Blu-ray players are still in their infancy, and there has been little to differentiate the initial round of releases. There are a couple minor feature differences here and there, but for the most part they're all pretty similar. The Pioneer BDP-HD1 ($1,500 MSRP) is one of the first Blu-ray players to break out of the mold, adding network media-playing capabilities to the standard Blu-ray features. It has the ability to output Blu-ray at 24 frames per second, the frame rate at which almost all films are made. There are only a few displays that can accept this format, and it's supposed to offer improved picture quality, but during our testing we found this highly anticipated feature wasn't the holy grail some videophiles were hoping for.
Like all the Blu-ray players we've reviewed so far, the BDP-HD1's ultimate flaw is its extremely high price, even for Blu-ray standards. While the price can somewhat be justified by the networking capability and its ability to output 1080p at 24 frames per second (1080p/24), this argument is harder to make considering the fact that the BDP-HD1 can't play CDs and has less than stellar DVD upconversion. Not to mention the fact that you can pick up a Sony PlayStation 3 for a third of the price. Don't get us wrong, the BDP-HD1 is definitely a capable Blu-ray player and there's a lot to like, but we couldn't help but feel like it didn't live up to its $1,500 price tag.
The styling on the BDP-HD1 is nice, although perhaps a little bland. The front panel is glossy black, and there's an LED display to the far right. There are a couple of unobtrusive front-panel lights, but home-theater enthusiasts will be happy to know that they can be dimmed or even turned off. On the bottom half is a flip-down tray, and two buttons can be accessed without flipping it down, Power and Play. Flip down the tray, and there are several more controls, including a handy navigation pad and chapter forward/backward controls.
The remote will be familiar to anyone who has used a Pioneer DVD player. Overall we found it relatively easy to use, with the buttons in logical places and pretty good differentiation between them. It's not backlit, but neither are the remotes of other Blu-ray players we've tested.
The setup menu itself is easy enough to use, although we would have liked to see some improved high-definition graphics, like those seen on the Philips BDP9000. We especially like the way the menu handles high-definition audio. It eschews the traditional method of letting the user choose between the confusing terms of "bitstream" and "PCM" and instead offers a choice between, say, Dolby or Dolby converted to PCM. It's a slight change, but we welcome any attempt to simplify confusing next-generation audio issues.
The graphics on the Home Media Gallery function are a little better than those on the setup menu, and we found the interface easy to interact with. Sometimes it was a little slow--especially when we were switching between different types of media--but manageable overall.
The primary functionality of the BDP-HD1, of course, is the ability to play Blu-ray discs and, secondly, standard DVDs. On the audio side, however, the BDP-HD1 is lacking; it can't play back standard audio CDs or either of the high-resolution audio formats, SACD or DVD-Audio. Though lack of SACD or DVD-Audio support isn't a big deal, not being able to play CD is definitely an annoyance, because you'll need to have another disc player on hand for your CD collection.
The Pioneer's support for next-generation, high-resolution soundtracks is average, which means that it can't decode formats like Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD in their highest resolution. On the other hand, it can handle uncompressed multichannel LPCM soundtracks, which are also included on some Blu-ray titles. Since it lacks HDMI 1.3, it won't be able to send Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD in the encoded bitstream format, which some A/V receivers in the future may be able to decode.
Connectivity is basically the same as what's on most Blu-ray players on the market. The HDMI output is the most important connection, which is capable of carrying 1080p video signals, plus the new high-resolution multichannel surround audio soundtracks. There's also a component video output--which is capable of outputting resolutions up to 1080p with Blu-ray discs, although DVDs are naturally limited to 480p--as well as S-Video and composite standard-definition video outputs. On the audio side, the BDP-HD1 has both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, along with analog 5.1 multichannel outputs and a stereo output. There are also a couple of additional ports for IR control.
The big connectivity addition for the BDP-HD1 is the Ethernet port, which enables its Home Media Gallery function. The gallery extends the functionality of the BDP-HD1 beyond just a standard Blu-ray player, making it part network media player as well. The unit is capable of playing movies, music, and photos over the wired connection. File format support is pretty basic: WMV and MPEG for movies; MP3, WMA, and WAV for music; JPEG, PNG and GIF for images. All we needed to do was run the Windows Media Connect software on our PC, and it worked like a charm. There is no indication as to whether this port can be used to update the firmware.