Pioneer Elite BDP-88FD Blu-ray Player Review


Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High-quality 4K video upconversion
Superb detail enhancement and noise reduction
Excellent digital-to-analog audio conversion
Minus
As pricey as it is heavy
Slim feature set compared with competition

THE VERDICT
Pioneer’s flagship 4K-upconverting universal disc player is something special, even if it’s late to the party.

What’s new in the world of Blu-ray? 4K, that’s what. Expected to arrive sometime in late 2015, the UHD Blu-ray format should offer not just UHD-resolution video but also high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities, an extended color gamut, and up to 16-bit color encoding, among other advanced features. Something to get excited about, right?

Now that I’ve dropped that tidbit, let me tell you about the Pioneer Elite BDP-88FD, a universal player that can handle Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, SACD, DVD-Audio, regular DVDs, and CDs—just about everything except UHD Blu-ray. And it lists for $2,000. Excited? No? Well, let’s see if we can work you up.

Pioneer’s latest, greatest BD player has Marvell Qdeo processing and can upscale video signals to 4K/60p resolution with 4:4:4/24-bit color. Along with the disc formats listed above, it can play up to 192/24 FLAC files from an attached USB drive or stream them via DLNA.

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The BDP-88FD has dual HDMI outputs so you can send video and audio signals out separately to a display and a receiver/preamp. There’s no multichannel analog output, but the player does have a fancy ESS Sabre32 DAC to feed its balanced and RCA stereo analog outputs.

At nearly 30 pounds, Pioneer’s flagship is crazy heavy for a Blu-ray player. That’s because it has a double-layered chassis and a tri-chamber interior (with separate compartments for power supply, digital processing, and audio circuits) and is designed to minimize vibration through sheer mass. The care put into the construction of the BDP- 88FD is instantly apparent when you first open the disc tray: In contrast to cheap BD players, where the platter lurches out clumsily after you press Open, the Pioneer’s tray glides out smoothly and confidently like the sunroof of a luxury car. The player has an elegant look to match, with a black, brushed-aluminum front panel and only a choice selection of the most essential control buttons.

The slender remote control has a backlit keypad and includes buttons to carry out most functions without requiring you to visit the player’s surprisingly spartan onscreen menus. One key, labeled YouTube, whisks you directly to the BDP-88FD’s lone streaming video option. (The player doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi, so you’ll need to buy an optional dongle to wirelessly stream those cat and swimming baby videos you love—admit it.) Other buttons of note include Short Skip, which jumps 30 seconds forward, and Replay, which jumps 10 seconds back.

Setup
I evaluated the BDP-88FD’s video performance using a Sony VPL-VW350ES 4K-resolution projector and an 80-inch-wide screen. A Marantz SR6004 A/V receiver and a GoldenEar Technology speaker system handled the audio chores. The player provides a range of presets in its Video P. menu—accessed by pressing the Video P. button on the remote—such as modes for content captured with digital cinema, conventional film, and regular HD video cameras. Picture modes are further grouped into Projector and Flat-panel categories.

I didn’t see much difference when switching between the Pioneer’s PJ Film and Digital Cinema modes, though I did flip regularly between them based on which movie clip I was watching. The player’s adjustment menu also provides an extensive range of noise reduction and detail enhancement settings, including a Super Resolution slider that only works when video is being upscaled for 4K output. Used sparingly, this proved very effective with otherwise soft-looking film-based content, punching up detail without adding any ringing noise.

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Images scaled up to 4K by the Pioneer looked uniformly great on the Sony projector. Its performance was certainly on par with that of my Oppo BDP-105 player, which also features 4K upconversion with Marvell Qdeo processing. The best example of how well the BDP-88FD worked to squeeze every last drop of detail from Blu-rays came in an A/B test I performed during my recent review of the Sony. Switching between footage from The Amazing Spider-Man on Blu-ray and the same content in actual native 4K from a Sony 4K Media Player, I found it nearly impossible to detect any differences while seated 8 feet away. It was only when I moved my face close up to the screen that I could see the detail advantage provided by the actual 4K source.

Pioneer also positions the BDP-88FD as an audiophile CD/SACD player, outfitting it with a balanced stereo output instead of a multichannel analog one. To that end, the player has a Direct mode (accessible by pressing a button on the front panel or on the remote control), which turns off video and digital audio outputs to eliminate any possible interference with analog audio performance.

When I compared the BDP-88FD with my circa-2005 Sony CD/SACD player, the differences weren’t subtle. The Pioneer’s sound had notably greater presence and was less veiled. Transients displayed superior clarity and snap, and imaging was wider and less constrained than what I heard from the Sony.

Listening to “Blues Dream” from Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, I noted how Frisell’s guitar sounded wonderfully full and fleshed-out, and the shimmer of Jones’s lightly brushed ride cymbal came through with detail and air intact. Bass, too, was solid and well defined.

On “Wrapped Around Your Finger” from the SACD of the Police’s Every Breath You Take: The Classics, drummer Stewart Copeland’s crisp, expressive fills sounded vivid, especially in counterpoint to the song’s sleepy, dub-like pace. Layers of guitar, keyboards, and percussion in the relatively expansive mix also had a clear sense of separation and depth.

Conclusion
Pioneer’s BDP-88FD is an excellent universal player. Built like a brick house. Equipped with outstanding 4K video upconversion. Capable of making CDs and SACDs sound awesome. That said, as much as I appreciate Pioneer’s flagship, I find it hard to recommend buying a $2,000-listed universal player when the UHD Blu-ray format is due out in just a matter of months (we hope). Even if I considered the Pioneer based solely on audio performance, my music-listening habits have largely migrated to computer and streaming audio. Like many other folks, I find that it’s a rare day when I play an actual CD, let alone an SACD.

Complicating the situation further is Oppo’s BDP-105D universal player, which, at $1,299, is a considerably better buy than the Pioneer. Similar to the BDP-88FD, the Oppo provides 4K video upconversion with Marvell Qdeo processing. But it adds all of the following: Darbee Visual Presence technology, dual HDMI inputs (so other sources in your system can take advantage of the player’s high-quality upscaling/processing), 7.1-channel analog outputs, a USB Asynchronous DAC input, and a headphone amp output that takes advantage of the ESS Sabre32 DAC. Oh, and it has Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora plus a Roku-ready MHL input for additional audio/video streaming content.

Pioneer or Oppo? Or just wait for those UHD Blu-ray players to arrive later this year? I know what I’d do, but if you’re set on a universal player that simply provides superior upconverted 4K video and killer CD/SACD playback, Pioneer’s BDP-88FD won’t disappoint.

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COMMENTS
jnemesh's picture

Nice player, but "late to the party" is an understatement! With only MONTHS until UHD Blu-Ray players hit the market, NO ONE should be buying this player! (unless you are never going to upgrade to a UHD display, I guess)

Rich67's picture

Not only is UHD on the horizon, which I feel only matters because of HDR, but for a mere $1400 less you can get an OPPO 103D. The OPPO at least duplicates or possibly surpasses this player's performance.

goldar's picture

No sure how Pioneer can even offer this for $2000 with a straight face with the Oppo BDP-105D on the market.

jewlz's picture

The Pioneer Elite® BDP-88FD HDMI 2.0 4K@50/60Hz 10,12 and16bit.
The Oppo BDP-105D Darbee Edition HDMI 1.4a 4K@30Hz.
http://www.hdmi.org/manufacturer/hdmi_2_0/hdmi_2_0_faq.aspx
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI

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isha's picture
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