Pioneer BDP-LX70 review

A stunning performer, but not quite a flawless HD solution

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Our Verdict

While the LX70 is a spectacularly good performer, it's impossible not to feel that you're better waiting for Pioneer's second generation deck

For

  • The best-performing Blu-ray player yet

    1080p/24 output

Against

  • Not cheap

    No HDMI 1.3

    Not BD Profile 1.1 compatible

The first flurry of HD players having left a seriously mixed impression, the pressure is on the next batch to really make an impact. And of all the players making their debuts, few have raised higher expectations for us than Pioneer's offering, which is arguably the UK's first truly 'premium' Blu-ray deck.

The LX70 is beautifully built, with a gorgeous, minimalist design and its terrifically opulent and robust finish promises high-quality innards.

It initially looks well connected, too. Obviously there are the de rigueur HDMI and component video outputs, but you also get two digital audio outputs (one optical, the other coaxial), a 5.1-channel audio line-out able to deliver Dolby TrueHD to a suitable AV receiver, control-in and IR-out jacks for system integration and a LAN jack.

This is used, uniquely, in the current HD player world, to deliver a healthy variety of audio and image formats from a connected PC, all handled with total assurance by Pioneer's Home Media Gallery software.

However, there is one significant shortcoming to report: the HDMI is only v1.2 where we'd have expected a new, high-end Blu-ray player to have the v1.3 connection, especially since Pioneer's new plasmas have v1.3 HDMI inputs. Without this version there's no way of digitally distributing HD audio formats, no auto lip synching and no 'Deep Colour' extended colour palette functions.

At least the HDMI provided is compatible with the industry's CEC standard, permitting control of multiple HDMI-connected CEC devices with just the one remote.

Also, very significantly, the HDMI can ship out the 1080/24p HD image format. This matters because it's the format most movies are encoded in when mastered to Blu-ray discs, so the LX70 is effectively outputting pictures in the 'purest' form possible.

Pioneer, again uniquely, offers a fully rounded 'HD story' by not only making sure new plasma TVs can take the LX70's 1080/24p outputs, but also by fitting those sets with a 72Hz scanning mode for simpler and less messy '3:3' conversion of the incoming 24Hz images.

This feature, more than any other, could potentially justify the LX70's £1,000 price tag, especially if you also have a recent Pioneer plasma.

The LX70 upscales SD discs to 1080p too, and unlike a couple of its HD rivals, plays a mean CD.

However, it does not play CD-R or -RW discs, and far more disturbingly, it isn't compatible with the BD Profile 1.1.

This latter issue means the LX70 is launching at a very unfortunate time, since just days before the deck arrived in our hands, the Blu-ray Disc Association announced that the BD Profile 1.1 would become mandatory on all Blu-ray players released after October this year.

This new Profile adds BD Java functions to the Blu-ray spec, permitting such extra features as picture-in-picture director's commentaries. So players such as the LX70, face the very real likelihood of not being able to access all the extra features on future discs.

Meanwhile, the LX70's onscreen menus are excellent: prettily presented and logically organised and they're supported by the CEC system that works well.

However, the zapper isn't particularly well laid out and some of the buttons feel small. Plus, the LX70 can be tremendously slow and takes around 35 seconds to start playing a disc once you've inserted it, and this even increases to well north of a minute if you're using the player from standby.

The disappointments raised by the omission of a couple of significant features are thankfully countered by its outstanding picture quality.

This is especially true when using the 1080/24p output mode into a Pioneer TV set to 72Hz. The picture looks phenomenally sharp and detailed thanks to the purity of the HD signal 'journey'. The image also looks remarkably free of noise, and movement across the screen looks slightly smoother and more natural than it does on other brands of TV.

Switching to a non-Pioneer TV, although motion judder and noise levels do increase, the picture remains better than the majority of other HD player images we've seen.

The LX70 also excels in other areas, reproducing some terrifically vivid colours and pitch-perfect black levels and consistently delivering a sense of solidity and fluidity that's pure cinema.

What's more, its upscaling of standard-definition DVDs proves to be considerably more able than that of most HD players and even adds genuine extra sharpness with little in the way of upscaling noise.

Happily Pioneer's heritage as a hi-fi brand has not been forgotten in the quest for beautiful HD pictures. Movie soundtracks enjoy immense clarity and dynamism, while the audio quality of the LX70's playback of CDs is good enough to rival a good mid-range CD player.

In one sense £1,000 doesn't seem a crazy amount to pay for the best-performing Blu-ray player yet - especially if you already own a recent Pioneer plasma TV and so can get the most from its 1080/24p talents. But it does seem a lot for a deck that lacks an HDMI 1.3 jack and won't, therefore, play all the features of future Blu-ray discs.