Compared with other players we've tested, Pioneer charges a high premium for its Elite BDP-95FD--US$1000 (as of 4/24/08), or more than twice the price of some players we've reviewed. The price would make sense if you were paying by the pound: This sucker is heavy (14.3 pounds).
This model tied with the Sharp BD-HP20U for the best audio of the six players tested. Its image output impressed our jurors on many criteria, and it achieved a rating of Very Good for its performance on our color quality and detail tests.
The player faltered, though, on our brightness and contrast tests: Our jury found the images a bit on the dark side, which hurt its score. This was especially true in the night sequences of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (standard-definition DVD, chapter 22) and The Searchers (Blu-ray Disc, chapter 20). The darkness often resulted in a loss of detail--we could barely see the faces in The Searchers' day-for-night scene. But when the video wasn't too dark, this player did well at rendering details.
One disadvantage with this model: It has a sluggish start-up time. The BDP-95FD took an astounding 52 seconds to power up, followed by another 29 seconds (not bad in itself) to start playing a disc. This sluggish performance carries over to the player's overall operation. At times I'd select an option off the Pioneer's on-screen display menu with the remote and wait while nothing happened. I'd press more buttons out of frustration, wait some more--then watch as the player responded to every button I'd pressed.
Another issue: The remote has a busy design and small buttons, which makes finding what you need difficult. The lack of backlighting only intensifies this problem if you're using the remote in a darkened room. Bizarrely, the remote wastes space with a large Output Resolution control, as if you would regularly switch from 480i to 1080p in the middle of a movie.
The Pioneer's ethernet port can be used for updating the player's firmware. It also can be used for streaming media through your home network; the media adapter is DLNA-compliant. Sadly, the ethernet port cannot be used to play interactive features on BD-Live-enabled discs; this model lacks the memory support necessary for BD-Live (for accessing Internet-connected content). It also lacks Blu-ray BonusView for picture-in-picture playback.
The home media server is the BDP-95FD's one perk over competing models (only Sony's PlayStation 3 offers a media server, too). But you pay a huge premium for this unit over its competition.