DVD Players

Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blu-ray Player

ARTICLE INDEX

Audio Performance and Features

This is one of the first players to offer full support for HDMI 1.3a. This includes the ability to transmit all of the new advanced audio codecs including the elusive DTS-HD Master Audio format. Currently this is the only way to take full advantage of this new lossless audio format but it requires possession of one of the newer receivers or surround sound processors that offer this type of audio decoding. For this review I was lucky enough to have a 1.3a capable surround processor on hand (the Integra DTC-9.8) to test out these capabilities. I also used my reference Anthem Statement D2 and let the 95FD do its decoding duties for that.

The 95FD offers inboard decoding of legacy Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks in addition to the new Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD formats. The only format not covered is DTS-HD Master Audio, which is still MIA for onboard decoding in a Blu-ray player. You would think with demand what it is and third generation products out there we would have seen this by now. Any higher end player manufacturer looking to set himself apart from the pact would simply need to add this feature to their design.

The player did an excellent job with onboard decoding of the new formats. I tried out a variety of content to test the player's capabilities and was never disappointed.

In Use

After I ran this player through our gamut of tests I spent about two weeks using it as my general Blu-ray playback device. Since I do the Blu-ray software reviews here at Secrets, I watch A LOT of content each week. This gives me the opportunity to really get to know the player and get a feel for operation over time. Unfortunately this was one of the more frustrating players I've dealt with to date.

The 95FD offers an impeccable picture when playing back Blu-ray movies. The HDMI output is razor sharp and provides one of the best onscreen images I've seen to date.

The 95FD did a phenomenal job with the new Blu-ray releases of Pixar's Shorts and Cars. The folks at Pixar continue to raise the bar for entertainment in the animated film world and every drop of effort was on full display with the 95FD. Cars offers some of the most spectacular HD video I've seen to date and all of the color, depth and dimension was delivered beautifully by the 95FD. The problem is the load times and navigational woes. This player is just too slow with general operability so by the time you get to the movie itself, you find yourself quite frustrated. Compared to my Sony Playstation 3, this thing is a slug. Most of the Blu-ray titles I watched on this player loaded in a fraction of the time on my Playstation 3.

The recent release of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind is another example. The 95FD delivered this film better than I've ever seen it in the visual department, but it took ages to get the disc to load. Even my wife started complaining, which is a rarity in my theater. I loved the fact that I could send the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on this release to my new surround processor, but I questioned whether it was worth living with the sluggish design to reap the benefits of its features.

Conclusion

I'm of mixed opinion on this player. There is no doubt that Pioneer hit it out of the park when it comes to video performance for standard Blu-ray playback on this one.  The inclusion of bitstream support of all of the audio formats is a nice feature and helps set this player apart from the pack. But its sluggish load times and general usability make this a hard recommendation. I would also like to see Pioneer take some steps to improve their standard DVD playback, especially at this price point. If you can live with these downfalls the Pioneer has a lot to offer in A/V performance, but there are some other Blu-ray offerings on the market that I'd have to recommend more.