, stop, and forward/reverse) are illuminated in white just above each button. When the player is off, the front panel has an extremely smooth, uncluttered appearance. When the player is on, the front panel is almost too busy with color. The power button is blue; the transport labels are white; the disc tray is illuminated in blue; the front panel display is amber, and there are two status LEDs on the right which are in red. Thankfully, you get used to all of this pretty quickly and the brightness can be turned down or off to suite your preferences. The front panel display is large and is very readable from across the room.

Moving on to the back of the BDP-23FD, the player offers a 7.1 channel analog output, a Toslink digital connection, and component video connections. Pioneer Elite has dropped an S-video connection from the back panel and only included a composite video connection. This trend will be continuing and over time the analog video connections will eventually disappear. The player offers one HDMI 1.3a output connection. There is the all important LAN connection for BD-Live support and RS232 and IR Control jacks for integration with remote control systems. The player includes a USB jack which supports USB memory sticks or a USB hard drive.

The BDP-23FD includes a proprietary feature called Precision Quartz Lock System (PQLS) which is designed to minimize jitter during audio playback. The PQLS system makes use of the precision clock circuitry in a compatible Pioneer AV receiver to control the timing of the BDP-23FD’s audio signals. The PQLS supports two modes of operation. The first is called PQLS 2ch Audio which is only activated when playing an audio CD. The second is PQLS Multi Surround which is activated when playing all discs such as Blu-ray and DVD when the audio output format is set to LPCM. PQLS is only available when the BDP-23FD is connected via HDMI to a Pioneer AV receiver which is compatible with PQLS.

Another proprietary feature of the BDP-23FD is KURO LINK. The KURO line of Pioneer displays is well regarded in the industry. The KURO LINK functionality allows the BDP-23FD to seamlessly integrate via HDMI with a compatible KURO display and/or Pioneer receiver. KURO LINK provides unified control of power and player operations and menus similar to the HDMI Control functionality found in other players. The unique features of KURO LINK include the ability for the BDP-23FD and the KURO display to automatically select the optimal video settings between the display and the player as specified by Pioneer.

We did not have a PQLS-compatible Pioneer AV receiver or a Pioneer KURO display available during our review of the BDP-23FD, so we were unable to evaluate this functionality.

Features of the Pioneer Elite BDP-23FD Blu-ray Player

The BDP-23FD is fully compliant with the Profile 2.0 specifications for Blu-ray which means that it supports Bonus View, which is a Profile 1.1 feature, and BD-Live. The LAN jack on the player supports a 100 Mb connection speed, but this will ultimately be limited by your internet connection speed. The player supports playback of DVD-Video and CD media and also supports BD-R, BD-RE, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW,DVD+RW, CD-RW, CD-R , DTS CDs and AVCHD formatted media. The BDP-23FD will display JPEG image files on properly formatted CD-R and CD-RW media. The player also supports WMA and MP3 playback.

As for output capabilities, the BDP-23FD supports the output resolutions of 480i, 480p, 1080i and 1080p. While the player is capable of outputting 720p resolution, it will only do so when the player’s output resolution is set to “Source Direct” and the source is film material recorded at 720/24p. In this case, the player will output the film material at 720/60p resolution. If you are looking for a player to pair with a display that natively supports 720p only, the BDP-23FD will not be a great fit. The BDP-23FD supports the playback of Blu-ray media at 1080p/24Hz if you have a compatible TV and an HDMI connection. The player will also upscale DVD media to 1080p resolution. The BDP-23FD offers support for Deep Color and x.v.Color via its HDMI connection which may come in handy down the road if and when media becomes available. The player supports decoding Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, and DTS-HD Master Audio. If you are using a receiver which supports HDMI 1.1, the BDP-23FD will output multi-channel LPCM. If you are using HDMI 1.3, the BDP-23FD can send the high resolution bitstreams to your receiver based on your preferences.

The BDP-23FD also supports a wide range of video adjustments which include controls for white level, black level, hue and chroma level as well as gamma control. These controls are very handy if your display or processor doesn’t allow for adjustment based on the individual input being used. The color space of the HDMI output can be set to properly match your display. The BDP-23FD supports a number of advanced video enhancements including four separate controls for noise reduction. While I generally preferred to leave these settings at their default, features like noise reduction will definitely appeal to those users who enjoy experimenting and want the most control of their video experience.


Setup

The setup of the BDP-23FD is very straightforward. You only need to connect an HDMI cable, LAN cable, and power to make use of the player. One of the strengths of the BDP-23FD is the ease of setup. After connecting the player to my system and turning the player on, I was immediately presented with the player’s Setup Navigator wizard. The first screen prompts you to select your on-screen display language.

The next step prompts you to specify how you will be connecting the player.

If you are using HDMI, then the default settings are all you need and you can move on to the next screen. If you want to change your selections, you can easily do so at this point.

The BDP-23FD does not support simultaneous video output from both the HDMI and analog video outputs. If you plan on using the component video outputs on this player, then the HDMI output will be turned off. If you need to turn the HDMI output back on, you can do so by pressing the “Video Select” button on the remote and using the up/down arrows on the remote to change the setting.

The next step in the setup wizard is a prompt for high speed HDMI transmission.

This question is unexpected since most players simply adjust their output options based on the information exchanged between the connected HDMI devices. If you turn this option “On”, which is the recommended choice, the player will output 1080p resolution with support for deep color depending on the connected HDMI devices. If you turn the option “Off”, then the player will restrict its output to 1080i resolution regardless of the capabilities of your receiver and display. If your display and HDMI cable support 1080p, then turn the setting to “On” and proceed to the next step in the wizard. If the BDP-23FD is connected to a Pioneer AV receiver which supports PQLS, then an additional setup step will appear to configure that functionality.

The next step in the wizard is a final prompt before testing your selections.

If you are happy with your choices, select “Proceed” and continue to the next step.

The next step warns you that test tones will be output from the player. This is a friendly reminder to check the volume on your system so there are no surprises. Select “Yes” and move on.

If all goes well, you should see the following screen indicating that the setup is complete.

You can go back if necessary or just select “Finish”. The last screen that appears is a prompt to select your display type.

The first selection is for choosing a Pioneer display. The other choices are for plasma, LCD, projector, or other display types. After making your selection, you are presented with a final screen informing you that the optimum picture quality has been set based on your selection.

With the basic setup out of the way, exploring the menu system in the BDP-23FD is a pleasant experience. Menus are arranged in a logical fashion and the owner’s manual does a fairly decent job of explaining the options despite all the footnotes.

For example, the HDMI menu gives you an easy summary of all the HDMI setup options and thankfully the default values allow the player to work well with or without Pioneer equipment. The “HDMI Audio Out” setting of “Auto” instructs the player to output high resolution bitstream by default and the player will automatically transmit high resolution LPCM if the connected device can’t handle bitstream output directly. This setting will need to be changed to “PCM” if you plan on using PQLS or if you plan on using secondary audio during Blu-ray playback.

Since the BDP-23FD is a Blu-ray player, it needs to be connected to a network, and it is a good idea to make sure the player is running the latest firmware. Network configuration with the BDP-23FD was a breeze. I just plugged in my network cable and the BDP-23FD configured itself. A networking menu is available should you need to enter specific details about your network. As for updating the firmware, that option is available via the “Software Update” selection on the “Options” menu.

Once you check for an update, the BDP-23FD will let you know if an update is available and approximately how long it will take.

I was happy to see that the player tells you what firmware version you currently have and what version you are upgrading to. I chose to update the firmware and the player displayed a download progress bar and an appropriate warning message to not turn off the player.

The entire process was hassle free and took about 12 minutes to complete versus the estimated 75 minutes. I was very pleased with the progress indicators provided by the player via the front panel display. The player definitely kept you informed of what was happening during the update process.

I want to mention that updating a Blu-ray player to the latest firmware is generally a recommended process no matter what brand of player you have. Since a Blu-ray player is frequently running Java-based applications when you watch a Blu-ray disc, there are sometimes software problems that can occur depending on the individual media and studio provider. The Blu-ray player manufacturers will often provide corrections and enhancements to the players to deal with software issues, but the only way for a consumer to get these enhancements is to update the player’s firmware. The BDP-23FD makes that process convenient and simple for the user. Pioneer also includes a consumer-friendly page on the player’s “Home Menu” which also informs the user of the current firmware version and directs the user to Pioneer’s web site for more info.

The last items to check are the all-important video settings. The video settings of the BDP-23FD can be adjusted by pressing the “Video Adjust” button on the remote. This brings up a small menu which allows for the selection of standard video settings based on display type as well as a bank of 3 user-selectable memory options.

Selecting “Adjustments” on the “Memory1” menu brings up another menu which gives you full access to the video configuration parameters for the BDP-23FD.

I would highly recommend using a test disc such as the Spears and Munsil High Definition Benchmark disc to check the video settings from the BDP-23FD. I had no troubles dialing in a great picture, but I would have preferred a bit more than four adjustment points above and below the default values for finer tuning.


In Use

Now that the setup details are out the way, we can talk about the BDP-23FD in daily operation. The player takes about 30 seconds to open the disc tray when coming out of standby. The player takes about 20 seconds to start playing basic media such as DVD and CD. Blu-ray discs without Java were also pretty quick averaging about 20 seconds, but Java based Blu-ray discs could take almost a minute to load. In general, I found the player to be average in terms of responsiveness with some Blu-ray content being extremely slow. The player’s tray mechanism operated nicely but I was disappointed in the overall operation of the player’s drive mechanism. The player is somewhat noisy during chapter seeks and disc menu operations. Fortunately, this didn’t happen during normal movie or music playback and wasn’t a problem in daily use.

For Blu-ray playback, I tested the BDP-23FD with a few new releases: District 9, The Answer Man, and This Is It. The BDP-23FD did a fabulous job with all three movies, successfully reproducing the horrible living conditions of the aliens in District 9, the wonderful urban feel in The Answer Man, and in This Is It, the last glimpses of an amazing entertainer gone long before his time. The picture quality from the BDP-23FD was excellent, with all of the exceptional detail and depth that I’ve come to expect from Blu-ray video. On the audio side of things, the BDP-23FD had no trouble sending bitstream and high resolution LPCM output to my receiver. The analog audio side of the player performed very well, but in the end I was pleased with the audio performance of my receiver and preferred the simplicity of using a single HDMI connection to my receiver.

For DVD playback, I tested with the usual test material from Gladiator and Star Trek Insurrection. I did not see any major artifacts in the flyover scene of ancient Rome in Gladiator. In Star Trek Insurrection, I was not pleased with the opening chapters of the movie. The opening credits were not crisp and displayed some combing artifacts. The haystacks in the opening scene were also very noisy. I would have preferred to see this material look better on the BDP-23FD. We’ll take a closer look at the video performance in the benchmark section.

The BDP-23FD remote is straightforward and fits well in your hand. The Play button is uniquely shaped so you can easily find the transport controls without looking at the remote. A unique feature of the BDP-23FD is the “Tools” menu, which can be accessed from the remote.

This menu provides a simple one stop menu to access secondary audio and video, angle, output resolution, and audio adjustments such as lip sync control. While I really liked the convenience of this feature, I would have liked the Tools button on the remote swapped with the Popup Menu button, since I use the pop-up menus on Blu-ray discs far more often. At this price point, I would have also preferred a back-lit remote.

Another feature of the BDP-23FD is the Home Media Gallery, which allows for a convenient place to browse and playback home media and CDs. The interface is available from the Home Media Gallery button on the remote.

Selecting an audio CD, for example, brings up a menu which lets you browse tracks and also displays disc and track time.

The Home Media Gallery provides a similar folder display for JPEG images. You can also define playlists for the media in the Home Media Gallery, but this feature has limited utility since the playlists are erased once the disc tray is opened or the power is turned off. Although the player supports USB storage, which we will discuss next, you can’t access your own media from USB via the Home Media Gallery.

BD-Live Performance

In addition to the high resolution video and audio that Blu-ray offers, the other feature of the BDP-23FD that we must discuss is BD-Live. This technology relies on the network connection in the player to retrieve additional content related to the movie and to provide additional movie trailers and promotional material offered by the studios. The BD-Live specification recommends a minimum of 1 GB of storage in order to download content off of the internet. Thankfully, Pioneer gets this right and includes 1GB of memory internally in the BDP-23FD. While the player does have internal storage, you can use your own external USB storage with the BDP-23FD. Doing so bypasses the internal storage, and consequently means that the external storage is only used for BD-Live storage.

The BDP-23FD had no trouble accessing the BD-Live content during my testing, although initial performance was exceptionally slow. I used the player both on the original firmware and on the later version 3.41 firmware and was very pleased with the results. I included a small benchmark to give you a better sense of how the BDP-23FD compared against the PS3, as well as before and after the firmware change.

Pioneer did an impressive job improving both disc load time and overall BD-Live performance. This should illustrate just how important firmware updates can be to the overall enjoyment of a Blu-ray player. While the BDP-23FD is now much faster than when it first came to market, it still has a long way to go to surpass the performance of Sony’s Playstation 3.


On the Bench

Video Performance

The Pioneer BDP23FD showed strong results in our benchmark tests. Measurements were taken at 1080i resolution with the Tektronix Oscilloscope from the component analog video outputs. The BDP23FD had very good core performance with white levels measured at a spot on 100IRE, luma and chroma channels in perfect alignment with each other, and an image free from any cropped pixels. The frequency response measured from the BDP23FD is fairly smooth with a gradual decline in the higher frequencies which translates to having slightly softer details.

In our HD section of the benchmark the BDP23FD performed well. The player has good diagonal filtering capabilities, making images free from jaggies and stairstepping. In addition, the BDP23FD also has a decent set of noise reduction features. The BDP23FD's only major flaw that we came across was not being able to successfully convert 3:2 cadence 1080i material properly. It could on the other hand convert 1080i 2:2 cadences properly.

Standard DVD Performance

The BDP23FD had very good performance in our standard DVD benchmarks. Using HDMI and component connections the player passed nearly all of our film based deinterlacing tests. The only test that the player couldn't pass was our bad edit test which tests if a player can handle hiccups in the 3:2 cadence and results in visible combing artifacts. Results on our high detail test were excellent. The BDP23FD displayed the Super Speedway pattern and the more difficult Gladiator Coliseum scene with no loss of detail. The Pioneer BDP23FD also breezed through all of our CUE tests with no problems.

On video based material the BDP23FD had excellent results. The player is motion adaptive and applies diagonal filtering. The Pioneer BDP23FD was also able to switch between film and video modes with quick recovery time.

On the usability section of our benchmark, the BDP23FD showed quick responsiveness from both the remote and the interface. The layer change, on the other hand, clocked in at just over a second, and earns it a borderline score on our test.


Conclusions

Overall, the BDP-23FD succeeds at being a very good Blu-ray player. Blu-ray video performance is excellent and the player can easily decode today’s high resolution audio formats or send the bitstream audio to your receiver for processing. The player’s performance has improved thanks to firmware changes from Pioneer, but you may still find the player a bit slow when it comes to BD-Live functionality. The BDP-23FD will certainly face strong competition from Oppo Digital’s BDP-83, but fans of Pioneer Elite should certainly give this player a look. We were unable to evaluate the PQLS and KURO LINK functionality, so if you are integrating this player with a Pioneer receiver and KURO LINK compatible display, then by all means investigate if that functionality will benefit you.