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The Pioneer’s capacity to handle music is rather stunning, as tested by giving Nordic’ 2L Audio discs a spin. When running Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major through the DTS HD Master Audio track, it provided an overwhelming surround experience filled with rich highs, delightful mid-range notes, and very clear, non-booming lows. Toggling between the Master Audio and Uncompressed PCM tracks proved to be enlightening, as the Master Audio exhibited crispness and grace that step above. Though it touts that SACD discs cannot be played in the machine, 2L Nordic’s SACD disc fired up fine in the BDP-320. It can also play MP3, Windows Media Player, and JPEG files using their Home Media Gallery from a DVD-R/RW disc. The Home Media Gallery, a simple interface, interacts with the discs in a playlist fashion and makes selecting the options a little more graphically based than simply skipping around, though that’s possible as well.
CD quality was tested with Sigur Ros’ sonically potent “Takk…” record from a few years back, a robust new wave album rich with multifaceted elements and a broad aural range. Thumping through “Glosoli” was a potent experience, expressing the player’s competence in a broad range of lower-to-mid frequency bass. It also showcases a wide array of higher-frequency elements that pushed the ceiling of the soundstage well. Moving on to the more delicate “Saeglopur” offered an opportunity to indulge in the player’s limited gracefulness, which was satisfying to all ends. When playing a CD, the “Tools” menu allows for a few very rigid alterations to the content, switching from Stereo to 1L/2R. It’s not specifically engineered to be a walloping musical device, but the quality isn’t too shabby all points considered.
Pros: Phenomenal Audio / Video Quality, Quiet, Cool
Pioneer’s BDP-320 is a powerhouse in the overall audio/video quality department, standing tall up against the heavy hitters in the game right now – both against Oppo’s BDP-83 and the cost-efficient Slim Playstation 3. It renders pleasing blacks with robust gradation in contrast, bright yet accurate colors, and very tightly-realized detail. Audio quality also pounds with top-shelf quality, pumping the soundstage with a load of high-density resonance. It fluidly bitstreams audio codecs without hiccups and decodes them equally as well to PCM, while also streaming legacy tracks to graceful levels. Furthermore, the upscaling capacity of this 1080p unit is impressive, making DVDs look smashingly detailed – even for some aging discs.
On an operational level, the BDP-320 also runs particularly quiet. It’s so silent that it’s almost confusing whether the player is powered on, especially if the dimmer has been switched all the way to pitch-black levels. Lights on the front can indicate as such, especially the soft-blue light directly above the Blu-ray emblem, but that’s still an impressive feat for this piece of machinery. Along with being a whisper-worthy machine, it’s also a very low-temperature one at that. Never was it hot to the touch or even hinted at generating too much warmth. Combined with the minimal lighting on the front of the unit and the quiet, cool running, it can offer a very fluid screening experience in a mid-level sound room. Its capacity to sneak inconspicuously into the dark makes it a very fine option.
Cons: Extremely Slow Load Times, No Wi-Fi, Quick Screen Saver Transition
However, the Pioneer BDP-320 does have a few hindrances, biggest being the mammoth load times which can be very, very cumbersome. It all largely depends on the complexity of the Blu-ray disc you’re trying to fire up, but – for example – loading up Criterion’s Blu-ray of Monsoon Wedding took nearly two minutes from initial disc load to playing the film. Another slight against the player is the lack of an internal wireless device in this price range, unlike some of its less expensive alternatives. Actually, this is more of an equalizer than necessarily a negative, because this unit would be a very quick-shot recommendation if wireless internet connectivity came packaged with the device.
Also, the rate which the BDP-320 shifts to Screen Saver mode from Pause is astronomically fast, allowing less than 10 seconds for us to see the material on-screen before the shift. Pausing material to look at detail or the like will result in a fury of pressing the directional button to keep the screen active. Another added grievance comes from the inability to play BonusView content in bitstream mode for many discs, instead requiring the user to hop out of the interface, run Initial Setup again, and select PCM for the option. Furthermore, the inclusion of a USB port to the back of a system without one at the front isn’t appealing, as you’ll have to either pull the unit out or reach behind it to hook/unhook a device for usage – not to mention that the storage device cannot be used for non-BD-Live material. Essentially, these points mean that the Pioneer’s overall quality in rendering content has to speak for itself – and it largely does, though we’re suffering from a few pangs rustled up by the offerings on other units.
After spending some time with the Pioneer BDP-320, it’s very easy to grow fond of it. It has a few issues with supplemental factors regarding the Blu-ray experience – namely lengthy load times and semi-argumentative BonusView functionality – but the aural and visual quality is simply spectacular. Upscaled DVD are also handled in a fashion that takes them a healthy step closer to looking close to HD-quality, while CDs and reference DTS/PCM audio tracks sound healthy and vibrant. At $400, it’s a little harder to give a full-blown recommendation for the unit, especially considering the less-fussy, inexpensive, wireless competition in the PS3 that’s only a shallow step below the BDP-320 in quality – as well as a lush upper-scale competitor in Oppo’s dynamic BDP-83. Sandwiched in between the two, it’s got to justify the quality and the money by producing an outstanding Blu-ray experience – and, aside from the stalls in time, it more than accomplishes this feat. Pioneer’s BDP-320 knows its strengths, and it’ll really impress if you’re able to look past a few mild speedbumps and see the pure aptitude of this machine.