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Pioneer BDP-120 review: Pioneer BDP-120

The Pioneer BDP-120 Blu-ray player boasts fine video and audio capabilities, but its frustrating operational quirks make this player an also-ran.

Nic Tatham
4 min read

Finally, Blu-ray players are coming of age. They've taken their sweet time, but we're now seeing players that will load a disc as fast as a DVD player, do all the things Blu-ray promised and don't cost a fortune. Pioneer embraced Blu-ray early on in the piece and recently announced two new machines including this latest entry-level player.


Pioneer BDP-120

The Good

Impressive Blu-ray video and audio performance. Good feature count. Solid DVD upscaling.

The Bad

Quirky and frustrating to operate. Not all that quick at loading/playing BDs. Display far too small.

The Bottom Line

The Pioneer BDP-120 Blu-ray player boasts fine video and audio capabilities, but its frustrating operational quirks make this player an also-ran.

Design and features

The BDP-120 is noticeably slimmer than Pioneer's previous BD players at just 58mm. Its high gloss black finish (what else?) looks very sleek and there are minimal controls on the machine itself, so keep the remote control close by. Unfortunately, the tiny, centrally-placed display is all but useless unless you're looking at it straight on.

The player will do BD-Live (profile 2.0) and has on-board decoding for the current crop of HD audio formats, namely Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD Master Audio. This means you don't need to do the decoding on-board your AV amplifier, which is good news if yours is a year or two old and doesn't have processing for these audio codecs.

There's a USB port for plugging in compatible flash memory to enable the BD-Live functionality; however, unlike in the US, where the player's supplied with a 1GB SanDisk USB flash drive, it's not being bundled with a device here in Australia. Pioneer is giving away free 8GB iPod Nanos though — the only catch is that you have to buy the BDP-120 and its VSX-919AH AV receiver together, but it's still a pretty sweet offer. Quick Start mode promises it can power up from standby in under one second, DVDs are upscaled to 1080p, the player can output bitstream audio through HDMI and Pioneer's not forgotten that some of us still play CD.

The BDP-120 can handle 1080/24p (24 frames per second) video reproduction, but you'll need an up-to-date display to also handle this, which most current flat panel TVs do. The same goes for its 36-bit Deep Colour support. Partnering with Pioneer's own plasma displays, the BDP-120 features the Kuro link synchronisation control, which also works with suitably equipped Pioneer AV receivers.


True to the blurb, from standby, the BDP-120 starts up quickly and you can load a disc promptly. That's where the speed kinda stops though — Blu-ray disc loading times varied considerably. A lot of this has to do with the individual title, whether it has BD-Live content or not, and this can slow loading times down. Still, this Pioneer's still nowhere near as fast as your typical DVD player and that goes for loading DVDs as well. It's a lot better than earlier generation players, but expect to wait between two to three minutes for a BD to fully load and actually start playing past all the menus etc.

Once playing, the everyday controls such as pausing, skipping chapters or fast forwarding are also a bit sketchy and slow to respond. More than once we had the player a bit confused and a rather annoying "cannot operate" message would pop up when we tried to shuttle forward. This only occurred with BDs, not DVDs and we also noticed disc playing surfaces needed to be squeaky clean, especially with rental discs, as any finger marks or smudges caused the Pioneer to freeze, then it was back to the start again.

Such operational idiosyncrasies aside, your reward is a sumptuously vivid and gorgeously detailed picture. We loved what we saw once the Pioneer was happily spinning a BD film — best hit the play button, leave the player alone and enjoy the movie. Watching Transporter 3, the Pioneer dished up the action with fantastic video and audio quality; colours looked bright, vivid and above all, natural, while details were crisply resolved with high levels of solid contrast. The Dolby TrueHD audio stream flowed with tremendous power and control, placing surround effects around the room with as much skill as the stunt drivers flinging the Audi around on-screen. There's ample bass presence as well as pace and drive — the Pioneer's internal decoders really did make the most of this sort of pulsating, dynamic surround sound score.

Its 1080p DVD upscaling was impressive, as long as the original transfer was up to scratch. Such DVDs like Contact or The Fifth Element, which are both top-notch standard-definition transfers, looked sharp and also highly detailed with little or no evidence of video compression. Panning was also super smooth and only bettered when playing HD Blu-ray content.

Musically, the Pioneer proved up to speed too &mdash playing Beethoven or Nine Inch Nails (NIN), the BDP-120 comes pretty close to the sound of a decent CD player. NIN's Closer had a pleasantly smooth, weighty and musical presentation with good rhythmic attack and drive, while orchestral works were rendered in a fine, full-scale fashion.


Pioneer could have had a "budget BD player to beat" with the BDP-120. There's no denying its fine video and audio capabilities plus impressive feature count, but its frustrating operational quirks take a fair chunk of icing off this cake, which is a real shame.