Operating the Pioneer BDP-450 is a pleasant, hassle-free experience. There’s a classiness and simplicity about the onscreen menus that makes a refreshing change from the bright, in-your-face GUIs found on most Blu-ray decks these days. All of the menus are set against a deep black background, with monochrome HD illustrations on the right hand side. The fonts are crisp and legible, plus all of the options are logically structured, which helps when browsing the comprehensive Initial Setup menu. One of the options here is a Setup Navigator, which runs through the essential settings to make life easier.
The Home Media Gallery is where you can access DLNA servers and USB-stored media. Files are listed on the left in a brush-effect grey box that’s wide enough to display most file names in full. You can create video, music and photo playlists here.
The remote is covered with ranks of small buttons and even smaller lettering, with little attempt made to distinguish one from another, but the main menu controls are conveniently located for the thumb and there's a dedicated Netflix button that lets you get to the service quickly. Pioneer TVs and receivers can be controlled with the bank of controls at the top.
The Quick Tray feature is actually more useful than it sounds, allowing you to get back to the sofa more quickly. The deck also loads Blu-ray discs reasonably quickly if its handling of Terminator Salvation is anything to go by – just 35 seconds was all it took to get from an open tray to playing the disc, which is much faster than most of the decks we’ve tested of late.
Pioneer BDP-450 Performance
As far as HD video playback is concerned, the Pioneer BDP-450 simply can’t be faulted. As a baptism of fire we started off with the Silicon Optix HQV disc, and it instantly detects and corrects the tricky cadences of the Video and Film Resolution Loss test patterns, as well as resolving the camera pan across the football stadium with no judder or excessive noise – but we did have to turn off the Pure Cinema mode to achieve these good results.
The Pioneer BDP-450 also resolves the moving white bars of the Jaggies test with smooth, clean edges – the mark of competent diagonal filtering.
Moving to 2D movies, the Pioneer BDP-450 delivers wonderfully smooth, cinematic pictures, packed with bucketloads of detail that lends complexity and texture to the image. During Clash of the Titans’ scorpion attack, the dusty desert settings look stunning thanks to the intense detail and subtle shading in the surrounding sand dunes, while the up-close detail on Perseus’ face and costume is sharp as a tack.
The contrast level is also nicely judged, lending depth to black parts of the screen without losing shadow detail, at the same time resolving bright areas with a crisp, eye-catching glint. This is all achieved with the LCD picture preset selected, but you can have a play with the Custom settings if that doesn’t suffice.
Its colour palette is also spot-on, rendering strong colours with real punch (nowhere more so than the luscious rainforests of Pandora on our Avatar disc) but grounding subtle shades like skin tones and sand in reality with their natural, realistic look. The deck also handles movement with great expertise, with no tracking issues or judder when the screen is filled with loads of fast-moving objects.
3D movies look even more mesmerising. The active 3D system’s layering adds an absorbing sense of depth, backed up by the punchy detail and spectacular colours. There’s evidence of crosstalk on certain parts of the picture but that’s likely to be the fault of the TV. Overall the Pioneer BDP-450 is a stunning picture performer no matter what disc you throw at it.
It also does a fine job with music, passing the digital audio signals to an AV receiver with no evidence of distortion. Multichannel SACD discs sound wonderful through our Onkyo receiver and Teufel speakers, plunging you right inside the music with meticulously resolved high-frequency detail, solid, rhythmic bass and a smooth midrange.
Pioneer BDP-450 Verdict
The Pioneer BDP-450 is not a cheap Blu-ray player, but it does just about enough to justify its price tag. It’s robustly built, gorgeous to look at and conjures up magical high-definition pictures with both 2D and 3D discs. What’s more, there are more nifty features than you might expect from this type of player, including YouTube, Picasa and Netflix access, DLNA media streaming, smartphone remote control, a long list of supported media formats and detailed picture tweaks.
It’s also smooth in operation, offers dual HDMI outputs, and makes Blu-ray viewing is more convenient than ever and with its Quick Tray and Continued features. However, buyers who crave built-in Wi-Fi and a wider range of web content might be tempted to look elsewhere.
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