One of these is the BDP-LX52. At around £500, it's not exactly priced to compete with bargain basement machines (BD players can be had for around £150 now), and is in a similar price league to an imported Oppo BDP-83 (although that machine will need modified at extra expense if it's to play back European Region B discs, too). Let's see if it can hold its own against the competition and justify its price tag.
On the back panel, there's a single HDMI output, Component Video outputs, a Composite video output, stereo audio outputs, a Digital Out (Optical) audio connector, a USB port for adding additional storage space to the player, a LAN port for connecting to the internet, an RS-232C port for the custom install market, and a “CONTROL IN” jack for integration with other Pioneer products. Surprisingly at this price point, there are no multichannel analogue audio outputs, so if you have an older (pre-HDMI 1.3) AV receiver, then you'll be limited to slightly-better-than-DVD audio quality.
The nicest part of the design is the white LEDs on the front panel. Once you turn the machine on, subtle lighting on the front illuminates above previously invisible buttons, letting you know their functions: Previous Chapter, Next Chapter, Pause, and Stop. In case you're wondering about “Play”, that gets its own prominently featured button elsewhere on the unit's front.
Upon pressing Eject, I was pleased to see just how solid the tray itself was. Even with a moderate amount of weight applied to it, the drawer barely even moved. Although it won't affect the unit's playback quality, it's clearly a well-built piece of machinery, which is always nice to see. The remote control is nicely designed too, and has a slick “brushed metal” finish.
Setup menus and Processing Adjustments
Oddly, the BDP-LX52 defaults to 1080i video output, so one of the first things I did was press the TOOLS button on the remote to select 1080p output mode. After this, I pressed the HOME MENU button on the remote and entered the “Initial Setup” screens. Most of the default settings didn't need changing, but I made sure that the “4:3 Video Out” mode was set to “normal” to avoid distorting old 4:3 DVDs, and also enabled “HDMI High-Speed Transmission” to reassure the player that the HDMI cable I was using was up to the task of handling bandwidth-hungry 1080p/60 video. Curiously, there's still no option in these menus to change the video output resolution, so I pressed the dedicated remote control button to select 1080p.
Some other important configuration options needed to be accessed separately, though. Most importantly of all, be sure you don't forget to press the TOOLS button and turn off the “Audio DRC” (Dynamic Range Compression) feature. With DRC enabled, audio playback won't have maximum impact – good for thoughtful night time viewing, bad otherwise.
“Video Adjust” can be accessed through the TOOLS menu, but it also has its own dedicated remote control button, too. Like Pioneer's other players, this machine uses a nice system which features a couple of unmodifiable presets (“Professional”, “Projector”, “LCD”, “PDP”, as well as Pioneer-branded variants of the last three), and also three completely customisable Memory banks. The “Professional” preset appears to be the “hands off” mode, and conveniently, it's right beside the “Memory1” preset. I used “Professional” for high def discs and switched over to “Memory1” when I was watching DVDs, which meant that I could easily use a different “Detail” setting on the customisable preset, to adjust for the older format's lower resolution.
In AVForums fashion, here's a run-through of all the video tweaks, and what they actually do:
The first control is labelled “Prog. Motion”. When the player detects content as Interlaced, this control adjusts the sensitivity of the Interlace-to-Progressive processing (Deinterlacing). Clicking towards the left (towards “Motion”) means that the player will detect even small movements as motion and will attempt to deinterlace rather than leave untouched (in fact, it actually seems to turn off motion adapative deinterlacing altogether, and simply treats the entire screen as moving, which throws away a lot of detail), whereas going towards the Right means that the player will be more likely to leave things unprocessed, and show Combing. The default setting, which has the slider right in the middle, served me well during testing. In any case, this setting will have no effect whatsoever for Progressive material.
Next in the list is another deinterlacing related function, called “Pure Cinema”. This control is often found on Pioneer products, but its behaviour sometimes differs. On the BDP-LX52, turning this function ON essentially bypasses all deinterlacing. This will cause corruption if you're playing back Video content, but will mean that content where both fields in each frame are identical to one other will display completely clearly. Turning Pure Cinema off will force the player into Video mode, which is never a good idea. There are also two “Auto” modes, which did their job brilliantly: I left the player in the default “Auto1” mode during testing. Don't worry if all of this is makes your head spin – there's really no reason to change the default “Auto1” setting.
Next up, four noise reduction controls. The first two filters are YNR and CNR, which are temporal noise reduction controls for both the Brightness and Colour components of the image, respectively. Pioneer's official blurb for the player states that these controls “work simultaneously to upgrade the image quality by removing various artefacts that may have been induced during the digitization of the video images”, which sounds as if it's referring to CCD noise that may build up during the telecine process – something I'd be surprised to see given the high quality of modern film scanning equipment. In any case, I left both these filters off, because I had no need to use them. Even if I did, they would also wipe out film grain, which makes for a very plastic, unappealing image.
The BNR and MNR controls are more credible, and instead of targeting noise, target compression artefacts: Block Noise (the “tiling” or “mosaic” effect caused by the edges of blocks becoming visible) and Mosquito Noise (a side-effect of current video compression methods, especially MPEG-2). I was genuinely surprised at the effectiveness of the MNR filter – when I tried it out on my usual compression artefact test disc (Sony's “Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist” - still a nice video presentation overall, but not the best encode they've ever done), I was happy to see that on its lowest possible setting (one click away from “Off”), it did indeed visibly reduce the mosquito noise that surrounds the film's opening credits, without affecting genuine picture detail at all. The more extreme parts stayed, but the picture detail stayed, too.
The next control is “Detail”, which is deceptively named. In its neutral position, it appears to leave the image alone. Pulling it to the left blurs the image, moving to the right sharpens it. For HD content, I left it in the middle, whereas with DVD, I preferred to actually lower it a little to try and disguise aliasing and ringing.
There are also controls for White Level, Black Level (both of which are best adjusted on the display, but are potentially useful here, too), a toggle for NTSC 7.5 IRE setup (not relevant to us in Europe, and not relevant to anyone using HDMI, anyway), a Gamma control, a somewhat pointless Hue adjustment, and a Chroma Level (saturation) control.
1080p Disc Playback
What does all of this mean? That the player outputs what's stored on the disc without any meddling, and delivers a no-compromise experience. You get the whole picture and nothing more, in just about every sense of the phrase.
1080i Disc Playback
Next, I tested the BDP-LX52's Diagonal Interpolation capabilities. This test lets us see how well the player disguises jaggies when converting 1080i content to 1080p. The player performed very well indeed, with all three moving bars looking incredibly smooth and problem-free, with one caveat: when the bars moved to their lowest position, they'd momentarily flicker. I doubt any similar problems will be visible in real-world usage, but the potential for it is here.
480i/576i SD DVD Playback
First of all, the Film Cadence detection tests. Unlike Blu-ray Disc, which has a pure 24p mode, the most fault-proof DVD playback is achieved through interlaced decoding followed by separate analysis and deinterlacing. For NTSC titles, the common 3-2 cadence passed, as did the 2-2, DVCAM, and 2-3-3-2 cadences. This covers a lot of bases, but doesn't cover some of the more unusual cadences that sometimes appear in Japanese animated content. There are some players out there that pass all of these tricky tests, but the LX52's performance is more than adequate for the vast majority of titles. The test results, by the way, were exactly the same when the player was in the Auto2 mode.
For PAL discs, the 2-2 cadence plays back correctly, so European film-sourced DVDs will display with full vertical resolution. The rarer “Telecine B” test on the HQV Benchmark Disc failed, but I can't remember the last time I saw a machine pass this, and have to cast my mind back even farther to remember when I saw a disc that actually used it.
The other two factors in SD performance are diagonal interpolation (for smoothing jaggies in video content) and scaling (for resizing the SD resolution content for HD video output). The player did very well with scaling, creating a crisp image with no obvious ringing, and the diagonal interpolation result was the same as with HD: very smooth, but with the possibility of small flicker being present.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the video processing adjustments on the BDP-LX52 was the possibility of softening the image, which sounds like a non-starter at first. However, standard-def images blown up to large screen sizes can often look visibly aliased, and what's more, there's often ringing visible in the image (a side-effect of the low-pass filtering performed prior to compression, not caused by the player or compression itself), which some slight softening can conceal, without blurring actual picture detail.
There is a brief, but troublesome issue with the player's DVD playback, however. Sometimes when playing back a PAL DVD, during the layer break transition (which takes about 2 seconds already), the bottom quarter of the screen would turn black. This adds another element of distraction to an already unwelcome pause, and is hopefully something that Pioneer can address.
Disc Load Times
Pioneer BDP-LX52 Blu-ray Disc Player Review
In the overwhelmingly similar world of Blu-ray players, Pioneer's BDP-LX52 is worthy of a recommendation simply because it does what it sets out to do - play High Definition discs - without issues. Its 1080p/24 playback pipes what's on the disc to the display, and it's capable of delivering good results from a lot of 1080i material as well, which means it scores as “Excellent” for HD image quality (like every other player we've tested).
DVD-Video playback is excellent from an ease-of-use point of view, too. The player handles a good number of film cadences in the “Auto” modes, without requiring the user to select a special film playback mode for best results. This is true even of the 2-2 cadence used by PAL Film DVDs, something many players have trouble with. Unfortunately, the PAL DVD layer break issue, where the bottom quarter of the screen sometimes turns black during the change-over, is probably not going to be easily tolerated by the cinephile audience that Pioneer target (at least not at this price point). Hopefully, this can be fixed with a firmware update.
Ultimately, there doesn't seem to be a lot here to seriously justify the high price point, but if you value excellent build quality, the BDP-LX52 could sway you. Every BD player I've tested since 2007 has no issues with 1080p/24 content, but other players have done a better job with disguising SD DVD layer breaks, as well as speeding up disc loading and navigation time. There's a lot to like about the BDP-LX52, but there's not a lot that's overwhelmingly special about it, either.
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