- Written by Kris Deering
- Published on 14 March 2008
Blu-ray Features and Performance
The Elite 95FD is based on a Sigma Designs HD decoder chip and very similar to several other Blu-ray players I’ve tested so far. The nice thing is, most of the Blu-ray players on the market have been outstanding when it comes to BD video playback. Sure there are some limitations, but compared to where DVD playback was at this point in its lifetime, there is no competition.
The 95FD offers playback resolutions of 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p60, and 1080p24. All resolutions above 1080i require use of the HDMI output. The 95FD uses a direct mode for 24p, which changes the output resolution on the fly, depending on the encoding of the content on the disc. This is a great feature for those using a display or outboard video processor when the content doesn’t play to the 95FD’s strength.
The video output can be tailored a bit. There are options for color space (RBG or YCbCr), noise reduction, and black/white levels. I found all of the settings out of the box to be dead on. I used the YCbCr output to prevent color space changes in the player (Blu-ray discs are encoded as YCbCr 4:2:0 and the player does a simple color space conversion to output 4:2:2 YCbCr).
Like most of the other players on the market, this player does not do proper de-interlacing of 1080i content to 1080p. Most Blu-ray software is encoded in 1080p, so this isn’t much of an issue, but there are titles out there that are 1080i. If you set the output of this player to 1080p60 and the content is 1080i, the player simply performs a “Bob” de-interlacing process and sacrifices resolution. This applies for both 2-3 based film content and 2-2 based video content. You can read more about this issue in our 1080p article found here.
Honestly, at this price point, this is very disappointing. If you look at the DVD player market, the whole reason you saw multiple price points were features and advanced processing. The Elite line is a premium product and should try and distinguish itself from the pack by offering a step up in video processing performance. So far, the only player we’ve seen on the Blu-ray side that has done this is the fairly inexpensive Samsung BDP-1200, which incorporated Silicon Optix Reon processing.
When you are playing back a typical Blu-ray software title, there is little to complain about. This player’s resolution output is perfect for both luma and chroma response, and there are no signs of chroma upsampling error with typical 2-3 content. There is no pixel cropping at all on any side of the active image, and the full dynamic range of the luma signal is intact. This player does not clip head or toe room at all in grayscale. I did notice a slight amount of chroma upsampling error with 2-3 alternating content, but I’ve yet to see a Blu-ray disc with this type of authoring, so this shouldn’t impact the end picture.
While I would like to see Pioneer incorporate a higher end video processing solution for 1080i content, it’s 1080p encoded Blu-ray output is hard to fault, but that is what I would expect from a reference Blu-ray player.
DVD Video Playback
The “Elite” line of Pioneer DVD players was quite good over the last few years. Pioneer developed their Pure Progressive de-interlacing solution into a very formidable video processing solution for those looking to get the best out of their DVDs. I was hoping that their Blu-ray line of players would incorporate their interlace/progressive (I/P) solution for DVD playback, but it looks like they opted to use the Sigma Designs decoder instead.
The problem with this is, when you buy into a product at this price point and know that it can handle DVD playback as well, you would hope you could replace your old DVD player and just use one player for all discs. Unfortunately, that is just not the case here.
DVD playback isn’t near the level of Pioneer’s Elite line of DVD players or most of the DVD players on the market at or near this price point. It is about average for DVD playback as far as Blu-ray players go, which isn’t something to brag about.
The Sigma chip is a flag-based video processing solution, so it only handles discs with no flag issues well. Any issue at all with the DVD’s flagging and combing is evident. This player also drops into video mode easily, reducing the on-screen resolution and softening the image.
The 95FD failed all of our mixed flag tests in the Secrets DVD Player Benchmark™ but passed most of the video based tests. Again this is what I’d expect from a lower line basic progressive scan player, but not what I’d expect from a Pioneer Elite line product.
This player does offer a 480i output via HDMI. This allows the end user to use an outboard video processing solution or their display’s video processing to overcome these issues, and this is what I would suggest if you plan on using this player for DVD playback.
On the bright side, this player’s responsiveness increased substantially during DVD playback compared to Blu-ray. The load times were faster and overall navigation picked up significantly. This is the same situation we’ve seen with several other Blu-ray designs.