DVD Players

Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blu-ray DVD Player - The Rest of the Story

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Without a doubt, Pioneer represents the high end of the Blu-ray camp at this point. While we’ve seen Blu-ray players from several respectable hardware companies already, but I don’t think any of them carry the clout that Pioneer does with home theater enthusiasts like the Elite line. Pioneer Elite has a solid reputation when it comes to DVD playback, and I was excited to finally have the opportunity to review one of their higher end Blu-ray players.

For this review I was lucky enough to get their newest Blu-ray offering, the BDP-95FD. This is Pioneer’s third Blu-ray player and one of the most expensive and full featured players on the market today. The Secrets DVD Player Benchmark™ results for this player have already been published here.

The Design

The BDP-95FD shares a lot of its form and features with the previous Elite player, the 94FD. Both have a style and stature that is hard to match in the next generation player market. At this price point, you would expect top quality build, and no one is demonstrating that more than Pioneer.

The 95FD has a very attractive form and finish that reminds me more of a flagship player than any other Blu-ray player I’ve used to date. The face has an attractive gloss black panel that is typical of what you’d see from other products in the Elite line. Unlike the majority of the Blu-ray players I’ve used so far, the Elite’s components, all the way down to the buttons, have a more refined feel to them, with nice rugged construction points. Nothing here feels like cheap plastic.

Specifications

  • Codecs: Blu-ray, SD DVD, Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD-Master Audio
  • MPEG Maker: Sigma Designs
  • MPEG Model: Unknown
  • De-interlacer Maker: Sigma Designs
  • De-interlacer Model: Unknown
  • Outputs: HDMI (1.3a), Component, S-Video, Composite, Coaxial, Toslink Optical, 5.1 Analog Audio
  • Accepts 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p60, 1080p24
  • Dimensions: 4" H x 16.5" W x 14" D
  • Weight: 14.3 Pounds
  • MSRP: $999 USA
  • Pioneer Electronics

The player is a bit taller than the average unit. The disc tray is hidden by a small drop down door on the upper left side, and the display is on the upper right. All of the basic user controls are along the bottom right hand side. The layout is very clean and regal looking. A big plus is the ability to dim the entire front panel all the way until it is off. It even remembers this setting for future use, an issue I’ve seen with several other HD players on the market.

From the front panel you can choose whatever output resolution you want. There are also small indicators for what the player is doing at the moment, including when it’s accessing your personal network.

The back panel is similar to other designs, but with a few touches to set it apart. All of the connections are gold plated, giving a slightly higher end feel to the piece. You’ll find HDMI, component video, S-Video, and composite video connections. There are also Toslink and digital coaxial connections along with a 5.1 analog audio output. This player conforms to the HDMI 1.3a spec allowing for deep color support (not used for Blu-ray playback) and full bitstream output for all audio formats including all of the new advanced movie audio codecs. The back panel also features a LAN connection, allowing the 95FD to tap into your home media network and access music and pictures.

I was a bit disappointed to see that the 95 only sports a set of 5.1 analog outputs rather than 7.1. So far Panasonic is the only manufacturer to offer a full 7.1 analog output. This is required if you want to get the most out of Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks or other 7.1 discrete soundtracks from Blu-ray via an analog output. These soundtracks are supported in their full form via the HDMI output. I was also hoping that we might see this player support the 2.0 spec of the Blu-ray format allowing for “BD-Live” features later down the line. Unfortunately, it appears that the 95 will not support this feature.

Setup and Usability

Setting up the 95FD was pretty simple. The menus are easy to navigate and very similar in design to previous Pioneer DVD players. I don’t have any music available for the player to access on another computer, so I wasn’t able to test out the network functions this design offers.

Users can navigate the simple setup menus to configure video and audio functions. Like the Pioneer players before it, the 95 offers a host of different setup options for both video and audio. You can set up the audio output for internal decoding (so that it outputs the analog audio) or bitstream output (which then outputs the digital signal for decoding in your receiver) and you can select from a wide variety of output video resolutions, including Source Direct. I will go into this a bit more later in the review.

General usability was about average for a Blu-ray player. Unfortunately, like most of the players on the market, this one tends to be quite slow. Initial power-up is a bit sluggish as is general operation. Pioneer has offered a few firmware updates for the 94FD to deal with sluggish load times with Java based Blu-ray offerings, but so far we have only seen one for this player. Load times for some of the newer Java discs are a bit out of hand. For example, I loaded the new Sony release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it took nearly two minutes before we even got to the normal menus! I tried the same disc on my Playstation 3 and it loaded within a few seconds. I got nearly the same results from the Panasonic DMP-BD30. At this price point I would hope that the BDP-95FD would be the market leader in terms of speed and operability.

During disc play the 95FD is also a bit sluggish with general navigation such as chapter skips and menus. This player reminded me a lot of the Samsung BD-P1400 I just reviewed in this regard. When you press a key like Chapter Skip, you’re immediately presented with an on-screen indication, but the actual operation takes a few seconds longer. I don’t understand why so many Blu-ray players have these issues. I think consumers who’ve grown accustomed to the DVD format and its quick access times and general navigation are going to be a bit frustrated with these growing pains.