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Pioneer has an unusual distinction in the field of Blu-ray: it was one of the half dozen or so companies that actually engineered its own players from the ground up. The newest versions of the consequent high-end range are not quite here yet. But Pioneer has always pushed the boundary at the other end — it was the first, for example, to release a DVD player in Australia for less than AU$1000. Remember those days?
A lot of time has passed, and the BDP-160 is what Pioneer now considers to be an entry-level player, selling for just one fifth the cost of that DVD player. Yet it has all the essentials, plus a few useful extras, such as built-in Wi-Fi.The first time Wizard was useful, but not quite useful enough since it entirely skipped network setup. I was planning on using the Wi-Fi connection, so I hadn't plugged in an Ethernet cable. Then I forgot all about it. After completing the Wizard I went to the network functions, and it took me a moment to realise why they weren't working. Of course, the player should have told me that they weren't available, there being no network set up.
In the end, making the Wi-Fi connection was easy thanks to support for WPS key-press connection.
The unit offers the usual upscaling to 1080p, but not 4K, and of course fully supports Blu-ray 3D. There doesn't actually seem to be much point to 4K upscaling since it seems to inviting trouble — you may need to upgrade your HDMI cabling if you're going to ask it to carry four times the amount of data — rather than doing anything useful. Ultra high definition displays are of course perfectly capable of upscaling incoming video themselves.
Discs loaded quickly and reliably, DVDs and Blu-rays both. Oh, and Super Audio CDs, which was bit of a surprise.
The usual navigation features were provided on both kinds of video disc, including the ability to jump to a specified time, forwards and reverse scans of up to 32x, four slow motion (forwards only) speeds and (forwards only again) frame stepping.
You can change the output resolution of DVDs (but not Blu-ray discs) on the fly so if you have suitable external gear (a high quality home theatre receiver, perhaps) you can easily change to the native resolution of whatever disc you're playing. But the automatic progressive scan conversion built into the player was up to the task of providing an almost perfect picture. With my most difficult 576i50 DVD and 1080i50 Blu-ray video clips it was briefly tricked into using video style deinterlacing when it ought to have been doing film style in a couple of places, but fewer places than average. If you would just prefer to leave everything up to the player, you're going to get generally very good results.
Well, that was another surprise. The media support with this player was excellent, and beyond that provided by lots more expensive gear. Video support included DivX, MP4, WMV, AVI, 3GP and FLV. Not listed, but supported, was straight old MPEG2 offered up by my NAS drive.
The Wi-Fi ran plenty fast enough for stutter free playback of 4Mbps SD video. Images supported in addition to JPEG are PNG, GIF and MPO (the 3D still format). It was the audio that impressed the most. There was the usual MP3, WAV, WMA and AAC (ie. iTunes music). But also included was Monkey Audio (not lossless) and FLAC. The Free Lossless Audio Codec is increasingly becoming a standard, which is to be welcomed for its high performance, so quite a few devices now support it. Most are limited to stereo, but very good stereo with resolutions all the way up to 24 bit, 192kHz files. This one adds multichannel support, which few offer. It reproduced my 5.1 channel 24 bit 96kHz test files beautifully.
I did have one complaint about audio handling. Not that it failed to play a 7.1 channel FLAC, since I have yet to find anything that will. But that when it tried the player was so upset that it locked up and couldn't be switched off. I had to pull the power cable to make it work again.
Two oddities: the manual says that the unit supports FLAC from USB but not the network. It supports FLAC equally from both. Second, the unit does not present the tag data for FLAC — Titles, Artists, cover art, etc — although it does for other formats.
The web material is quite spare: only YouTube and Picasa (a public photo site) are on offer there.
The Pioneer BDP-160 was quite the surprise. Often, makers differentiate product levels by means of progressively disabling features in the cheaper models. It seems that Pioneer in putting together this unit found that the various chipsets they had chosen had a wide range of features and just up and enabled them all.