Pioneer BDP-450 Universal 3D Blu-ray Player Review
Pioneer provides universal playback at a very universal price
IntroductionWe've reviewed a number of universal Blu-ray players recently, from Oppo's BDP-103 which retails for £499 to the Marantz UD5007 which can be picked for £399. However, the Pioneer BDP-450 might provide the best value of all, delivering universal playback in an attractive package for just £249. In fact if you shop around, the BDP-450 can be had less than £200 which considering its capabilities is remarkably inexpensive. The BDP-450 is a true digital transport, which means there are absolutely no analogue outputs but given most people just want to send a digital signal via HDMI to their receiver or display, that's no great loss. The BDP-450 also includes twin HDMI outputs, making it very useful for anyone whose receiver can't pass 3D. If the BDP-450 performs well in our tests, we could be looking at a serious Best Buy contender, so let's take a look.
Styling/Build/ConnectivityPioneer has a great history of designing attractive players, anyone who has owned one of their Elite models in the past can attest to the manufacturer's highly effective use of piano black! The BDP-450 is a worthy successor to that classic lineage, with a design that is a master class in understated elegance. The brushed black metal chassis looks gorgeous with a very minimalist front, based around a central disc tray and an informative display beneath that. There's a power button on the far left and a play button on the far right. There's also a stop button, an eject button and a USB port and that's your lot - we did say it was minimalist. The chassis measures 435 x 90 x 252mm, weighs in at just under 3kg and sits on four big silver feet. Whilst perhaps not as solid as some of the competition, the BDP-450 feels well made and provides a stable platform. The disc tray and laser mechanism are a little noisy when loading and navigating a disc but the player is suitably quiet during playback.
Of all the players that we have reviewed to date, the BDP-450 is the only one that is clearly designed purely for the digital realm. There are no analogue outputs at all, so if you're looking for a transport for all your digital sources then the BDP-450's twin HDMI outputs are for you, if not then look elsewhere. Aside from HDMI, the only other connectors are a digital coaxial output, an Ethernet port and a second USB input. Like we said, it's digital or nothing but the inclusion of twin HDMI outputs does mean you can send video via one and audio via the other, handy if you own an older receiver. There is no built-in Wi-Fi which is surprising, even at this price point, but you can add it via an optional converter (AS-WL300).
The remote control is made of black plastic with a brushed metal effect that matches the main chassis. It's quite long but light and comfortable to hold and whilst effective, it does fall victim to the curse of too many small buttons all laid out in symmetrical rows. All the controls you need are there, it's just that they aren't necessarily laid out in an especially intuitive fashion, so you need to get to know where everything is. The main navigation and control buttons are well placed in a central position but once you go 'off piste' a bit more thought is required and the small lettering and lack of a backlight can make things tricky in the dark.
Setup and MenusThe BDP-450 uses the same menu design that we have seen on Pioneer's receivers and the look is very reminiscent of the chassis itself, with a faux brushed metal effect. The menus are clear and simple, with sensibly designed pages and whilst not as flashy as some of the competition, they get the job done. The menu system is centralised around the Home Menu page, which gives you access to the Home Media Gallery, the Web Contents and the Initial Setup. We'll cover the first two in the Features section, so here we'll concentrate on setup.
Within Initial Setup there are a number of menu pages, all of which relate to setting the BDP-450 up correctly. The first covers the Display Settings, including TV Screen where you can set the ratio and we’d advise 16:9 Normal to ensure any of your 4:3 content is displayed uncropped. Then we have Video Adjust which provides a choice of LCD, PDP, Projector, Professional and Custom. The Professional setting passes an untouched signal, so we'd recommend selecting that one and just ignoring the others. The second page relates to the Audio Output and here you can select the Digital Output with choices for PCM, Bitstream and Re-encode. Then there's DTS Downmix, followed by the Downsampling. This is something of a misnomer because it actually allows for selecting the sampling frequency, with a choice of 48, 96, and 192 kHz. The final item, DRC (Dynamic Range Control) will soften effects whilst keeping dialogue clear, if you’re sensitive about waking up those around you when watching at night.
The HDMI page contains all the video and audio settings for both HDMI outputs, here you can choose between Dual, Separate or pure Audio. You can also select the Colour Space, with choices of RGB, YCbCr, YCbCr422 and Full RGB and we’d suggest the default YCbCr422 setting as safest for anyone other than those hooking up the BDP-450 to a PC. The Resolution option gives you a choice of Auto, 480i/576i, 480p/576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p. Auto will be safe for most but otherwise set accordingly to match your display's native resolution. Then there is HDMI Audio Out with choices of Bitstream, PCM, Reencode or Off and it’s always good to see the DTS reencode option for those with amps that don’t support HD Audio Codecs.
The Control option allows you the choice of switching On or Off HDMI CEC for compatible attached devices, whilst HDMI Deep Colour can just be left off. Then there is the choice to send Blu-ray at its native frame rate of 24p and assuming you have a compatible display, we'd recommend leaving this on. HDMI 3D does exactly what you’d expect and can be left at Auto which will mean 3D will be displayed automatically when a 3D capable display is detected. Finally, there’s the choice of whether to show the health warning before 3D material is played, which we switched off because frankly it gets annoying.
The next page relates to Network, where you can check the settings, run a connection test, enable the internet connection, permit BD-Live and enable DLNA. Then there is the page for Languages, where you set all the correct languages, Playback where you can set things like angle, secondary audio, disc auto playback, last memory etc. and Security where you set the disc age limits. Finally there is a page called Options, where you set things like the screen saver, quick start and updates.
As far as features go the BDP-450 is fairly limited, especially when compared to much of the competition, so if it's smart features you're after there are much better and cheaper alternatives. In terms of its internet platform, all you have is Netflix, YouTube and Picasa, which are accessed via the Web Contents page in the Home Menu.
Despite the lack of built-in Wi-Fi, the BDP-450 includes an Ethernet port and is DLNA certified, allowing it to work as both a DMP (Digital Media Player) or DMR (Digital Media Renderer). With these functions it lets you search for content to playback on the BDP-450 and you can stream content for playback on it as well. The BDP-450 worked well in our testing and appears to support the majority of media and file formats including MP3, WMA, LPCM, FLAC, JPEG, DivX, MPEG, WMV, AVI and AVCHD files. All these audio, video and picture files can be accessed via your home network, discs or USB drives.
As is the case with most products these days, there is a remote app available for free download which allows you to use your iPhone, iPod, iPad or Android device as a remote control. In the case of Pioneer their control app is called iControlAV2012 and as well as controlling the BDP-450 it also doubles as a controller for their receivers. We tried both the iOS and Android versions and found them both to be attractive and well-designed apps that worked very well.
1080p & 3D PlaybackThe BDP-450's role as a digital transport is perfectly suited by the digital nature of Blu-ray because if a player is operating properly and is set up correctly, it should be able to output the content exactly as it is on the disc and that's what the BDP-450 did, delivering a flawless performance. When it came to 3D Blu-rays the images were free of any artefacts or other issues with excellent rendering of the 3D encoded on the discs we tried. They all played first time, with no hand shaking problems or other unexpected issues and navigation and playback was equally as effective. The same was true of 2D 1080p/24 discs, with the BDP-450 outputting the digital content from the disc perfectly. Of course, although any correctly setup Blu-ray player should be identical to any other player over HDMI, that's assuming it isn't doing anything it shouldn't. As long as you use the Professional video adjust mode then the BDP-450 won't be interfering with the digital signal and the output will be flawless.
1080i PlaybackWhilst there is no real opportunity for the player to add value when it comes to playing back 1080p/24, that is not the case with 1080i content and here the video processing can add value. The ability of the player to detect film content inside the interlaced signal and correctly deinterlace it without introducing artefacts is dependent on the quality of the processing in the player itself. Thanks to Qedo processing in the BDP-450, it passed every single cadence and deinterlacing test on both the Spear & Munsil and HQV Blu-rays. The BDP-450 also had no problems with the video resolution loss test and was able to handle discs with film content that's encoded at 1080i/50Hz without any problems. Whilst there isn’t a great deal of 1080i content on Blu-ray it's good to know that the BDP-450 was capable of such an excellent performance and if you do have any 1080i content the player will be able to output it perfectly.
480i/576i PlaybackThanks once again to the Qedo video processing, the BDP-450's performance with both NTSC and PAL content was excellent, being able to fully reproduce the SMPTE colour bar tests and correctly scaling the images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent and the BDP-450 had no problems with the film detail test, correctly locking onto the image and in the cadence tests it also performed extremely well, correctly detecting the most common types 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European). The BDP-450 also had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, the text was always clearly readable without any shredding. Overall this was a great performance from the BDP-450, meaning regardless of whether the content high definition or standard definition, the results will be excellent.
Subjective Audio TestsSince the BDP-450 is a digital transport connected via HDMI, then just as with the digital video signals, the digital audio signals should be the same regardless of the player. Therefore the audio quality will be dictated by the digital to analogue conversion, which will be performed by your receiver or audio processor rather than the player. We tried a number of different audio formats on the BDP-450, including multichannel PCM, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA soundtracks from Blu-rays and Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from DVDs. We also listened to the multichannel audio from SACD and DVD-Audio discs as well as two channel audio from SACDs and CDs. The BDP-450 proved to be a very capable digital transport and whether it was DTS-HD Master Audio or a stereo CD the audio it delivered sounded excellent. The BDP-450 was also able to detect all the different discs and audio formats without any problems and played each one back flawlessly.
Disc Load TimesThe BDP-450 was a little slow to power up, taking 7 seconds to get to the Pioneer screen but thanks to the Quick Tray feature, you could open the tray and load a disc whilst the player was starting up. This allowed for immediate playback once the player was ready, thus eliminating any extra waiting time. The time taken to load Blu-rays depends largely on the studio but the BDP-450 was certainly consistent with much of the competition at around 25 seconds. When it came to CDs, DVDs and SACDs the BDP-450 was much quicker, taking less than 15 seconds. Once a disc is loaded, we found navigation and playback to be reasonably quick and responsive, regardless of what type of disc we were playing.
- Standby (Normal): 0.0W
- Idle: 12W
- Playing a disc: 13W
- Universal playback
- Impressive video processing
- Excellent build quality and quiet operation
- Twin HDMI outputs
- Fast load and response times
- Easy to use with well designed menu system
- Great price
- No analogue outputs
- Limited internet functionality
- No built-in WiFi
Pioneer BDP-450 Universal 3D Blu-ray Player Review
The BDP-450 might be relatively cheap compared to the competition but it certainly doesn't look it, with a well built and attractive chassis. The design is pure Pioneer, all understated elegance and black brushed metal. The front is a master class in minimalism and the BDP-450's pure digital nature is evidenced at the rear, where there are no analogue outputs. However that's no problem if you intend to just use the HDMI outputs and the inclusion of two is a nice touch. The remote control is effective without being showy but a little more thought to the ergonomics would be appreciated.
The BDP-450 menu system is the standard Pioneer design, both attractive and easy to follow, which makes setup very simple. The menu system was also quite responsive, as was disc navigation and load times were reasonably fast. The power consumption was excellent and although the disc tray and laser assembly could be a little noisy when loading and navigating discs, during actual playback the BDP-450 was pleasingly quiet. There is no built-in WiFi but we guess corners had to be cut somewhere and you can always buy an optional converter if necessary. As it happens there are very few internet features anyway but the file support is excellent and the remote app is quite well thought out too.
The video performance was flawless, as long as you select the Professional video adjust mode, and whatever the digital source - Blu-ray, DVD, various files - the results were excellent. The BDP-450 had no issues with 3D content, handled 24p perfectly and deinterlaced and scaled standard definition expertly thanks to the Qdeo video processing. The same was true with digital audio, with the BDP-450 handling every format perfectly over HDMI, whether as bitstream or PCM. Thanks to its universal nature you could playback Blu-rays, DVDs, DVD-As, SACDs and CDs and we experienced no compatibility issues with any of these discs.
Overall the Pioneer BDP-450 proved to be a consummate performer when it came to digital video and audio, regardless of the disc type or format. If you're looking for a universal player and only need to use HDMI then there really is nothing else that comes close at the price - Best Buy!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £249.00
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money8
Our Review Ethos
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