"Submitted for your approval: An eclectic videophile, who should have known better, was lured deeper into the rabbit hole by the promise of prettier pictures and more robust, immersive surround sound. With the entrance to the rabbit hole now appearing as a pinprick of starlight against a dark sky, rational thought told him that what he already had was fine. Unfortunately, yielding to rational thought is not a dominant videophile trait and he kept going further...into The Blu-Ray Zone."
Now that Blu-ray players are, as my grandmother used to say, "cheap as a nickel whistle", I thought about replacing the venerable old Sony DVP-S9000ES DVD player in my home office with one of those cheapies. That thought resided in my head for about a nano-second before I had a more inspired thought: move the Sony BDP-S2000ES BR player from the home theater to the home office and acquire a higher performance BR player.
I noted with interest that some Sony Blu-ray loyalists, a few of whom owned the BDP-S2000ES ($1,300 MSRP), did not opt for Sony's latest flagship BR player, the BDP-S5000ES ($2,000 MSRP) when they decided to upgrade. They opted for, and subsequently raved about, Pioneer's flagship BR player, the BDP-09FD ($2,200 MSRP). How heretical.
Figure 1. I was looking forward to a nice evening out...and then this arrived. I almost called in sick, but testosterone always
trumps gear geekdom.
BDP-09FD Build Quality: A Return To The Faith Once Delivered
Figure 2. Upgraded to Elite status: The BDP-09FD's electronics are encased in thick sheets of aluminum and steel.
Figure 3. Two HDMI inputs. One goes to my plasma TV. The other would have been used for digital audio output if I had an
HDMI capable preamp/processor (Pioneer brochure photo).
Ohhhhhhhh OK, now I get it. Long time Sony ES enthusiasts, by that I mean the ones who were around when ES actually stood for "Elevated Standard", are digging this player's substantial build quality which results in an overall weight of 30.5 pounds. The BDP-09FD is ruggedly built with extensive mechanical vibration abatement and electrical noise reduction technologies. Particular attention was paid to the reduction of timing error (jitter).
Figure 4. BDP-09FD exploded view. The drawer closes with a solid muted "thunk" sound (Pioneer brochure photo).
The inside of the BDP-09FD, particularly that big, beefy power supply, is more like that of a high end preamp than a Blu-ray disc player. The only things I didn't like about the BDP-09FD's build features were the ceramic power line fuses, one of which was a soldered-in axial lead fuse. Axial lead fuses are used to save time, money, and board space. An axial lead fuse only involves hand placing one component. A regular fuse in a clip type holder requires the placement of three components, plus the proper alignment of the two fuse holder clips. The ceramic fuses were replaced by HiFi Tuning audio grade fuses after 50 hours of play time.
Figure 5. The BDP-09FD is encased in a handsome brushed aluminum top and polished aluminum side and front plates.
Figure 6. Under the aluminum top plate is another steel cover.
Figure 7. The steel under cover wraps around the sides of the unit. Note the mirror finish on the face plate.
Figure 8. Most Blu-ray player cases have mostly empty space. This one is crammed with multiple levels of circuit boards.
Figure 9. The power supply consists of a three level assembly. The main power input and toroid levels are shown here.
Figure 10. The power supply's third level contained an obnoxious soldered-in axial lead fuse (in front of yellow wiring harness
Operational Specifics And Setup
The boot time (time between turn on and the player becoming responsive to commands) was around 30 seconds, which was half the 1 minute required by the Sony BDP-S2000ES. The disc loading times were the same as the BDP-S2000ES: 10 to 35 seconds depending on the type of disc (CD, DVD or Blu-ray).
I had already downloaded the manual prior to the unit's arrival and had found other good setup tips on various Internet forums. I was up and running in 15 minutes. My unit came with version 2.24 firmware and I downloaded the version 2.46 firmware update after initial setup and a couple of hours of playback. The 2.46 firmware update includes the capability for DTS-HD Master Audio decoding.
The remote control is attractive, well laid out, and measures 9-3/8" long by 1-3/4" wide by 1" thick. It had a hefty, solid feel in my hand and weighed 1/3 pound. The remote's plastic body is clad in a bushed aluminum faceplate with phosphor-luminescent keys. The jog wheel, and the four keys surrounding it, are silver metal.
Video Performance (Prior To Fuse Changes)
I had some concern that the BDP-09FD might be overkill for my modest home theater system with its three year old 720p plasma TV. As soon as the "Casino Royale" Blu-ray started up, those concerns were shown to be unfounded. I was now seeing more overall fine detail, more vibrant color, more detail in dark scenes, a little deeper blacks and more depth (visual perspective) in the picture compared to the Sony BDP-S2000ES. All these improvements were apparent to a lesser degree with upscaled standard DVD's.
I decided to revisit "better" HDMI cables to see if more visual detail could be squeezed out of the BDP-09FD. I picked up an 8 foot Monster ($130) and an 8 foot Rocketfish ($85) high speed HDMI cable to compare to my "ordinary" $20 two year old Acoustic Research HDMI cable.
I paused the picture on a closeup of Daniel Craig's face and swapped back and forth among the three cables. I could not see any difference. I also took high resolution pictures of the screen and compared them and still could not see a difference. A portion of a low resolution version of the scene's screen capture is shown in figure 12. The camera was positioned 4 feet from the TV.
Figure 11. The visual observations and screen captures of this scene from "Casino Royale" were identical among the Acoustic
Research ($20), Monster Cable ($130), and Rocketfish ($85) HDMI cables.
Figure 12. Still no love, or need, for expensive HDMI cables. These were returned to the store.
My plasma TV is only compliant with the HDMI 1.1 specification. I might have seen a difference among the HDMI cables with a newer, larger screen television that was compliant with the current HDM1 1.3 specification and that had higher 1080p resolution. Then again, from what I have gleaned from reading the experiences of others with recently manufactured higher resolution displays...maybe not.
I appreciated the BDP-09FD's Home Media Gallery feature which allows the playing of Divx and AVI format movie files, MP3 and Windows Media Audio 9 audio files, and JPEG picture files.
Audio Performance (Prior To Fuse Changes)
Whereas the BDP-09FD Blu-ray visual performance over the BDP-S2000ES was significant, its audio improvements over the BDP-S2000ES were night and day, particularly with regard to the weight and detail of the center image. This night and day audio difference applied to both standard DVD's and Blu-ray's. The BDP-09FD generated a larger, more focused, and more detailed sound stage for both movies and music. The sound from the surround and front speakers was heavier, more detailed and more seamlessly integrated with the sound from the center speakers and subwoofer. There was also more of a sense of the center image being "locked" in place, even if I moved my head to either side from the sweet spot.
Two channel music playback (CD, SACD) is the best I have ever heard from my home theater system. It was so surprisingly good that I did not listen to my dedicated two channel system for a few days after acquiring the BDP-09FD. The BDP-09FD's sound quality difference was surprising since the output was being output as a linear pulse code modulated (LPCM) signal to the Sony TA-E9000ES pre/pro, where the Sony's ancient DAC's provided analog output to my power amps. Apparently, the TA-E9000ES (which went to market in 1995 and was discontinued in 2003) is a much better two channel preamplifier than I had given it credit for.