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Launched late last year for a staggering £2,000, the Pioneer LX01BD is certainly not the cheapest Blu-ray player with speakers we've ever seen. Fortunately, the price has fallen since its introduction, and, while still far from cheap, you can now snap the system up for around £1,600.
With the LX01BD, Pioneer is clearly trying to match the stylish look of its TVs and provide something that fits in with your current set-up. We think the company's done a terrific job -- at least on the surface. The question is: how does this system perform?
If nothing else, we have to say the LX01BD is beautiful. The diminutive speakers are stylish and cleverly designed, and the gloss black finish will fit in with virtually all modern AV equipment.
Design-wise, Pioneer has put considerable thought into how people might use the LX01BD. Essentially the system has three elements -- a Blu-ray player, a subwoofer and amplifier, and four speakers that produce the surround sound.
Pioneer has taken an unusual step by not including a dedicated centre speaker in this package. To save clutter, the centre channel is produced from speakers attached to the left and right speakers. These are totally separate from the stereo channels, and have dedicated inputs and cables to feed them.
At the back of the Blu-ray player are all the usual outputs, including HDMI, component video, 7.1 analogue audio RCA jacks and an optical digital audio connection. To use the Blu-ray player with the audio components, you simply connect it to the subwoofer with an HDMI cable.
The subwoofer contains all the audio-decoding hardware and amplifiers. You get two HDMI inputs -- one for the Blu-ray player, and one for another source. You also get an HDMI output to connect to your TV. At the side, underneath a removable panel, you get a pair of optical audio inputs, stereo audio in and some speaker jacks. The speaker terminals are a proprietary type, and they clip in, unlike the more traditional spring-loaded type.
The front speakers, which are for the left and right channels, as well as the centre channel, are tiny. Each has three distinct speakers mounted on the surface – one fires up, one fires towards your wall and one fires forward, towards where you're sat. The rear speakers are similar, but only have two distinct drivers.
Because the subwoofer contains so much, it's pretty damn big. You'll certainly want to make sure you can accommodate it before you rush out and buy one of these systems.
Like many audio systems these days, the LX01BD comes with a cable to connect your iPod. This is done via a separate display unit for the audio system -- a clever idea that makes more sense than sticking it on the subwoofer or amp.
It's rare to encounter a system like this that has such comprehensive support for the wide range of audio codecs. The LX01BD can decode pretty much any audio you throw at it. CDs and DVDs containing MP3 and WMA files for music are fine. Movie soundtracks are also well catered for -- DTS-HD MA and Dolby True HD are both supported, as are DTS, Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II.
The LX01BD also comes with a touchscreen LCD remote control. It's quite large and, although we were initially put off by it, using the remote is actually a pleasant process. You get many more controls than you would with a traditional remote, and you can control far more equipment. The main source of joy is that you get an illuminated and properly designed interface for navigating around the menus.
The only downside to the remote is that sometimes you have to scroll through pages of commands to find the one you want. Generally though, this isn't a huge issue, because they're logically laid out.
DivX support is included in the Blu-ray player, but there's no exciting MKV playback, and high-definition video isn't really a priority here. That said, the machine can cope with AVCHD, which could be useful for people with HD camcorders that shoot in the format.
In our Blu-ray speed test, the LX01BD produced a load time of 2 minutes. Yes, that's right, it takes two minutes for the LX01BD to load a disc and start playing it. This officially makes it the slowest Blu-ray player we've ever tested. Load time isn't the be-all and end-all of Blu-ray performance, of course, but it can be frustrating waiting for your movie to load. We still think manufacturers should allow you to bypass Java load times and skip straight to the movie content.
So, how does the LX01BD perform in all of our other tests? Superbly, we're pleased to report. Picture quality from this system is nothing short of epic. Our test discs -- Vantage Point, xXx: State of the Union and our Live from Abbey Road Blu-ray discs -- all looked perfect.
The LX01BD does a truly spectacular job with both music and movies. We tested the system with our Live from Abbey Road Blu-ray discs because the live sessions test any audio equipment beyond the capability of most movies. Our favourite tracks from R&B legend Mary J Blige showed that the LX01BD can really do music justice, putting a smile on our face that even the relatively slow load performance couldn't eradicate.
The ludicrous demands that xXx: State of the Union places upon an audio system were easily handled by the LX01BD, which didn't bat an eyelid at the explosions in the first scene. The fantastic, thumping sound effects were also clear and powerful -- another cause for a grin.
We were keen to see how the player handled upscaling DVDs. In went our Jurassic Park test disc -- an old favourite for us, because it shows problems with scaling hardware quite well. We were thrilled by the results. The picture looked beautiful. MPEG-2 compression noise was kept to a minimum and the machine managed to pump out a really impressive, bright and detailed image.
Audio from the DVD's Dolby Digital soundtrack was also very impressive. Jurassic Park is an excellent audio test for all-in-one systems because it calls extensively on low-end bass and needs strong dialogue reproduction to lift the voices from the often raucous dinosaur noise.
We were initially concerned that a lack of dedicated centre channel would hamper the system's audio performance during crucial dialogue. In fact, this wasn't a problem at all, and Pioneer's method of integrating centre speakers into the left and right stereo speakers has proved a good one.
The Pioneer LX01BD is a fine system. It's certainly very expensive, but it also performs brilliantly and really looks the part. If you've got the money, and a medium-sized room to fill with sound, it's a great choice.
For the money, you could buy quite a few other bits of kit, including an AV receiver, speakers and Blu-ray player. That said though, we doubt it would be such a polished package, and we can promise that it wouldn't look anywhere near as good.
Edited by Charles Kloet