Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD Review

The BDP-05FD isn't my first Blu-ray player. I was previously using a Samsung BP-P1500. I liked the Samsung alright except for one major issue. For some reason it refused to stay on 1080i output mode, so every few days it would switch to 1080p/24 which unfortunately isn't supported by my video processor. When that happened I would be stuck with a black screen and no way to easily change the resolution. This glitch was motivation for me to buy a new player. My receiver and video processor are both getting long in the tooth and neither one supports HDMI audio. With this in mind I decided to buy a player with 7.1 analog outputs. I was quickly able to narrow my choices to the LG BD390, Oppo BDP-83 and Pioneer Elite DBP-05FD. A few month back I was browsing the Ultimate Electronics ad in the Sunday paper and I noticed the Pioneer on sale for $299. I figured it had to be a misprint and they really meant the Pioneer BDP-51FD. I went to a local store and to my surprise it was actually the BDP-05FD that was on sale.

The Pioneer is an upgrade over the Samsung is almost every way. The exception being load times and the lack of an Ethernet connection. The only time I used the Ethernet port on the Samsung was for firmware upgrades. Ethernet a nice feature, but I don't mind burning an iso image every 6 months or so to upgrade.

What can I say about the 7.1 audio outputs. I've never been much of an audiophile, but I can definitely notice a big difference using the analog outputs vs a low bit-rate optical output. I was skeptical how much better a DTS-HD MA track would sound versus standard DTS. To my surprise the audio is much more dynamic and I find my self messing with the volume control a lot less that before. The only downside is that even with the gain cranked up I need to have the volume turned up really high to achieve a reasonable listening level. That's a problem when I switch back to the Tivo and I almost blow out the speakers. I'm not sure if this is a function of the analog outputs or the player in general. I'll be curious to try out HDMI audio as soon as I upgrade my receiver.

The user interface is also very nice. The menus are well laid out and there's a resolution button on the front on the unit (yeah!). This is a great feature for quickly switching between output resolutions for testing. When you change the resolution the OSD also shows the native resolution of the source material which is really cool. The build quality of the unit is also top notch. The size and weight of the unit resemble a receiver more than a Blu-ray player. The capacitive touch screen is also very responsive and the unit has very clean lines. I'm not a huge fan of piano black, but that's probably because the rest of my gear is flat black.

The Blu-ray playback is rock solid. The supported output resolutions are the usual suspects: 480i, 480p,1080i,1080p/60, and 1080p/24 (via source direct mode). 720p is unusually absent from the list. There are still a large number of 720p displays around (including mine) so I was a bit surprised to see that 720p was missing. In my case I have the player output 1080i and I let my video processor down-convert to 720p since it does a stellar job. DVD playback is on par with the Samsung, but I let my video processor do the heavy lifting anyway.

The Wolfson DACs do an excellent job with CD's as well. Unfortunately my sorry Polk in-wall speakers don't do this player justice.

To summarize:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Classy design
  • Solid UI
  • Top notch Blu-ray playback
  • 7.1 analog outputs with support for every HD audio format
  • Beautiful CD playback
  • No Ethernet port
  • No 720p output mode
  • Sluggish load times
The BDP-05FD is easily the best $299 that I've spent on AV gear in a long time.

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