Pioneer offered up one of the best home theater demos that I heard at CEDIA 2014, and was one of the few booths to have some actual surprises in store for me.
The main focus at Pioneer is on Dolby Atmos. They introduced new Elite speakers that feature additional drivers to fire the Atmos signal off the ceiling. There are benefits to the reflective approach compared to the in-ceiling speaker approach beyond avoiding extra holes and wiring. You get a more diffuse sound field and avoid hot-spots when you are directly beneath an in-ceiling speaker. However it doesn’t work if you have a ceiling that has been treated with sound absorption, which is very few of us, or ceilings that are cathedral or beyond 14’ tall. In those cases you still need the in-ceiling models.
Like their affordable speaker line, the Elite speakers are designed by Andrew Jones of TAD fame and sounded very good in the demonstration I heard. I focused mostly on the Dolby Atmos effects, but the overall sound quality is very good as well. As a reasonably affordable speaker to enter the Atmos world ($749 a pair for bookshelves, $1,398 a pair for towers) the Pioneer Elite speakers are worth an audition. They will be showing up in all the Best Buy Magnolia stores soon as well so it should be easy to go hear.
The biggest surprise from Pioneer was a new reference Blu-ray player. The BD-09 was their last reference and sported a Wolfson DAC but is a few years old. The updated BDP-88FD uses the ESS SABRE 9018 DAC that is found in the well regarded Oppo BDP-105. The Oppo is the player that Pioneer wants to beat, so it makes sense to have the same high-end audio circuitry. Just like the Oppo it uses 4 channels of the 9018 for each analog output, increasing Signal-to-Noise ratio. There are dual clocks, one at 44.1kHz and one at 48kHz, so it can pick the correct one based on the material for a more accurate signal. There are XLR and RCA outputs for the analog section, has a dedicated analog power supply, and can power down all digital sections if necessary for Pure Direct playback.
It also features a full HDMI 2.0 chipset that can upscale to 4K60 at 4:4:4 chroma subsampling instead of the 4:2:0 that current Oppo players are limited to. How much impact we will see on screen isn’t known yet but it is worth testing to find out. It also has a new feature that will require testing: a ground output so it has the same ground as your display device. These will ship this fall around the world but not until December or 2015 in the USA. It is going to retail for around $2,000 so it will really need to beat the Oppo at that price.
Pioneer also was showing their first Elite sound bar. This was brand new and still being voiced at this point, so the release is a few months off most likely. Like the previously reviewed Pioneer sound bar, it is by Andrew Jones and is a stereo model with a wireless subwoofer. This one also has Bluetooth with AptX, Optical, Coaxial, and Analog inputs but no HDMI inputs. If your TV has replaced optical with HDMI w/ ARC then this might be an issue but very few are doing that so far. Price for this is closer to $900 when it is available.