Update Tuesday December 12, 2006: Sony Issues A Statement On The Source Of Its BDP-S1 Blu-ray Player  (It appears at the end of this review)

The Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Pioneer’s first and the industry’s most advanced to date, just arrived along with the Elite PRO-FHD1` 50” 1080p Plasma monitor, which served as the review display. The BDP-HD1 incorporates a number of exclusive Blu-ray player firsts, including an Ethernet jack for downloading future firmware updates and a built-in Home Media Gallery that when interfaced with your home network allows PC-stored content playback on your HDTV.
Unlike the Sony BDP-S1’s unusual reflective blue faceplate, the Elite sports the line’s traditional piano black gloss finish. Like the Sony, Pioneer locates the transport controls on the front panel (play, stop etc.), duplicating all major remote functions underneath a pull down door—a convenience feature the Sony lacks. The Sony and the Pioneer share identical rear panels save for the presence of the Pioneer’s RJ-45 Ethernet jack and the Sony’s fan vent. 
 Commencing set-up made clear that there were more similarities between the BDP-HD1 and Sony’s BDP-S1 than just the rear panel, as the two share identical on-screen instruction graphics, looks, placement and some fonts. The open drawer revealed the two players use the same disc drive as well, leading me to ask a Pioneer representative who builds its player. I was assured that Pioneer builds its player, including the drive, which makes it clear that Pioneer also builds Sony’s player.
With 1080p/24 frame output previously selected via the BDP-HD1’s set-up procedure, boot-up time from “off” to playback of a previously inserted Blu-ray disc was 1 minute 25 seconds. With the player “on,” start time was, like the Sony, 34 seconds.
 Feature for feature and function for function, the Pioneer and the Sony were identical with the exception of the Pioneer’s Home Media Player, which permits the BDP-HD1 to access and play PC content streamed over a home network, including standard and high definition video files (Mpeg 1, Mpeg 2 and Windows Media Video HD/VC-1). In addition, the BDP-HD1 can access and deliver PC music content (.wma, .mp3 and .wav files) to your audio system, as well as photos in the JPEG, PNG or GIF formats. Time constraints prevented the HD Guru from sampling the Home Media system at this time. Watch for an updated blog entry.
Pioneer’s BDP-HD1 and Sony’s BDP-S1 can play the same DVD formats (see the list in the Sony BDP-S1 review) though, according to a Pioneer spokesperson, the BDP-HD1 also plays BD-R/RE recordable discs, something Sony’s player currently cannot.
Audio format playback capabilities are identical as well, meaning the Pioneer, like the Sony, will not play CDs. However, while Pioneer’s manual clearly states that the BDP-HD plays back DTS’s lossless DTS-HD format as standard compressed DTS, and does likewise with Dolby TruHD and Dolby Digital Plus (playing them back as compressed Dolby Digital), Sony’s BDP-S1 manual woefully fails to say so.
I compared the Pioneer and Sony players (each set for 1080p/24 fps output) connected via HDMI inputs to Pioneer’s PRO-FHD1 set to SMPTE standard using a Sencore 403 signal generator also set to 1080p/24.
SMPTE color bars found within the “Easter egg” on the “Talladega Nights” Blu-ray disc (accessed from the disc menu by pressing top menu on the remote control followed by 7669 + enter) allowed adjustment of both players’ video controls (white level, black level, color and hue) to SMPTE standards as well. Once so adjusted, both players will pass “blacker than black” signals.
Source material consisted of synched duplicates of “The Fifth Element” and “Memento.” Switching back and forth between the players with either disc and viewed at a two-foot distance from the plasma display produced identical images in terms of color reproduction, sharpness and other commonly used video criteria—hardly surprising since the two machines are for all intents and purposes identical. The images looked fantastic on both players.  
The Pioneer’s updatability via the internet is a big plus. All other current players require you to wait for it to arrive via mail. While looks are subjective, the HD Guru prefers the Pioneer’s more conventional appearance. Add the Home Media capability and two-year warranty (double that of competitors) and for many buyers, the $500 price premium ($1500 retail compared to Sony’s $1000) will be well worth the added expenditure. The Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 earns the top ♥♥♥♥ HD Guru rating. 

12/12/06 A Sony spokesperson has emailed the HD Guru the following statement: “At this early stage of Blu-ray player development there are only very few technology suppliers capable of offering components that could be used in the construction of the BDP-S1. It stands to reason that we have sourced key components from similar vendors, however, the design and development of the BDP-S1 was done by Sony.”  

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