The Pioneer DV-LX50 is the company's latest high-end DVD spinner, which typically comes equipped with everything bar the kitchen sink.
And as per its predecessors, the build quality is immaculate, constructed in a sturdy double-layered chassis that allows the disc mechanism and optical pick up to operate with maximum stability. It is also beautifully styled in glossy, piano black.
Pioneer was the first company to launch a DVD player that could play DVD-Audio and SACD and we're glad to see them sticking with the idea today.
The unit also boasts compatibility with a wide range of compressed media files, with a list that includes the usual suspects (DiVX, MP3, WMA, JPEG) plus a couple of more non-standard formats, WMV and non-copy protected MPEG4 AAC files.
The player will also display hi-res JPEGs without dropping them down to DVD resolution.
Upscalijng to 1080p
The player upscales DVDs to 1080p, 1080i or 720p depending on the resolution requirements of your display.
Upscaled pictures are supplied by the HDMI output on the rear, which also supports CEC technology so that you can control this deck with the remote of an HDMI-equipped TV. It's joined by component, S-video and composite outputs plus an RGB-capable Scart.
For audio playback, there's a set of 5.1-channel analogue outputs that feed decoded Dolby Digital/DTS soundtracks or DVD-A/SACD material to the corresponding inputs on your receiver.
Completing the audio array are optical and electrical digital outputs plus a pair of analogue phonos for stereo purists, who will welcome the Pure Audio mode that shuts off the video circuitry to reduce interference.
DVD audio adjustments
As the deck is aimed at serious videophiles, there are plenty of picture tweaks, grouped under the Video Adjust menu. You can adjust sharpness, brightness, contrast, gamma, hue, chroma level and block noise reduction.
Sonic pedants can also fine tune the audio performance using the bass management functions.
Our only complaint concerning features is the absence of a USB port for plugging in flash memory drives, which means you can only play compressed media files from discs. But in every other way this is one of the most talented DVD decks we've ever encountered.
DVD decks still have the edge over their slow-loading HD counterparts, a point emphatically proved by the DV-LX50.
Pioneer's trusty Home Menu interface is once again at the hub of this deck's operating system and it's wonderfully easy to use and is responsive to remote commands, enabling you to set up the player with no hassle.
Even the more complex setup tweaks, such as the video or bass management adjustments, are presented with simplicity in mind. The remote is also well designed, with thoughtful arrangement of frequently used keys and clear labelling.
As close to HD as possible
With The Return of the King in the disc tray we're pleased to report that the LX50 effortlessly lives up to our high expectations.
The deck's refined video processing conjures up the kind of luxurious pictures that characterise high calibre decks like this, and while these clearly aren't hi-def images, its 1080p upscaling drags the picture as close to HD as is technologically possible.
For instance, the crystal clear reproduction makes Sméagol's transformation into Gollum in The Return of the King look more graphic than ever, while the frequent CG shots of castles and creatures are rendered with admirable clarity.
The deck also delivers deep blacks and also has the skill to pick out shadow detail within dark objects, making them seem almost three dimensional. And strongly saturated colours greatly enhance the movie's gorgeous scenery.
Sensational with SACD
The DV-LX50 shatters the notion that DVD players can't deliver stereo sound quality as well as a dedicated CD player, with smooth and sprightly playback of songs across a variety of genres.
But with hi-res discs, like the SACD version of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On, the quality goes through the roof, with Marvin's perfectly reproduced voice sending shivers down the spine.
Movie playback is also thrilling and completes the player's solid sonic performance, whether you opt for its built-in decoders or pipe the digital bitstream to your receiver.
If you're not done with standard-definition yet...
Judging the Pioneer DV-LX50's value is a tricky one.
On one hand, we feel uneasy awarding five stars to a DVD player that costs more than most Blu-ray or HD DVD players. But on the other, when compared to other high end DVD decks on the market, it's great value for money, pairing high quality AV performance with a comprehensive feature list.
This rosta combines with a performance that's similar to the lauded Denon DVD-2930, but at a lower price.
And although it can't deliver proper high-definition pictures, you'll be hard pressed to find an HD deck that can play as many media formats as the Pioneer DV-LX50.
In short, this is a great choice for those that aren't ready to give up on standard-definition DVD just yet.