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.
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
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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