The people have spoken, and thus Blu-ray was declared the unanimous victor in the two-year war for HD supremacy. R.I.P. HD-DVD, and give my regards to LD (Laserdisc) as well. What was once subject to uncertainty is now crystal clear, and all the electronics manufacturers have begun in earnest, trying their best to design the ultimate and definitive Blu-ray disc player for you and I to buy, as progress dictates the slow phase out from SD (Standard-Definition) to HD (High-Definition). One such brand that earns it place at the very top of the electronics list is Pioneer, and with one of their newest models, the BDP-51FD Blu-ray Disc Player, it promises to offer you a very smooth and enjoyable transition from DVD to Blu-ray.
Compared to some other brands of Blu-ray players presently available, the BDP-51FD care of Pioneer is a bit on the large size, but as we’ll find out later on, it apparently needed all of this extra room to contain all that raw power under the hood. Despite its dominating dimensions of (W x H x D): 16.54 x 4.89 x 14.18 inches, it’s relatively lightweight at only 12 pounds and nine ounces. Although larger than the norm, the BDP-51FD still manages to maintain the sharp and stylish Pioneer look, by way of clean and straight edges with silver-colored feet. In terms of the color case finish, looking at the Blu-ray disc player straight ahead, the front panel comes in a sharp-looking glossy black finish which works great with any type of home theater set-up, while the rest of the Blu-ray disc player is a standard black.
With respect to functionality, the LED display is perfectly centered and sized nicely, featuring a white light display that’s easy to read but doesn’t stand out or distract in any way. In terms of the content displayed, you get all the standard stuff that’s specific to the details of what’s being played such as output resolution, connection type, and various disc details such as the chapter stop and time elapsed. In terms of the console buttons available, again, you get all of the usual suspects that are nicely arranged and clearly labeled such as Standby/On (power) and play which sit across from each other (far left to far right) and come in a larger size than usual. Both dark silver in color, considering that when most people use the hardware console buttons they’ll either want to turn it on/off or press play, it was a smart idea by Pioneer to have these two particular buttons stand out from all the rest, thereby minimizing the amount of time required to access them. Additionally, the BDP-51FD Blu-ray disc player console offers buttons for stop, pause, open/close, and fast forward and rewind which individually also double as chapter stop advance or rewind, as well as resolution which allows you to toggle between 480i, 480p, 1080i, and 1080p depending on the source disc and connection cable you’re using. You might be wondering why there’s no mention of 720p, and the reason being is that any source(s) with a resolution of 720p is output at 1080i, unless you’re outputting 720/24p film material which is output automatically to 720/60p.
As is common with all Blu-ray disc players, the connections terminal can be found at the rear, and the Pioneer BDP-51FD offers everything you’ll likely ever need for the ultimate HD experience.
Outputs include: HDMI 1.3a, Component, Composite, S-Video, discrete 7.1 Channel Audio, 2-Channel Audio, Coaxial Digital audio, Optical Digital audio, and a Control In which allows you to control the BDP-51FD player from the remote sensor of another Pioneer product which supports Control Out/SR. With all the formalities now out of the way, it’s time to get into the set-up and all-important performance of the Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray disc player.
In keeping with the simplicity and ease-of-use approach that Pioneer prescribes to, the BDP-51FD is free of undue confusion and frustration. Out of the box, Pioneer only provides you with a Composite cable. While it will allow you to see and hear images, it will not allow you to see and hear them in high-definition, which, if you own a Blu-ray player, is the ONLY way in which to see and hear them; otherwise, you’d be better off to save yourself some cash and just stick with your SD (standard-definition) DVD player. In order to maximize all the horse power of Pioneer’s BDP-51FD, you need to be connected via either a Component cable or an HDMI cable. With the BDP-51FD, the Component cable will allow you to output to a maximum of 1080i (as you probably already know, 720p is the bare minimum for HD), but for all-out HD joy, you’ll need an HDMI cable which can output all the way up to 1080p. In addition to maxing out the video resolution, another benefit of HDMI over Component is that this one single cable will also take care of all your audio needs, while Component is strictly a video signal, and you’ll need an additional cable for your audio. For these couple of reasons alone, when you need to upgrade your out-of-box cable, opt to go for the more powerful and versatile option that is HDMI. At any rate, once you’ve got all your cabling in order, set-up will make even the most novice user a veritable expert in no time at all. By accessing the Setup Navigator from the Home Menu, it’s there that you can tell the BDP-51FD what language to communicate in, exactly what type of audio and video connection you are using (HDMI, Component, S-Video, Coaxial, Optical, etc.), as well as the aspect ratio. Keep in mind that whatever video connection you select here is the only one which will be output to your TV or projector. While the remote control does allow you to switch between your assorted video sources, to change from one to another and have it actually display, you’ll need to run through the Setup Navigator menu again and repeat the steps. For the most part though, once you’ve established your ideal connection and video output source for the BDP-51FD, there will really be no need to have to adjust it again.
One question that always crops up when it comes to Blu-ray disc players is backwards compatibility. Aside from Blu-ray discs, people want to know that all their time, effort, and energy that they’ve already invested with DVDs won’t fall by the wayside once they upgrade their hardware and step into the HD domain. The great news is that the powers that be have taken this all into careful consideration, and thus taken the necessary steps to assure complete compatibility with past video/audio formats (though you may have issues playing the very very odd disc). In the case of the Pioneer BDP-51FD specifically, they will play all of your DVDs, be it Video, ROM, R, R DL and RW, as well as the assorted CD variations. As pertaining to DVDs, not only will the BDP-51FD play them in their native SD format of 480i, but because it acts as an upconverting Blu-ray player as well, you can breathe new life into your DVD collection by amping up their output to a full 1080p via an HDMI connection only.
I tested out the upconverting capabilities of the BDP-51FD with both the DVD and Blu-ray copy of the movie, The Fifth Element, and I’m quite pleased to report that the DVD version, while still inferior to the Blu-ray version, looked better than it ever has. Without getting too technical, the act of upconverting a format of lesser native or source resolution to that of a higher one (SD to HD) is essentially a process of simulated and artificial means. So while you’ll never get true HD via this process of upconverting, you will notice obvious improvements. And depending on what type of Blu-ray disc player you have, those improvements will vary. With the Pioneer BDP-51FD, it easily ranks as one of the better upconverting Blu-ray players I’ve seen. And make no mistake; this part of the performance equation should not be overlooked when it comes time for you to purchase a Blu-ray player, especially when you consider the overwhelming popularity of the DVD. In my particular case, I own well over 3000 DVDs (I stopped officially counting after 3033), and the prospect of having to double-dip and by each of them again is obviously none too appealing, not to mention it’d likely put me on the fast-track to declaring bankruptcy. But knowing I can still enjoy DVDs in the best light possible is a tremendous bargaining chip that the Pioneer BDP-51FD has at its disposal.
In terms of features and functionality, the Pioneer BDP-51FD’s cup literally runneth over. In addition to the aforementioned video and CD formats that it supports, the BDP-51FD supports all of the requisite audio formats, including the most recent ones such as Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, and the venerable faves that include Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround. The BDP-51FD also offers Circuits for Exclusive Jitter Reduction and Frequency Control, along with 3D Noise Reduction and Block and Mosquito Noise Reduction, the options to adjust, tweak, and improve audio output are virtually limitless.
From a video POV, the Pioneer BDP-51FD features and supports BonusView, an exclusive trademark of Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA). This is a nifty and ultra-handy feature which essentially allows your Blu-ray discs to offer picture-in-picture, whereby, while watching the movie, you can simultaneously overlay the menu and/or watch the bonus features on your disc all at the same time. While this has the capacity to in some ways be a case of information overload, in my humble estimations, being able to access other aspects of the Blu-ray disc without interrupting the actual movie overrides most anything. And for all you hardcore cinephiles like myself, the BDP-51FD features True24FPS, short for True24FramesPerSecond, which, as you may know, is the actual frame rate of films, as opposed to most video and DVDs we watch that play at 30 frames (29.97 to be exact) per second. This discrepancy of six additional frames per second, however subtle it may be, has negated us being able to enjoy movies as the filmmakers intended. Keeping with video, the Pioneer BDP-51FD also features Picture Control Suite whereby you’re given 13 different options to adjust your video: Progressive Motion, PureCinema, YNR, CNR, BNR, MNR, Detail, White Level, Black Level, Black Setup, Gamma Correction, Hue, and Chroma Level. For people with older TVs, or for people with newer ones that offer limited image adjustment options, this is the perfect way in which to make a great HD image look even better.
While being able to spew out a detailed list of specifications is one thing, performance is quite another, and like any other electronics item out there, product specs can only scratch the surface of why one product is better then another, and why not all HD imaging display products are created equal – or priced equal. For instance, while the Pioneer BDP-51FD retails with a US MSRP price tag of $499, the Panasonic DMP-BD55K and DMP-BD35K retail at the US MSRP of $400 and $300 respectively, while the Sony BDP-S550 and BDP-S350 also retail at the US MSRP price of $400 and $300 respectively. Why the obvious cost discrepancy between seemingly equally matched Blu-ray disc players? In the case of the Pioneer BDP-51FD, while it offers up all of the premium specs you’d expect out of an HD product, in addition to all of the above-mentioned video and audio features, some of which are exclusives, the BDP-51FD is powered by state-of-the-art video processing (the BDP-51FD uses the Renesas R8A34019 chipset which is used in far more expensive Blu-ray players such as the $800 USD Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD) which ultimately maximizes all of the raw power of Blu-ray disc technology. This is critically important when it comes to HD, because while your Blu-ray disc might be encoded to the nines for an awe-inspiring experience of video and audio bliss, if your Blu-ray player isn’t up to the task, you’ll only get the bare minimum. And while that bare minimum is still great as compared to old-school SD DVD video, in the realm of HD video, you’re not really getting the whole picture, and if you’re not getting the whole picture, why even bother? Further, the Pioneer BDP-51FD uses Wolfson Audio DACs which feature a signal to noise ratio of 117dB, and virtually guarantee top-shelf audio whether it comes from music or movie scores and soundtracks. For those unfamiliar, Wolfson is one of the preeminent names in audio engineering – most other competing brands of Blu-ray players are merely using generic, non-dedicated, integrated, and ultimately inferior audio DACs, which, when converting analog audio signals to digital through a receiver and out through your 5.1 or 7.1 speaker set-up will not, and can not sound as good as what the BDP-51FD can output.
For testing purposes, I had the Pioneer BDP-51FD connected to the 50-inch, Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020 FD plasma TV using the Blu-ray versions of BBC’s Planet Earth and The Fifth Element. The Pioneer BDP-51FD features a front-loading, motorized tray for disc insertion, and I used both a Component and HDMI cable (1080i and 1080p output), which, from approximately 10 feet away, had no obvious differences in image quality. While some Blu-ray players feature exceedingly long disc load times, the BDP-51FD minimizes said frustration, as I never experienced anything longer than 35-40 seconds, which in the current universe of Blu-ray disc players, is amongst one of the quicker ones. There’s no real “technical” way to say this, so I’ll simply say that the images I witnessed were nothing short of sublime, brilliant, and extraordinary. Everything popped with such a rich, vibrant, and vivid energy that you couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of it all.
In terms of playback options by way of the remote control, the Pioneer BDP-51FD offers many of the items you’d be familiar with care of your DVD player such as play, pause, rewind, fast-forward, and chapter advance or chapter rewind. While there are varying levels to the speed at which you can fast-forward or rewind the picture, the on-screen display doesn’t offer a numerical ID as to how much, i.e., two times, 10 times, 20 times, etc., so you’ll have to access the Display button during this to see how fast or slow you’re actually rewinding or advancing the picture. (When rewinding or fast-forwarding a Blu-ray disc, the BDP-51FD uses four speeds identified vaguely as Scan 1, Scan 2, Scan 3, and Scan 4.) While on the subject of play, rewind, fast-forward, and chapter advance, one aspect of the BDP-51FD that can be somewhat annoying is the on-screen display that comes up for about three seconds when you utilize any of those functions. It covers about one-fifth of the top screen, via a mostly see through black bar, and realistically, should be a whole lot mote conspicuous then it is. The more familiar simple small sign indicator on the lower left of the screen that doesn’t cover the movie could’ve remedied this situation entirely, but alas, Pioneer thought otherwise. I went through the entire menu to see if there was a way to disable this but was unable to find any such option.
The remote is also fully-programmable to work with a variety of different brands and types of products, but being that it doesn’t offer any backlight or glow-in-the-dark buttons, you’d likely be better off leaving the universal control tasks to a different remote control altogether. The remote itself is black in color, rectangular in shape, and while it rests fairly comfortably in your hand, due to the facts it’s quite long and lean (L x W: nine and three-eighths of an inch times one and seven-eighths of an inch), I wouldn’t exactly call it the pinnacle of ergonomic design. On the plus side, it does offer a nice collection of one-touch button controls that allow you to adjust your Output Resolution (480i all the way up to 1080p depending on your cable connection), Video Select (HDMI, Component, S-Video, etc.), Video Adjust which tailors your picture quality for max performance depending on the TV or display you’re using (options include PDP/plasma, Pioneer PDP/plasma, Performance, LCD, Projector, and three Memory options which are the only way to enable the Picture Control Suite image adjustments), and Popup Menu which is a handy way of bringing up your Blu-ray disc’s main menu without having to stop the actual movie.
Bottom line with respect to set-up and performance as pertaining to the Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray disc player: it’s simple and easy to use, offering top-notch video and audio quality that you’ve come to expect from Pioneer.
The Pioneer name is synonymous with consistently superior products that push the envelope of design and engineering each and every time. The BDP-51FD Blu-ray player is no exception, bringing a level of performance, functionality, and reliability that’s simply unmatched in today’s insanely congested marketplace. With superior audio and video processing, care of the Renesas R8A34019 video chipset and Wolfson Audio DACs respectively, along with full 1080p upconverting, fast load times, BonusView picture-in-picture, and True24FPS playback, the Pioneer BDP-51FD is armed and ready to deliver you the ultimate HD experience.
Manufacturer Homepage: www.pioneerelectronics.com
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