Searching for some more natural material on Blu-ray Disc, I flipped in Eight Below, a Disney movie about abandoned sled dogs fending for themselves in the Antarctic. Wide shots of a scientist and his guide traversing the ice revealed a remarkable depth, with a wide range of subtle white highlights coming across as the sun broke through the clouds. The reds and yellows of their parkas also looked appealingly vivid, as did the eerie green and blue shadows emanating from surrounding ice formations.
Checking these discs against a Sony PS3 that I had on hand for comparison, the Pioneer's picture looked cleaner and had a more dynamic contrast range. I'd like to think that the BDP-HD1's 24-fps output made a contribution here, but it's hard to say - as much as I searched, I couldn't find a good example where this feature visibly eliminated so-called "judder" from the picture. Other tests that I performed showed the Pioneer to have a satisfyingly crisp 720p-format video output as well, although its component-video picture was comparatively soft when playing Blu-ray Discs, with the image literally looking only a notch sharper than regular DVD. Speaking of DVD, the Pioneer's superb upconversion of discs in that format made them a pleasure to watch.
Although the BDP-HD1 lacks built-in decoding for advanced audio formats, the core Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks on the movies I watched sounded really good (a data-rate increase for both formats on Blu-ray delivers a noticeable quality boost). For example, in a scene from X-Men: The Last Stand where Magneto (Ian McKellen) liberates Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) from a security convoy, the impact of vehicles jettisoned from the highway with a flick of Magneto's wrist sounded incredibly dynamic. And a jazz number sung by skeletons in Corpse Bride was wide and enveloping, with the brass instruments and vibraphone sounding both full and crisp.
BOTTOM LINE If your main goal is getting top-notch video performance from a Blu-ray Disc player, Pioneer's BDP-HD1 is the one to buy. Of the four players I've tested so far, this model was by far the picture-quality standout. But compared to the other available models out there, it's light on features, including some real no-brainers like audio CD playback. Would I spend $1,500 on a Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray Disc player? Given its current limitations, I can't say I'd be champing at the bit. But early adopters are a single-minded lot, which is why Pioneer will undoubtedly move its stock of BDP-HD1s into high-end home theaters as fast as it can produce them.
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