Pioneer BDP-LX71 review: Pioneer BDP-LX71

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The Good Picture and sound quality. Styling is symmetrical and lovely. Great selection of outputs including 7.1 audio.

The Bad It's quite big. Expensive. Only Profile 1.1. No internal DTS-HD decoding (yet).

The Bottom Line The Pioneer LX71 is a great Blu-ray player, despite a slow loading speed for interactive discs and the high price.

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8.5 Overall

Review Sections

The BDP-LX71 screams quality and at AU$1300 we should hope so, too. It's an excellent player with superb picture and sound quality. It has wonderfully simple menu systems that are a breeze to configure and we love the connectivity options. If money is no object, and you already have a Pioneer TV, you should buy one. If you're in recession mode, perhaps a Panasonic DMP-BD35 might be more suitable.

Some people are of the opinion that Blu-ray players are over-priced. If that's you, you should consider stop reading now, because the Pioneer BDP-LX71 is the most expensive standalone player we've reviewed in the last year. We're keen to point out, however, that not all Blu-ray players are created equal, and just because this one costs more than a ski weekend in New Zealand, it doesn't automatically make it bad value.

The Pioneer BDP-LX71 is actually good value when compared to markets such as the UK, where at £600 it equates to AU$1500, but we've even seen it available locally for AU$1199. While it still may not strike many people as a bargain, this is designed to be a high-end player rather than the sort of thing you'll buy from Aldi. The question we'll try to answer in this review is if it's worth the money.

Design
Although the Pioneer is around twice the height of most modern Blu-ray players and about two-thirds taller than the average DVD player (420mm wide by 124mm high by 360mm deep), it's still a smart-looking device. Pioneer has a particular standard it sticks to with home-cinema equipment — you'll find that its AV receivers and DVD/Blu-ray players all fit together beautifully and are designed to work better with each other than by mixing and matching components.

The remote is the same style as all Pioneer controllers — it's long, substantial and feels hefty. Unlike previous metal TV remotes this one is made out of plastic, so it doesn't quite have the same authority or burglar-beating credentials. It's still pleasant to use and well laid-out.

The front of the player is well-designed. Despite its size, the finish has a classy, expensive look and everything feels durable. Pioneer obviously put some effort into symmetry, because the player is perfectly balanced, with the power button on the left mirrored on the right by an identical 'play' button.

Crucially, the Pioneer has every kind of output you'll ever need. Obviously there's an HDMI socket, which will be the best way for you to get high-definition 1080p video to your television. You also get component video out, S-video and even composite outputs, although we're not sure how many people would use them.

Most impressive though, is the inclusion of analogue 7.1 audio outputs. These take the form of RCA jacks and enable you to pass decoded audio from Blu-ray to an AV receiver. This is handy if you don't want to use HDMI for audio, or your receiver doesn't support the latest lossless codecs.

There are also coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, but those won't be much use for HD sound, as they won't carry enough data. That said, for DVD these are perfect for conveying sound to your surround-sound receiver.

Features
The LX71 is a profile 1.1 Blu-ray player, which means you don't get an Ethernet socket for downloading extra content from the Internet. Pioneer is of the opinion that this feature is unlikely to be a selling point, and we do think that's probably a safe assumption. Despite being present on every HD DVD player, it was only really used effectively on a couple of discs — notably Transformers and Blood Diamond.

If you're an audiophile, the LX71 introduces one important feature. It has a built-in system that aims to reduce audio jitter over HDMI. Of course, you'll need top-of-the-range speakers and a pioneer AV receiver to get anything out of this feature. But then, this player is aimed at the sort of people who want the best possible quality.

The LX71 also features DivX playback, which has become standard on most DVD and Blu-ray players recently. Handy if you have plenty of standard-definition video you've downloaded from the Internet, but not so useful if you have moved onto the increasingly popular MKV HD video format.

The strength of the Pioneer is, of course, its picture-processing modes. There are lots of these, from defaults like LCD TV, to Plasma TV and a special Pioneer plasma setting, optimised for the company's own sets. There are further custom modes, which enable you to tweak the necessary settings until you're happy with them. We made use of this with our DVD of Jurassic Park, which while pretty good quality, does have some MPEG mosquito noise artefacts. Tweaking the Pioneer's settings enabled us to even this out slightly, although we noticed setting it too high — over 50 per cent — reduced the overall picture detail too much.

Performance
Let's start with the now standard Vantage Point load time test. The fastest player we've tested is the Sony PS3. As a Blu-ray player it has the most processing power and it can go from loading the disc to playing the Sony Pictures ident in just 42 seconds. The best stand-alone player is the Samsung BD-P1500, which can start playback in 1 minute 9 seconds. The Pioneer is a bit of a slow-coach in comparison, taking an enormous 1 minute 54 seconds to start playback.

Our other, slightly less serious, test is to head for 1:59:49 on the Casino Royale Blu-ray, and look into Daniel Craig's ear to see if the little bit of dead skin that the make-up artist didn't feel like concealing is discerneable. Sure enough, the Pioneer shows this in all its glory. It might put you off your afternoon cucumber sandwiches, but it's a good reminder of how much detail there is in a well-encoded Blu-ray disc.

DVDs also look very good indeed, as you would hope. Both our regular test discs, X-Men and Jurassic Park, looked sharp and full of detail. We are always pleased to see how good DVDs can look when upscaled and processed correctly, and we're happy that the Pioneer will present your older movies with some gusto and in the best possible quality.

We have to compliment the Pioneer BDP-LX71 on its wonderful user interface. Menus are so simple to navigate and there are just enough options to control the player without overwhelming the user. Basic set-up doesn't really require you to adjust anything. When a movie is playing, you can use the 'output resolution' button to select what sort of video output you want. You can choose auto, 480i, 480p, 1080i, 1080p or source direct. With the final setting, the output is set to whatever is recorded on the disc — this is the mode to select if you want the 24Hz output and your TV can handle it.

It's worth noting that if you use 'source direct' on a DVD, you'll get a 576p output — on PAL DVDs, NTSC would send 480p video. This is important because the video scaler in your TV might not be as good as the one in this player, which could reduce the quality of upscaled video substantially. We did notice however, that when the output of the player was set to 1080p or 'auto' the DVD image on our X-Men disc didn't fill the screen fully, and there were slight overscan gaps at the left and right, or "thin black bars".

The solution is to run it in source direct, which is what we'd suggest you do if you have a modern TV that does a good job upscaling SD content. Our Sony E4000 certainly does a good job at upscaling, so it's not a problem. Older HD TVs might not fare so well, which is something to remember when you're considering this player.

From an audio perspective, we were very impressed. Using the built-in speakers on our Sony E4000, the downmixed stereo from the original Casino Royale TrueHD soundtrack was beautifully balanced. Speech was crystal clear, but sound effects weren't drowned out, and all had a wonderfully wide stereo separation, which is great when you want more realistic sound from your stereo speakers.

Conclusion
This isn't the player for you if you're looking to save some money. It's suited to people who are building a matched AV system, possibly those who already have a Pioneer AV receiver and TV. It is excellent quality though — Profile 1.1 is good enough for most people — so the lack of BD Live support isn't much of a concern, especially if you don't typically watch Special Features on DVD, either.

If you can get this for a good price, go for it. Otherwise, we seriously love the Panasonic DMP-BD35 and suspect the BD50 will be top of its class. We also like the PS3, which is half the price and loads interactive content over twice as fast, although it's not ideal for people who want the absolute best picture quality.

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