Even a cursory glance tells you that the BDP-LX91 is something special. Sporting a striking glossy finish, it sits at the very top of Pioneer's extensive BD range and offers a rare level of specification.
Lavish in the extreme, build quality is exceptional, with separate power supplies for both audio and video boards and a chassis designed to negate every known type of jitter.
Predictably, the player is no featherweight, weighing in at 14.3kg, but the low-profile buttons on the fascia help disguise the bulk. The disc mechanism is also much improved over previous models, and the BD tray feels substantial, gliding smoothly into the player.
Unlike cheaper decks, the BDPLX91 offers 7.1 analogue audio outputs for users without HDMI-equipped receivers. This generosity improves audio visual performance. One HDMI output can be routed into an amp carrying only audio for maximum fidelity.
The second can take 1080/24p video to your display. Alternatively, you can lace them both up to a screen and a projector, flipping from one to the other via the remote control.
Pioneer describes the BDP-LX91 as its first third-generation player and its top-line specifications include 12-bit colour plus a high-end video DAC.
A key element that also separates this player from the pack is the breadth and depth of its video adjustment parameters. Not only is tweaking comprehensive, Pioneer has made it relatively approachable, with modes designed for different displays (projectors, LCD or plasma) as well as a specific output optimised for its 9G Kuro plasma.
We used the player with both a plasma screen and an LCD projector and found the display presets both impressive and useful.
Other unique niceties include a localised version of Pioneer's Home Media Gallery, which enables you to browse content on home-brew BD media (of little use until Blu-ray recorders arrive in the UK), as well as DVDs and CDs.
Despite the cutting-edge technology, this is a surprisingly easy player to get along with. The onscreen user interface is intuitive and familiar, as Pioneer has implemented the same GUI design found on its current Kuro screens. The idea is to make its components easier to master as they share operating logic.
Unlike so many cheaper, rival Profile 2.0 players, you don't need to mess around with memory cards or USB sticks to download content from BD-Live sites, thanks to a generous provision of local flash memory. The machine can also have its firmware upgraded via the network connection.
On the sample we had, BD-Live had yet to be activated, but this is promised with an imminent firmware upgrade. Disc loading times are good by the format's generally sluggish standards. Not as fast as a PS3, but far superior compared to the first generation hardware.
The BDP-LX91 is able to deliver the best possible picture from Blu-ray sources. It can pull a level of detail and colour nuance from a disc which is nothing short of phenomenal; images have an almost tangible depth. All BD players look great with CGI source material, but skin tones and shadow detail are more testing; we found the LX91 peerless with every disc we played on it.
Significantly, the deck is also a rather nice DVD spinner. It does a convincing job upscaling standard-definition to 1080p, smoothing out jaggies to create a cohesive, pixel-dense image.
As with most BD players worth their salt, the LX91 can output both Dolby TrueHD and DTS HS Master Audio bitstreams over HDMI. One decent cable and you're up and away. By and large this is the best way to hook-up the player.
However, the provision of 7.1 analogue outputs shouldn't be passed over. Even if your receiver has a compatible HDMI input, it's quite likely that the DACs in your AVR will not be as accomplished as the Wolfson WM8740 audio DACs used by this player. So there could be sonic benefits to be had by avoiding the HDMI connection and using the multichannel analogue outputs when listening to movies.
It should also be noted that the LX91 is a gorgeous CD player. Not only does it feature those fabulous Wolfson DACs on every channel, it also uses a system called PQLS over HDMI.
The latter is not specific to this Pioneer model, it can be found on all the players in the brand's current range – but it is significant because it uses the CEC control path to re-clock the player with a compliant Pioneer PQLS receiver, for truly stable audio.
While only applicable to CD, PQLS is a big deal for audiophiles. For the record, this player was sound-tuned by experts at London's prestigious Air Studios.
With the price of mainstream Blu-ray players falling faster than sterling on the currency market, a manufacturer needs to offer something pretty special to justify a high-end price.
But with the BDP-LX91, Pioneer has done just that. If you're looking for hi-def kit to partner with a Kuro screen (get 'em while you can) or an enviably esoteric sound system, then this model will repay you in spades.
It's a delightfully self-indulgent AV treat for anyone not overly bothered by the credit crunch, as well as being a brilliant advertisement for the potential of the Blu-ray format.
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