Blu-ray players from ‘audio’ brands like Pioneer, Denon and Yamaha usually prioritise performance over flashy features, but the Pioneer BDP-450 has surprising amount of tricks up its sleeve.
Firstly, the player is DLNA certified and can therefore stream music, video and photos from servers on your home network or directly from smartphones as a Digital Media Renderer.
By the same token the player can also be controlled over a network by Apple and Android smartphones and tablets such as the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 after installing Pioneer’s iControlAV2012 app on the device. You can control all the basic functions from a set of great looking menu screens.
However, the Pioneer BDP-450 doesn’t offer built-in Wi-Fi, which is disappointing given that many of its cheaper rivals do. All is not lost however, as Pioneer offers an optional wireless LAN converter (AS-WL300, below), which unusually isn’t a USB dongle but a separate box that connects to both the Ethernet port and rear USB. It requires its own power supply, which could be a bit of a pain, and costs between £50 and £70.
Pioneer has long been a champion of wide-ranging format support (it was one of the first to launch a universal DVD player with DVD-Audio and SACD support) so it’s no surprise to find that the Pioneer BDP-450 will play a long list of file formats. We connected a flash drive containing a variety of file types and it happily played WMV, AVCHD, MP4, AVI, XviD, DivX, FLV, 3GP and MKV, as well as MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC and WAV. Sadly it won’t play FLAC over a network, but that’s the only blot on the format support copybook.
Talking of DVD-Audio and SACD, the Pioneer BDP-450 plays both of these high-resolution disc formats, which will quite literally be music to audiophiles’ ears.
Next on the list is a modest but very welcome selection of internet content. There are three services for your enjoyment – YouTube, Picasa and Netflix. YouTube is the Leanback version that often crops up on Blu-ray players, with a stripped down interface that’s easy to navigate with a remote control. The YouTube GUI offers four options on the left hand side – Discover Channels, Search, My YouTube and Featured. When using the Search function, you have to enter words using the virtual keyboard, which takes time, but as you’re typing the relevant results pop up on the right. Both SD and HD videos can be streamed.
Netflix offers a bright engaging main menu, with cover art for all the available movies and a decent search mode – if only it had a better choice of movies. Picasa’s menu is similarly attractive. You can punch in keywords and the relevant results fill the screen in large full colour thumbnails. Although this web content won’t give Sony or Samsung any sleepless nights (there’s no BBC iPlayer here for starters) it’s a welcome bonus – and it could be argued that Pioneer’s quality not quantity approach is more sensible than cramming the screen full of apps that you’ll never use.
Of course, the deck also supports 3D, BD Live, 1080/24p output, HDMI CEC, Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. You can output these HD audio formats as a bitstream or as PCM (up to 7.1 channels). Other useful features include a Continue mode, which lets you resume playback from where you stopped even if you turn the player off (still one of the annoying things about the Blu-ray format). You have to remember to hit the ‘Continued’ button at the point you want to resume, but it won’t work if the ‘Last Memory’ mode is turned on. The Quick Tray feature lets you open up the tray and load a disc while the deck is booting up, saving you time.
Ever since DVD’s heyday, Pioneer’s sophisticated video processing has made it the go-to brand for AV purists and the Pioneer BDP-450 looks to continue that trend. It boasts Marvell’s QDEO chipset for video processing; PureCinema and Motion Adaptive I/P conversion modes; Triple High-Definition Noise Reduction to remove Gaussian, block and mosquito noise in the picture; and Stream Smoother, which has been developed specifically to tidy up web-streamed video (from the likes of YouTube).
On the audio side, Pioneer’s Precision Quartz Lock System (PQLS) eliminates distortion caused by timing errors when connected to a compatible AV receiver over HDMI, a feature not found on the BDP-150. Sound Retriever Link allows a Pioneer AV receiver to detect the audio signal from the Pioneer BDP-450 and automatically select the appropriate Sound Retriever mode (Advanced Sound Retriever for Blu-ray/DVD, Auto Sound Retriever for everything else), in order to enhance sound quality.
Head to the Video Adjust section of the setup menu and you’ll find a wealth of image tweaks. Initially, there’s a choice of presets – LCD, PDP, Projector, Professional and Custom. The latter takes you to separate menu where you can adjust brightness, contrast, hue, chroma level, detail and noise reduction for the luminance and chroma signals, as well as mosquito and block noise.