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Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Disc player

Top-end performance at an affordable price

The machine also performs well with 1080p 24f/s playback bringing a genuine ‘cinema feel’ to the picture, if that's your bag.

Up-scaling standard-definition content is a key ingredient in any Blu-ray box that hopes to replace your DVD player. The Pioneer does this very well too. Up-scaled to 1080p, the flight scenes from Iron Man pop out of the screen, with Stark’s wonderfully recreated suit looking great against the blues and whites of the Sky. Should you be extra picky about video quality, the BDP-51FD lets you send the picture to a standalone up-scaler should you wish.

Pioneer BDP-51FD

Looks good in your stack

One area that sometimes gets forgotten about when talking about Blu-ray is the improved audio performance. It's actually one of the best things about the format. ‘Not available elsewhere’ downloaded BD Live scenes from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - we kid you not - is never going to drive the format. But crystal clear 5.1 or even 7.1 sound just might.

Pioneer has gifted the BDP-51FD with high-end Wolfson DACs as well as jitter reduction circuits. Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS-HD High Resolution and DTS-HD Master Audio can all be catered for. We tried a bit of AC/DC Live at Donnington - a regular favorite at Reg Hardware. This is a great Blu-ray Disc visually: the 25 cameras - one of them on a helicopter - that captured the event, really bring out the show's scale and complexity. Angus Young's trademark huge chunky riffs and manic guitar solos are given full flight here in a 5.1 mix.

Incidentally, it'll also play discs containing MP3 and WMA audio files, and HD content encoded in the camcorder-oriented AVCHD format. It'll play DivX content too.

Verdict

This machine does pretty much everything well. The GUI is easy to follow and gives quick and intuitive access to the unit’s considerable power and surefooted delivery. The £350 price tag is about right for the machine’s spec and performance level.

If you are going to buy into Blu-ray, the sound and video has to be different enough from DVD for it to feel worth the effort and cost of upgrading. That's not the case with some cheap machines, but the Pioneer delivers an experience which is a big enough step up from DVD to make the transition a worthwhile one. ®

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Pioneer BDP-51FD

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray Disc player

Pioneer cures some of its blues with this highly capable and affordable Blu-ray player.
Price: £399 RRP