The BDP-51FD also delivers wonderfully sharp pictures, teasing out every last speck of detail from the disc's pristine transfer - aerial shots of Hong Kong are beautifully rendered, patterns and textures are crisp and focused and the clear reproduction of the Joker's facial features makes his grotesqueness more pronounced than ever. The deck combines its excellent eye for detail with smooth, natural colour reproduction and a complete lack of noise.
Our positive impressions continue with a run-through of the HD HQV disc from Silicon Optix, and like the BDP-LX71 it makes short work of the crucial tests. Its handling of the diagonal filter test is superb, rendering the rotating bars with completely straight, smooth edges. With the Film Resolution Loss test, there's no strobing in the corner boxes of the test pattern, and with the camera pan across the stadium the seats are focused and exhibit no moiré noise or flickering.
It's not just a dab hand with hi-def material either, as DVDs upscaled to 1080p also look sublime. It may not be hi-def but Star Wars Episode III on DVD still boasts loads of detail, emphatically defined edges and bold, radiant colours. It's also hard to detect any artefacts like mosquito noise or jaggies, which is evidence of some pretty special upscaling circuitry at work inside.
We're also highly impressed by the player's audio capabilities. We channelled The Dark Knight's TrueHD track through the Pioneer VSX-LX51 AV receiver and the two components make perfect bedfellows, delivering the sonics with power, poise and dazzling clarity. CDs also sound terrific - George Benson's jazz-funk classic Breezin' sounds sweet as a nut, with Benson's guitar licks reproduced with loads of character, while the drums are delivered with plenty of snap.
It's great to see Pioneer delivering a product that gives those on a modest budget the chance to see what the company is capable of, and there's no doubt that the BDP-51FD delivers the best picture performance we've seen from a sub-£400 player.
Had Pioneer included BD Live capability and DTS HD Master Audio decoding from the box it could have been the Blu-ray bargain of the century, but as it stands these niggling omissions - along with the sluggish disc loading and boot-up times - prevent Pioneer from earning top marks.
As a result, those concerned with getting the most for their money might find that other players (like the BD Live-capable Panasonic DMP-BD55) offer better value, but if you want sublime pictures, couldn't care less about BD Live and own a receiver with DTS HD Master audio decoding, then this is definitely the player for you.