More commonly known for its popular plasma TVs in recent years, Japanese brand Pioneer has long been an established player in the A/V industry. Apart from being  instrumental in the optical disc business, Pioneer has also been deeply involved in A/V receiver design and development. In this preview, we will be taking a closer look at its current high-end offering, the "future-proof" VSX-LX70.

As part of Pioneer's new premium LX-series offerings, the VSX-LX70 has been given an alluring facelift. Easily one of the sexiest AVRs (audio-visual receivers) around, this is one piece of kit that will blend effortlessly with any flat-panel TV as part of a modern home décor. For starters, there is the classy black piano finish adorning the front -- simple yet uncluttered, the front panel is symmetrical and centres on a pair of oversized dials and two groups of six unobtrusive buttons sandwiched in between. To add a dash of color, there is also a soothing blue lighting effect to complement its chrome power button.

Enthusiasts may be quick to dismiss the VSX-LX70 as yet another showpiece but beneath that pretty face are some serious audio-visual processing capabilities. It's one of the next-gen receivers which can decode high bit-rate surround sound encoded in Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and High Resolution formats. To match its audio prowess, there is an inbuilt Faroudja DCDi video-processor to upscale standard-definition video sources up to 1080p via HDMI. This is on top of a film-centric 24Hz signal pass-through for pure, unadulterated video output.

Implemented using a set of USB ports and a network terminal, the Home Media Gallery function is compatible with various portable devices such as thumbdrives and MP3 players, as well as DLNA-enabled PCs. Another interesting addition is onboard MP3, WMA and MPEG-4 AAC decoding. Furthermore, with Web connectivity, the AVR is also able to access and stream live Internet radio, though the ability for firmware upgradeability is sorely omitted here. On a related note, Sound Retriever optimization can be activated to enhance the sound quality of such compressed audio, too.

For AU$2,999 we are sure Pioneer could do a lot more for its bundled remote controller -- for example, it lacks button backlighting which is a given nowadays, even for entry-level models. Though some may claim this as a cost-cutting measure, we would have preferred swapping out its LCD display for some illumination.

Additionally, it would be a lot easier to part with the good money if this set was THX-Ultra 2-certified. This stamp gives the users better quality assurance and a guaranteed power reserve for large systems. That said, Onkyo is just about the only company throwing in this certification at such a price.

The Pioneer VSX-LX70 comes highly recommended -- especially if "wife acceptance factor" is a major consideration in your purchase. Its combination of fine aesthetics, future-proof specifications and value-added functions make this Japanese AVR a worthy contender and an excellent all-rounder. It will be interesting to see how this unit compares with the similarly-priced and excellent Denon AVR-3808. We'll keep you posted.