Pioneer is to home cinema what Pele is to football, and every new product it launches is greeted with near-religious fervour. What inspires this level of devotion is the consistently high quality of its kit, particularly when it comes to Blu-ray - decks like the BDP-LX91 and BDP-51FD have raised the bar in terms of hi-def picture and sound quality at their respective price points, making them revered among home cinephiles.
For that reason, we're chuffed to have the company's hotly anticipated new Blu-ray player in our hands. The BDP-LX52 is one of three new players launched this summer, and is the best-specified (and therefore the most expensive) of the trio. Significantly the LX52, BDP-320 and entry-level BDP-120 are the first ‘affordable' Profile 2.0 Pioneer players to emerge since the reference BDP-LX91 first added BD Live to the company's arsenal.
It comes as no surprise to find that the BDP-LX52 looks remarkably similar to the company's previous players. The combination of a deep gloss-black finish, ice-blue illumination and stylish silver play/power buttons are as much a trademark as the Pioneer name itself, and once again make the LX52 look gobsmackingly gorgeous.
We'd describe the look as ‘cinephile chic' - moody and esoteric enough to please enthusiasts, but with a universal appeal that'll look great in any living room. It's also worth noting that Pioneer still isn't interested in slimming down the size of its decks - at 83mm high the LX52 is far from wafer thin, which makes a refreshing change.
Around the back, the LX52 doesn't offer the knockout selection of sockets we were expecting for the money, but it covers most bases. The biggest surprise is that there are no multichannel analogue outputs. The LX52 can decode Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio, DTS HD High-Resolution Audio and Dolby Digital Plus into LPCM internally, but you'll need an HDMI-equipped receiver to hear the results.
Although the growing number and increasing affordability of HDMI-equipped receivers out there makes the inclusion of analogue sockets less important than it used to be, there are still people who prefer to let their player do the decoding and will be disappointed by their omission.
However, the player's HDMI v1.3 socket will output Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio and any other format in bitstream form, which makes life nice and simple if you own a suitably-equipped receiver. Also on the rear are optical digital and analogue stereo outputs, component and composite video outputs, plus remote control and RS-232C ports.
An Ethernet socket is also provided, which lets you download BD Live content and firmware updates from the web. It's a shame Pioneer hasn't cottoned onto the fact that Wi-Fi is the way forward for BD Live - the feature will only catch on when people can connect to the web without an ugly, cumbersome cable trailing across the house (that's what HomePlug adapters are for - ed.).
However, the deck takes a step in the right direction with 1GB of built-in memory for web downloads. If you need more storage, there's a USB port on the back, which supports flash memory devices and external hard disks.