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Also, we’ve got two other appealing features: a Resolution Toggle button to select between 480i/p to 1080p/24 (no 720p option available), as well as a Secondary Audio/Video toggle. Furthermore, a well-tuned FL dimmer can toggle the brightness of the LED display all the way down to black. The remote certainly lacks a few functions that we’d like to see, including a backlight for the buttons and a manual zoom for non-anamorphic discs, but it serves the purpose well and appears to be a one that’ll withstand the test of time. It’s simple and frill-free, yet comfortable and versatile enough to do the job.
After running Spears and Munsil’s Blu-ray demo disc to satisfactory standards in regards to deinterlacing, jaggedness, and color correctness, it was time to give Paramount’s 2.35:1 AVC Blu-ray presentation of Braveheart a spin on the BDP-320, and the results were pretty astonishing. Depth and dimensionality were exceedingly pleasant, etching out details through fabric, skin texture, and the Scottish landscape splendidly. As to be expected, many varietals of the color green can be seen everywhere, from lush exuberance in the landscape throughout the costume design. It all looks splendid and extremely stable, retaining a very pleasant contrast ratio and naturalness about the film. Braveheart also tests the Dolby TrueHD capabilities of the player, which sounded extremely good. Separation was exceptional, while the lower-frequency channel billowed in all the right spots.
To test a different style of disc, next up was Criterion’s recent release of the 1.85:1-framed, AVC-encoded Monsoon Wedding Blu-ray. It’s a colorful film with plenty of visual poetry, but it’s also a “difficult” disc in that there’s a plethora of grain and structure within the 16mm print. Considering the source, though a high-quality presentation, the BDP-320 did a spectacular job of retaining vivid colors and tight detail when available. The largely front-focused DTS HD Master Audio sounded robust and natural, carrying sound elements across the soundstage in all the right moments. It’s worth noting that the Java menus on Criterion’s disc were rather slow and choppy to react in Pioneer’s player, rendering an unsmooth movement to and fro.
Rounding things up, it was time to give Disney’s Pinocchio, presented in 1.33:1 in an AVC encode, a spin to see how full-frame HD content looked. The results were naturally staggering, with Pioneer’s player immaculately rendering the hand-drawn lines and lurid colors. Pinocchio is one of the more striking Blu-rays on the market, sporting an amazingly clean print and bold color palette – each of which really shimmered with the BDP-320. Alongside that, the DTS HD Master Audio filled the speakers with plenty of sound, showcasing a delicate handling of the aged soundtrack. Each of the bars to the sides of the 1.33:1 framing look balanced and pitch black when rendered with the image.
Pioneer’s player is a Profile 2.0 machine, meaning it can handle the likes of Picture-in-Picture and additional advanced features from the Blu-ray discs. It holds a 1GB internal memory unit to support the content, while a USB port is available to the rear for supplemental storage. However, getting the complete BonusView picture-in-picture experience to work on the BDP-320 was a hassle, as the video on Warner Bros’ The Matrix Blu-ray would only play without an audio track to accompany the content when in “Auto” mode (read: when bitstreaming Dolby TrueHD). Toggling the secondary audio/video labels proved to be a pointless venture. It does, however, work when the audio is decoded internally with the “PCM” function, so a simple pull-out-and-switch maneuver makes it possible – a pain, sure, but still workable. It’s also worth noting that the menu movement with BD-Java was unappealing with most discs, with both The Matrix and Monsoon Wedding often looking choppy when the blocks slide on and off the screen.
We’re also working with a BD-Live capable machine through an Ethernet LAN port, and the connection was strong when it was functional. Booting up Sony’s BD-Live page through the Blood: The Last Vampire disc was unsuccessful, as it stalled out and landed on a black screen; Disney’s menu screen, however, loaded up just fine. Also, updating the firmware is a snap through the Internet connection. This player was boosted up to 3.34a firmware from 3.25 for this review, and it happened a lot quicker than the 77 minutes that it quoted. It was more like ~8-9 minutes from start to finish, 10 to be safe.
The BDP-320 is a Region-A locked machine, as tested by Fox’s Region-B locked edition of The Fountain. Only the Fox red screen popped to notify of the disc’s coding. It also doesn’t have the capacity to decode PAL special features into NTSC, as tested by Tartan’s I’m a Cyborg UK Blu-ray, so any supplements available in PAL on import discs will only play with sound running through the speakers.
Disney’s Legend of the Seeker found its way into the machine as a standard-definition test disc, which generated impressive results. Combined with stellar, near-HD image quality in this set of episodes, everything looks exceptional through Pioneer’s BDP-320 – looking startlingly close to high-definition quality. Details in wood, strands of hair, and other production elements looked outstanding. Textures look extremely good, never looking flat of wrongly contrasted. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track showcased exemplary quality of dimensionality and verbal tautness, making the lack of high-definition release for that particular program much easier to swallow.
To give a more difficult disc a spin – as well as to test the legacy capabilities of the disc – we popped in Universal’s DTS edition of Galaxy Quest, a standard-definition presentation that dates back quite a few years when separate DTS/Dolby Digital editions were offered. All points considering, Pioneer’s scaling chip did a great job at upconverting this to highly-tangible levels, keeping elements like the leather on suits and skin textures rather well. It also adds a bit of depth that wasn’t expected, taking it up the ranks of faux-HD quality. The legacy DTS track also sounded extremely good, stretching crisp elements to the rear and packing quite a punch in the lower-frequency levels.
Testing non-anamorphic discs was handled with Grosse Pointe Blank, an old MGM disc in desperate need of an upgrade. Pioneer’s player does a decent job when blown up through the television’s internal zoom, though the grain and such looks a hair thicker than with other capable players. You’ll only be able to toggle non-anamorphic discs with your television’s Zoom feature, as the BDP-320 doesn’t have an internal option. With your televisions natural scaler in mind, the Pioneer’s rendering isn’t too shabby for non-anamorphic discs.
Pioneer’s BDP-320 is also a Region One DVD player without an internal PAL decoder, so region-free discs from the UK and such might not play in the unit.