By WL Low
Pioneer has built an enviable reputation with the success of its range of Blu-ray players. I have being using the starter 3D Pioneer BDP-140 as a reference myself. While its audio/video performance is very accomplished for the price, I’ve always wondered what if I were to spend a little more $$$ for a step up in performance?
Along the way, came the revamped BDP-X50 series range of Pioneer Blu-ray player, and the model in question here is the BDP-450, which is the middle child, sitting inbetween the entry-level BDP-150 and the exclusive LX-55 top model. The Pioneer BDP-450 retails at RM$1,899/unit, so it’s really a big step up from the entry level model (price wise). So if the BDP-140 or BDP-150 already offers such good performance levels (assuming the newer BDP-150 is as good, if not better), for a mere RM$699/unit, what more can the BDP-450 offer?
|The Pioneer BDP-450 residing in my HT system.|
First of all, the Pioneer BDP-450 offers superior build quality, with its heavier gauge steel chassis (which houses beefier power supplies), all satin black brushed aluminium face panel, chunky audiophile style feet (not the fake plastic ones, for sure), and a definitely smoother disc-loading drawer mechanism.
At the back panel, the goodies galore continues with dual HDMI outputs (for those who want their video signal to flow direct to screen, bypassing the surround receiver’s video board) for superior picture quality, while the other HDMI output sends audio signals to the said receiver. Is there really a performance upgrade by going the twin HDMI output route? I don”t know, I didn’t test, but I bet someone would do so. I connected the BDP-450 with my resident BDP-140 for a fair comparison, which means one HDMI cable, sending audio and video signal to my Denon receiver and the second HDMI cable from receiver to my Plasma display.
The only same old, same old part as shared with the BDP-140 and BDP-150 is the hand remote wand, and I can understand Pioneer’s decision to keep it as it works pretty well actually. The whole unit looks well put together with nicely aligned panels and centered disc drawer on top of the clearly legible display, which is dimmable (the entry-level model does that too). Like all 2012 refreshed Blu-ray player models onwards, the BDP-450 also comes equipped with Cinavia anti-piracy software pre-installed.
|The back panel – 2 HDMI output feature is the main selling point.|
Now we get to the nitty gritty of the Pioneer BDP-450 in terms of video performance – the colour and picture dynamic qualities are cut from the same fabric as the cheaper Pioneers. There seems to be finer pixels in the darker scenes leading to improved black detailing. I see smoother fast motion scenes, with richer and more saturated colours. Depth of field in panoramic landscape scenes are definitely more convincing. I watched the Kingdom Of Heaven Blu-ray disc and came away suitably impressed. I think a more highly regulated power supply section of the player contributed to the performance gains. Still, I thought for so much more outlay, the picture quality improvement ratio did not seem enough.
However, it was when playing a 3D Blu-ray disc that I felt all the extra outlay for the BDP-450 became justified. Comparing the BDP-140 to the BDP-450 in 3D mode made the cheaper player”s 3D qualities look like cardboard cut-outs, and on certain scenes, more like a cut & paste job! I was using the Monster Vs Aliens 3D Blu-ray animation movie for comparison. With the BDP-450, the 3D effects were smoother and more organic looking, while still maintaining the pop-up effect and excellent layers within a field of depth within the confines of my 64-inch Plasma display. The BDP-450 made watching 3D movies less fatiguing and more enjoyable, due to less cross talk, and less noise within the video signal. I used to find 3D fascinating for about 25 minutes only (I start to feel giddy after that) but with the BDP-450, I could watch the whole movie in 3D mode without much fatigue setting in. I know my kids certainly look forward to more 3D animated movies from now onwards.
|It is with 3D movies like Monsters Vs Aliens that the Pioneer shows its capabilities to the fore. The disc-loading drawer opens and closes with smooth action.|
|The Grudge is a scary Hollywood take on Japanese horror, much like The Ring, but only more effective in the script build up and make up & graphics. Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) stars.|
Now we get to the audio part – the first aspect that impressed me easily was the bass, which certainly went deeper and rumbled more solidly. The stronger bass foundation gives the center channel a more anchored, less “floaty” conversation, especially with male dialogue, which feels more manly, with a bit more of that chesty resonance. Surround panning effect is more seamless and more easily located, especially the rear surround channels, which sometimes made me look back over my shoulder, because I actually thought someone behind was breathing down on me – it was that real! It happened when I was watching The Grudge, an American take on Japanese horror, like The Ring, but scarier!
Just for kicks, I played a few music SACDs and found the sound to be highly detailed, musical, rhythmically assured, smooth, and with a liquid top end. The sound staging stretched across my living lounge with good depth. I was of course, playing music through my Denon/Bose HT system. The Pioneer BDP-450 would certainly make a great audiophile SACD spinner or transport, if one has a huge collection of SACD discs.
|My Denon AVR-1612 AV receiver(top) and Pioneer BDP-450 Blu-ray/SACD player (bottom).|
It was during this time that I had to experience Cinavia anti-piracy effects on my system. After playing an offending Blu-ray disc for about 20 minutes or so, the player would mute audio output and a message would appear on screen to suggest that you”re playing an illegal disc, advising you not to adjust your system set-up menu. Apparently, most Hollywood movies released after March 2012 are Cinavia encoded. Otherwise, the Pioneer played each and every legitimate disc or otherwise with no problems whatsoever.
Another area I liked about the BDP-450 is the quick start-up feature and fast disc-loading times. It took less than 20 seconds to start up each time from sleep mode, and each time a new disc was loaded, the smooth closing tray would then take no more than 45 seconds to recognise and load the top menu of the said disc. Older players can sometimes take more than 2 minutes to load a Blu-ray disc top menu upon closing of disc drawer.
I think the Pioneer BDP-450 will do well in a 3D-capable HT system, where the feature is used often enough. It”s a player that truly offers a step up in terms of audio and video performance from the entry-level units with higher build quality to boot. Audiophiles looking for a reliable CD/SACD transport would not be disappointed with it either. However, for those with budget AV systems, the entrylevel BDP-150 should still offer better cost-to-performance ratio.
Pioneer products are available at all appointed dealers nation wide.