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Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blu-ray Player Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 2008
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Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blu-ray Player
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Back in May 2007, Pioneer introduced their first Blu-ray player to the market. The BDP-94FD offered desirable Blu-ray traits like 1080p/24 output and onboard Dolby TrueHD decoding, and it added one distinguishing feature: Pioneer’s Home Media Gallery, which lets you stream music, photos and HD video from a PC or DLNA-compliant server. At $999, the BDP-94FD was priced competitively with many of the other Blu-ray players hitting the market at the time.

Just five months later, Pioneer released their second-generation player, the BDP-95FD, which adds one highly desirable feature: the ability to send the native bit stream of a Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtrack over HDMI. While just about every other Blu-ray manufacturer has lowered prices to stay competitive, Pioneer opted to stick with $999 for the BDP-95FD. The company’s decision to remain positioned in the higher-end luxury market works in the HDTV realm, where the performance of its KURO plasmas more than merits the price premium; unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same about the BDP-95FD.
The BDP-95FD has the look and build quality of a higher-end component.  At about 15 pounds, it is heavier and slightly larger than a standard DVD player, yet its form is in no way overbearing. The all-black chassis includes a glossy front panel with an easy-to-read LCD, plus buttons for open/close, play, stop, pause, chapter-/fast-forward, chapter-back/reverse and output resolution. Tiny red status indicators tell you when you are viewing an HD source, when you’re using HDMI, and when the player is connected to a local area network. Yes, I did say “local area network.” Are you intrigued?

Take a gander at the BDP-95FD’s backside, and you’ll find the highly coveted Ethernet port that Blu-ray fans crave. Before you get too excited, though, you should know that, at this point, the Ethernet connection is only utilized for firmware updates and for connection to your home network to use the Home Media Gallery. As for video and audio connections, the BDP-95FD has everything you would want: HDMI 1.3, component video, S-video, composite video, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and both two- and 5.1-channel analog audio outputs. Control options include an IR receiver input and an SR+ control port for use with other Pioneer equipment.

The remote was a little bulky for my small hands, but it provides all of the desirable Blu-ray/DVD buttons, most of which glow in the dark. Backlighting is more effective, but I’ll take something over nothing. Rather than using a single Output Resolution button like the one on the front panel, the remote includes an up/down toggle to change resolutions, so you don’t have to scroll one way through all of the options. The average user may not care about this little perk, but it makes life easier for video reviewers who are constantly changing output resolutions. Another geeky videophile pleasure is the ability to see the bit rate at which a source disc is encoded, accessible through the remote’s Display button. The BDP-95FD employs HDMI-CEC, so that you can use this remote to control other devices connected to the player via HDMI.

Upon start-up, the player launches the Set-up Navigator, which lets you select language and output resolution. For HDMI, the output resolution options are auto, 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p and Source Direct, which outputs every source at its native resolution. If you want to output the native resolution of most BD films, you must first enable 1080p/24 output in the main Video set-up menu, which also contains HDMI color-space options (YCbCr, RGB 16-235, and RGB 0-255). For component video, output resolution options are 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i; as with most players, if you choose one of the HD options, SD DVDs will be output at 480p. All in all, the BDP-95FD’s menu system is cleanly laid out and easy to navigate.

As I mentioned in the introduction, the BDP-95FD allows you to pass the native bit stream version of a Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtrack over HDMI. If you own an A/V receiver that can decode these new high-resolution audio soundtracks, you don’t need to make any adjustments to the player’s audio-set-up parameters. The BDP-95FD’s “HDMI Audio” menu option is set to Auto by default, which allows the player to pass bit stream for Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, as well as the uncompressed PCM soundtracks we find on many Blu-ray releases. If your receiver lacks Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoders, the Auto setting causes the player to pass these high-resolution soundtracks as basic Dolby Digital and DTS. The BDP-95FD does have its own internal Dolby TrueHD decoder (but not DTS-HD); if you switch the HDMI Audio setting to PCM, the player will use its internal Dolby TrueHD decoder and output the signal as 96-kHz PCM over HDMI. The PCM setting is also a fine choice if you plan to use the player’s analog audio outputs. If so, you can designate whether you’re using a two- or 5.1-channel set-up; unfortunately, Pioneer doesn’t give you the option to combine the two for 7.1-channel output. With the 5.1-channel set-up, there are options to set the fronts as large or small and to turn the center and surrounds on or off, but the menu lacks a subwoofer setting and test tones to help match levels.

To add the BDP-95FD to my home network, I simply ran an Ethernet cable from my Qwest modem to the player’s LAN port. In the player’s Network set-up menu, I selected IP Configuration and turned on the “Auto Set IP Address,” since my network uses a DHCP server that automatically assigns an IP address. My network quickly assigned an address, and I was connected without incident. If your system doesn’t use a DHCP server, you will have to manually enter an IP address, Subnet mask and default gateway. Once the player is online, you can perform software updates and access digital media from your PC using the Home Media Gallery. On the player end, no further set-up is required to access the Home Media Gallery; however, you need to make sure that you’ve properly set up the device from which you want to stream content. The BDP-95FD can communicate with your media server over one of the three platforms: Windows Media Connect, Windows Media Player 11, or DLNA. Obviously, the first two apply to a PC running Windows XP or Vista, but the player will also communicate with any server that is DLNA-certified, like an HP Media Vault. Once the BDP-95FD recognizes a compatible server on the network, you simply hit the remote’s Home Media Gallery button to surf your digital media files. If it doesn’t find a compatible server, the onscreen menus are grayed out.

During disc playback, you have the option to make additional video and audio adjustments. You can adjust the dynamic range of audio signals and choose between Standard and Cinema picture modes, or create your own profile by manually adjusting white/black level, hue and chroma. I left the player in its default Standard picture mode, since I make these kinds of adjustments directly to my video display.

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