Those of you who liked the look of Pioneer's BDP-LX71 but found the £600 price tag a bit on the steep side might want to investigate this entry-level version, which costs almost £300 less than its stable mate but somehow offers an almost identical feature list. The only difference between them is that the BDP-51FD features a few cosmetic tweaks and is fitted with inferior video DACs. It's hard to believe that these tweaks alone resulted in such a dramatic price drop but we're certainly not complaining…
The BDP-51FD's gloss-black fascia feels more plasticky than the LX71, plus it replaces the touch-sensitive buttons found on the pricier player with normal ones, and abandons the silver trim around the play button. But despite these tweaks this deck still looks the business, especially when paired with the company's similarly styled AV receivers and plasma TVs, and its chunky dimensions make a refreshing change from the normal slimline fare.
On the back panel you'll find an identical selection of sockets to the LX71, and it covers all bases. On the video side you'll find HDMI (v1.3), component, composite and S-video outputs, while audio sockets include optical and coaxial digital outs, 7.1-channel analogue outputs and a separate set of analogue stereo outs. The sockets aren't gold plated this time around, but Pioneer should be applauded for not cutting down on connections, even at this lower price point.
Although its similarity to the LX71 is a blessing in many ways, it's a hindrance in others. Like the BDP-LX71, the 51FD is specified as Profile 1.1, which means you're paying for a player that doesn't deliver the complete Blu-ray experience, when there are cheaper decks that support BD Live features.
Also disappointing is that the BDP-51FD shares the LX71's inability to decode DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks internally, which means you only get the DTS core from the multichannel analogue outputs. A firmware update is on its way in the next couple of months that will add this feature, but from the box the deck's audio capabilities remain incomplete. It can, however, output decoded Dolby TrueHD from the analogue outputs, as well as transfer Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio to your receiver in bitstream or PCM.
Elsewhere the feature list is exemplary. It can output Blu-ray discs in their native 24Hz frame rate, and with a growing number of TVs supporting 24Hz signals (including Pioneer's own plasmas) its inclusion is crucial. Your DVD collection is also in good hands thanks to the deck's 1080p upscaling capabilities, and so is your digital media collection - the player accepts DivX, AVCHD, MP3, WMA and JPEG files, and spins a wide array of disc formats.