So far we’ve ascertained that the BCS-SB626 offers media playback via USB and iPod/iPhone playback, but there are many more strings to its bow. Of course, in a market consumed by smart content and file streaming, the network related features get top billing, which can be accessed using the system’s built-in Wi-Fi connection.
However, the content is less generous than Pioneer’s big name rivals. It offers YouTube and Picasa access, which work smoothly and provide a brief distraction when you’re bored, but without apps like iPlayer and Love Film Pioneer simply can’t compete with the likes of Smart Hub and Viera Connect. The fact that Pioneer’s Blu-ray decks add Netflix merely rubs salt in the wound.
You can, however, stream media files using DLNA protocol, which is hugely convenient if you have hordes of music, videos and photos stored on PCs or NAS drives around the home. Supported formats for streaming include MP3, WMA, WAV, JPEG, DIVX, MP4, 3GP, AAC, WMV, MKV, AVCHD and AVI, while FLAC is supported but only from USB devices and discs.
There were a couple of issues – it wouldn’t play the audio accompanying our WMV files and AVCHD audio was stuttery. But on the whole its media streaming capabilities are impressive, and when you throw SACD playback into the mix, even audiophiles might go away happy. For Blu-ray and DVD playback it decodes a full house of formats, including Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS 96/24 and DTS-ES.
Elsewhere on the spec sheet, Pioneer rates the system’s power output from the Class D amps at 550W, with a rather optimistic-sounding 150W to each front channel (into 4Ω) and 250W for the sub (into 3Ω).
As you’d expect there are several sound modes on board, including Pioneer’s Virtual 3D Sound, available in Min, Mid and Max settings. This aims to expand the soundstage and replicate the feeling of a true surround sound system. Meanwhile, the Sound Retriever function aims to restore dynamics to compressed music formats.
These are joined by a selection of picture tweaks, including Standard, Vivid and Cinema presets, as well as a Custom mode that lets you adjust brightness, saturation, hue, contrast, sharpness and colour transient improvement (CTI). Confusingly, another Video Adjust menu offers separate brightness, contrast, hue and saturation adjustments even when the Custom mode isn’t selected – with two overlapping menus, you could really mess up the pictures, so tread carefully.
Also within the Display setup menu is a Net Contents mode, which is designed to improve the clarity of compressed video files (played via network, USB or disc) plus three stages of Noise Reduction.
You can easily access the Sound Retriever and Virtual 3D Sound settings by pressing the Sound button, and they’re joined by a selection of sound presets – News, Gaming, Movie and Music.
And here’s something you don’t see on many systems these days – a Karaoke mode. So all you budding Christopher Maloneys can murder tunes to your heart’s content after plugging a mic into the front port, plus there are echo control, mic volume and Vocal Cancel settings to fiddle around with.
The final entrant on this impressively long list of features is CD-to-USB recording – a nifty feature if you don’t fancy firing up the PC to rip the new CD you just bought.