We like the fact that Blu-ray players have already become remarkably affordable. But we also welcome the fact that some manufacturers, such as Pioneer, clearly believe there should be a premium market for Blu-ray players, as well as a budget one. Pioneer's high-end BDP-LX91 may cost around £1,750, but it's a cracking machine.
The BDP-LX91 towers over your average Blu-ray player like Goliath over David. But, this time, Goliath is going to have a rather more successful day on the field of battle. The BDP-LX91 is also astonishingly heavy and well-built. It's made from solid aluminium.
The BDP-LX91's size isn't just for show, either. It allows space for the separation of the deck's audio and video components -- something that's essential to delivering a truly premium AV performance, as it reduces the potential for cross-interference.
While we're on the subject of internal components, we should also mention that the BDP-LX91 employs ultra-high-spec digital audio converters from the legendary Wolfson stable; Pioneer's proprietary Precision Quartz Lock System for super-precise playback of CDs via the deck's HDMI output; and 14-bit digital-to-analogue converters for both high- and standard-definition video sources.
The BDP-LX91 also caters for pretty much every audio format you could imagine, including the new Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio ultra-high-bandwidth formats. It can play DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG files too. That's the sort of multimedia capability that you don't always find in high-end AV circles.
The BDP-LX91's connections provide more evidence of its premium nature. It has analogue 7.1 outputs, for lossless analogue delivery of the decoded 7.1-channel HD audio streams now appearing on a growing number of Blu-ray discs. There's also an Ethernet port, which allows you to connect to the Internet and enjoy any BD-Live functions your discs may offer. The BDP-LX91 also sports a hefty cache of built-in memory, saving you from having to use an external USB drive to store downloadable BD-Live features.
Wrapping up the BDP-LX91's premium credentials are high-quality upscaling of DVDs to 1080p; a surprisingly flexible degree of video output adjustment; 48-bit 'Deep Colour' output; and Pioneer's ever-dependable 'PureCinema Progressive Scan' circuitry, which has regularly proven itself to have few, if any, peers when it comes to getting the absolute best motion clarity from any source material.
All the on-paper specifications in the world can't justify a £1,750 price tag on their own, though. It's a good job, then, that the BDP-LX91 delivers market-leading performance.
Its picture quality is particularly good. We've never seen a Blu-ray picture that looks quite so clean and detailed. Indeed, we felt like we were watching some of our favourite Blu-rays for the first time.
The subtle details and the finesse with which colour blends and edge definitions are reproduced is out of this world, and these factors only become more apparent when you increase the size of the screen you're watching. The BDP-LX91 is a match made in heaven for a high-quality home-cinema projector.
Colours are also gorgeously saturated, delivering a level of vibrancy that you just don't get with even the best mid-level Blu-ray players. Combined with the immaculate colour blends and intense fine detail, you end up with pictures of almost three-dimensional solidity.
The BDP-LX91 can also suppress noise and improve motion handling better than any TV, too, while the image contrast is breathtaking -- perfect, noise-free whites sit right alongside deep, rich blacks. So good are the BDP-LX91's pictures, in fact, that words can't fully do justice to the emotional response their beauty inspires in any AV lover who beholds them on a projection screen.
The BDP-LX91's audio abilities are also in a different class to those of any standard Blu-ray player. This is particularly true in terms of CD playback. The sound enjoys clarity and range that are every bit as good as those you'll get from any dedicated mid-to-high-end CD player.
Given that the BDP-LX91 costs almost two grand, we're duty-bound to look harder than we otherwise would for niggles. It doesn't load discs as fast as we'd like, it lacks some of the multimedia savvy of some of the latest players, and it's rather annoying that you have to perform a firmware update to get it to play DTS-HD audio. But these are minor gripes.
The Pioneer BDP-LX91's price is steep, no matter how you look at it. But, to the no-compromise cognoscenti at whom the BDP-LX91 is aimed, cost is probably not an issue when it comes to getting the very best Blu-ray performance possible.
Edited by Charles Kloet