Pioneer BDP-320 Blu-ray Player Page 2
The BDP-320 did an excellent job in virtually all of our video processing tests. With the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition, the player sailed through all of the deinterlacing tests with flying colors. The performance was exceptional, even on the 10-degree torture test, a pattern that some players have a problem with. Real-world tests on DVD didn’t reveal any shortcomings either. The opening of Star Trek: Insurrection remained jaggie free.
The BDP-320 passed both above-white and below-black information, and the scaling from 480i to 1080p rivals the output from my reference OPPO BDP-83. Foregrounds were razor-sharp. While the backgrounds were still soft and fuzzy compared with Blu-ray, they looked much better than on the other players in the roundup.
My previous experience with Pioneer’s performance was less than satisfactory, but I vowed not to let it taint my experience with the BDP-320. The first disc I popped in was The Soloist from DreamWorks. Unfortunately, the disc wouldn’t load. Granted, I knew the chances were slim since it has been established as a trouble disc. (It wouldn’t initially load in my OPPO BDP-83—and several other players either according to Internet reports—but within a week, an OPPO firmware update addressed the issue on that platform.) The Samsung player tested here didn’t play it either, but LG’s BD390 did. At press time, Pioneer informed us that firmware version 3.34 is available, which is said to address some playability issues.
Fortunately, every other disc I threw at the player worked without any problems. As I expected, Blu-ray Discs looked phenomenal. One of the best video encodes on the format can be found on Universal’s Coraline. This disc has a visually stimulating color palette, amazing depth, and a flawless digital transfer. The audio experience was just as enjoyable with both bitstream output and internal decoding of the fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. I could detect no discernible difference between the two decoding methods. The player also didn’t have any issues with the enhanced PiP track that the disc offers.
DVD performance was just as satisfying. When I tested the deinterlacing performance with Star Trek: Insurrection, I decided to watch a good portion of the film to rekindle my affinity with the Next Generation cast. While it wasn’t nearly as clear and sharp as a Blu-ray presentation, the upconversion was adequate enough to whet my appetite for its September release on Blu-ray.
The biggest complaint I hear about Blu-ray is the slow startup and loading of discs. Unfortunately, the BDP-320 does little to improve the situation. My biggest criticism of the Pioneer is its responsiveness. The power-on sequence takes nearly 30 seconds compared with 12 on the OPPO BDP-83 and 10 on a PS3. Also, load times for Java-intensive discs can be excruciatingly slow. For example, the Disney/Pixar Blu-ray of Wall-E takes a minute and 30 seconds on the Pioneer versus 53 seconds on the OPPO and 40 on the PS3. I found no tangible improvement in the power-on or disc loading times over the previous generation’s BDP-05FD I tested. Moreover, once discs are loaded, the navigation is sluggish. When selecting a chapter, the player can take nearly five seconds to advance versus the OPPO BDP-83’s near instantaneous response.
Blu-ray is in the middle of its fourth year, and the marketplace has shifted to the point that just having Blu-ray playback isn’t enough. Many players, like the LG and Samsung models in this roundup, offer Internet streaming and other compelling connectivity features. OPPO’s revered BDP-83 offers DVD-Audio and SACD playback. The Pioneer is a solid performer with both Blu-ray and DVD playback. However, its responsiveness and speed leave a lot to be desired, and it doesn’t offer any of the extra features. If these items take a backseat to picture and sound, you can’t go wrong with the audio and video quality. Both are exceptional, but you’d better have a lot of patience.