- Review Price: £824.00
It has to be said that now is not a particularly great time to buy a Blu-ray player. First, it’s only a couple of weeks since Paramount and DreamWorks shocked the world by announcing that they would exclusively be releasing their movies on HD DVD, not Blu-ray. And second, from October 31st this year all Blu-ray players released must meet a new specification standard dubbed Profile 1.1 that adds Java-based picture-in-picture video playback as a requirement. This is fine, except for the small matter of the fact that we’re only in September. And so there’s no pressure on even new Blu-ray players like Pioneer’s BDP-LX70 to meet with the Profile 1.1 requirements.
But then maybe Pioneer has been thinking ahead with the LX70, and has slipped the Profile 1.1 requirements in there early? Sadly not. For even though at over £800 it clearly reckons itself a premium bit of kit, the LX70 definitely does not meet Profile 1.1 standards – and nor can it have its firmware upgraded to meet those standards some time in the future. So if you put in a Blu-ray disc that’s got certain Java-based features on it, this deck will not be able to play them. Er, oh…
We guess we can find it in ourselves to have a little sympathy for Pioneer’s position on this. After all, it takes months for a product to go from first planning to actual sale, and the Profile 1.1 requirements stipulated by the Blu-ray group only arrived relatively late in the day. But from a punter’s point of view there already seems to be a compelling argument in favour of not buying the LX70 and instead waiting for the first of the ‘new breed’ of Blu-ray decks later this year.
Tragically this already negative atmosphere is merely enhanced by the discovery that the LX70’s HDMI output is only a v1.2 affair. This means it’s not compatible with such HDMI 1.3 tricks as the ‘Deep Colour’ extended colour palette, automatic lip-synching, and the carriage of full digital surround sound audio tracks. This is a really troubling omission on an £800-plus player when you think that HDMI 1.3 is found on the £450 PS3, Sony’s new £700 BDP-S1E (which we’ll be reviewing soon) and Toshiba’s £500 HD-XE1 HD DVD player.
Yet more disappointment comes with the realisation that the LX70 doesn’t support any way of outputting ‘next gen’ HD audio formats – disappointment which only grows when the press release Pioneer has put together on the LX70 helpfully informs you that a Pioneer player with an HD Audio bit-stream output will be appearing ‘in the near future’. In other words, the press release itself seems to be suggesting that you wait for something better rather than diving into Blu-ray waters with the LX70.
We’re only too aware that what we’ve said so far has probably killed the LX70 stone dead in most of your minds before we’ve even got it out of its box. But actually, before you completely write it off, it does have a few things to commend it.
The first is a LAN socket that lets you hook up a PC and playback a wide variety of AV file formats through the LX70 (and its sophisticated Home Media Gallery software) and then on to your home cinema screen/audio system. Those file formats include WMV9, MPEG2, and MPEG-1 video formats; JPEG, PNG and GIF image formats; and WMA9, WMA9 Pro, MP3 and Linear PCM audio files.
Also very significant is the deck’s ability to output films in 1080p/24fps. This is the format practically all films are encoded in when mastered to Blu-ray disc, so by outputting this format the LX70 can pass on a completely ‘pure’ version of the picture to any TV able to receive 1080p/24fps signals.
Such TVs include, of course, Pioneer’s last couple of generations of plasma TVs. In fact, these TVs not only accept 1080p/24fps, but they also carry 72Hz playback modes (allowing a simple and therefore clean 3:3 progressive scan pull-down routine) for showing 1080p/24fps sources with greater smoothness and clarity than most rival 1080p/24-capable screens can deliver.
The LX70 will also upscale old DVDs to 1080p, and contains a long list of picture tweaks for the eternal tinkerers among you, including white level, black level, hue and chroma level adjustments. Finally, the LX70’s HDMI is enabled with the electronics industry’s CEC standard, allowing it to be operated by the remote control of any connected, CEC-enabled TV.
Finding out how well the LX70 performs is sadly delayed by the seemingly inevitable long wait while the deck ‘boots up’. During our tests it took 35 seconds for a disc to load, and depressingly this rose to over a minute when turning the player on from standby. Yawn.
The LX70’s picture quality, though, soon snaps us out of our doze by being simply the best that we’ve yet seen on an HD disc player. Unable to resist, we kicked off our tests by running the LX70 in 1080p/24fps mode into a Pioneer 508XD plasma TV running in 72Hz mode. And the results were nothing short of spectacular.
The first thing that struck us was how remarkably clean the picture looks, with not even the smallest trace of any shimmering or dot crawl noise of the sort that can be caused by other player/TV combinations having to mess about more with converting the 1080p/24fps film transfer into something the TV can show.
The total clarity of the picture also highlights the superb amount of fine detail and sharpness in the LX70’s pictures as, for instance, every ripple of every wave is immaculately delineated during the overhead shots of ships in the Blu-ray of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The rich colours on show, as the red-coated soldiers try to catch Captain Sparrow after he rescues Elizabeth, look more solid and vibrant than we’ve ever seen them look before. And black levels are deep, rich and completely free of noise during dark scenes like the Black Pearl’s attack on the fort.
Although we didn’t initially appreciate it as much as we should have, the LX70/Pioneer TV combination also leads to some silky smooth motion. The full extent of this strength became obvious the moment we switched to other display devices. Some fared better than others at reducing the 1080p/24fps stutter, but none succeeded as well as Pioneer’s own TVs.
Please note, however, that we’re not trying to suggest that you have to own a Pioneer TV to really appreciate the LX70. For the fact remains that even with a touch more stutter, the LX70’s pictures are still better than those of the HD competition with any HD TV you care to try them with.
With really nothing negative to say about the LX70’s pictures, we turn our attention to its audio capabilities. And again find a pristine performance that’s pretty much beyond reproach with CDs and movie soundtracks alike.
Overall the LX70 makes us sad. For while a big part of us wants to jump up and down and shout from the rooftops about how unprecedentedly great its HD pictures are, another big part of us tragically has no choice but to accept that unless you’ve got enough money to upgrade from this deck in just a few months time, when more fully specified Blu-ray models start to come along, you’re probably better off leaving the LX70 on the shelf.
Score in detail