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Pioneer recently sealed the deal on its joint venture with Sharp, which will see the two AV giants pool their resources and produce optical disc products such as DVD recorders and Blu-ray players. That means the BDP-320 on test here could be one of the last all-Pioneer players we get to review, so let's make the most of it.
The BDP-320 is the middle-man in Pioneer's latest trio of players, sandwiched between the entry-level BDP-120 and the higher-spec BDP-LX52. Despite being about £150 cheaper than the BDP-LX52, the BDP-320 offers most of the same features, except for the anti-jitter Precision Quartz Lock System - the BDP-320 only supports this for two-channel LPCM and not multichannel signals like the LX52.
You don't need to worry about Pioneer skimping on build quality at this lower price though. The player is rock solid from top to bottom and sports the ever-stylish gloss black finish that Pioneer is famous for. OK, so the fascia is a touch more plasticky than usual and it lacks some of the eye-catching detail found on the LX52, but it still puts most of its immediate competition to shame.
The biggest surprise on the rear panel is the lack of multichannel audio outputs, which may deter those who'd rather feed decoded analogue signals to their amplifier than a digital bitstream. But everything else appears to be in order, with a socket line-up that includes HDMI v1.3, component, composite and optical digital audio outputs. You also get an Ethernet port to download movie extras and firmware updates from the Internet, a USB port for expanding the BD Live storage capacity beyond the built-in 1GB, and a remote control port for custom install use.
Like the LX52, the BDP-320 won't handle multimedia content stored on USB sticks, which is a let-down given that most other players are only too happy to let you plug 'n' play. Thankfully, format support from discs (using the Home Media Gallery feature) is decent enough, with a list that includes AVCHD, DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG - although it's not a patch on all-encompassing players like the OPPO BDP-831 (R.I.P.) and the LG BD390.
The BDP-320's audio support is comprehensive, decoding all of the Blu-ray formats into LPCM or outputting them as a raw bitstream over HDMI. You also get a wide range of picture features including the excellent Video Adjust menu, which lets you tweak the picture across 13 different parameters and store them in three memory positions, and offers a range of presets for different types of display - Professional, PDP, LCD and Projector, as well as modes tailored towards Pioneer PDPs, LCDs and projectors.
The deck is also 48-bit Deep Colour ready, supports KURO Link HDMI CEC and upscales DVDs to 1080p. Not a bad feature-set on the whole, but it's a shame Pioneer hasn't been quicker to embrace Wi-Fi connectivity, which would make BD Live downloading a lot easier than the current wired configuration. Perhaps that's something we'll find on the first Pioneer/Sharp players?
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