Last May Pioneer told us that autumn would bring a "super duper" Blu-ray player—the most powerful Blu-ray player ever built. It makes up for the current crop, which are lower in price but are missing key features like BD-Live for internet-based content. Well, not a leaf has fallen off a tree, yet here it is already, the $2,200 Elite BDP-09FD. Feature-wise, the best Blu-ray player on the market has been the PS3—turns out, an extra $1,700 will buy you something that kills Sony's game console as far as Blu-ray and other media are concerned.
As you probably guessed, Pioneer finally accepts the need for 2.0. This will come with Ethernet and be fully capable of BD-Live playback, no firmware updates needed at the get-go. Unlike other BD-Live players, which require SD cards, this one comes with 4GB of internal memory for downloads. The thing is a Mack truck, 45 or 50 lbs. of steel and aluminum with everything mounted carefully to eliminate vibration. The bottom layer of the aluminum-housed chassis is a quarter-inch plate of solid steel, and it's even got feet from a Japanese company called TAOC, supposedly the most vibration-free platform you can get. There are no wires inside either; all connections are physically mounted from the circuit board to the walls to reduce noise. Pioneer says all of the engineering is so that this can be a single box that replaces some home theater snob's high-end CD player, DVD player and previous-gen Blu-ray player, blowing each in turn out of the water. In the audio department, Pioneer recommends using this for decoding all music and movie soundtrack, and going analog out with those gold-plated 7.1 RCA jacks. It's decodes all known codecs from DTS and Dolby using a separate digital-to-analog converter for each channel. This is a little like having a separate motor for each wheel of your car. Combining this with some crazy audio engineering, they created a way for "completely perfect noise-free signal" to come through RCA jacks instead of the costlier old-school XLR jacks. "It's far better than what you find in most receivers," says Pioneer's Chris Walker. In fact, everything, including speaker preferences and other receiver-like tweaks, are adjustable from inside the player. It's also got that crazy CD-playback technique first seen on Pioneer's summer models: When used with certain Pioneer receivers, it produces jitter-free disc playback. In terms of video, it has 1080p/24 for Blu-ray and DVD content too, as you might expect, with a best-on-the-market image processor also found in Meridian's crazy 10-megapixel projector. The 09's next-level achievement is that it upconverts color information to 16 bits, previously unheard of because nobody had a system that could handle 16-bit color data. (Pioneer had to build their own for this mission.) That means that each picture can have up to "2,800 trillion" (um, 2.8 quadrillion??) colors, which the processor interpolates by looking at each frame of the Blu-ray's 8-bit color movie. Though most TVs only process 10-bit, Walker says that it's better to send over a richer signal that the TV has to tone down, than letting the TV upgrade the Blu-ray data itself. When TVs hit 16-bit, this sucka will be ready. Cooler to me are the two HDMI jacks on the back. It's a first for a Blu-ray player (or PS3), and it means you can hook up the same player to both your projector and your flat-panel display without a splitter or some on-the-fly rewiring. You can even split it up so that HDMI 1 only does audio, while HDMI 2 does video, freeing up more video bandwidth, especially in those pesky longer cables that might get a bit choked. The HDMI can detect the source, and automatically determine what audio and video to send over. Obviously, some people are going to be content with their PS3s for the time being (after all, they are only $500, a small price by comparison). And Walker acknowledges that speed is always going to be the saving grace of the game console. ("If we were to build a Blu-ray player around an Intel or Cell processor, we'd have those kinds of speeds too.") But as far as picture and audio output, nothing quite resembles this "super duper" machine. And on top of all that, we can stop bitching about Pioneer ignoring BD-Live, and getting on with the future. Now, seriously, why would ANYONE buy Pioneer's last batch? Save your money, home-theater snobs. This badass will be out soon. [Pioneer]