- Review Price: £417.95
Back in July we reviewed the Pioneer DVR-560HX, a sublime yet surprisingly affordable DVD/HDD combi that gave the all-conquering Panasonic DMR-EX88 a real run for its money. Well now say hello to its big brother, the DVR-LX61D. As the name suggests, the Freeview-equipped LX61D is part of Pioneer’s LX series of products, which represents the very best the company has to offer in terms of features, build quality, design and performance. And if the flagship DVR-LX70D is anything to go by we’re in for a real treat, but as ever such luxury comes with a hefty price tag. Let’s see if it’s justified…
The external design is a good place to start, and as soon as we lifted it from the box we knew we were dealing with something special – the machine is reassuringly heavy and the chassis construction feels more robust that your average digital recorder. What’s more, the all-over black styling gives it a sleek, moody look that should go down very well with style-conscious AV aficionados, particularly those who already own a matching KURO plasma.
Softly glowing blue lights adorn the fascia, while the info display panel shows the time and currently selected channel number, as well as the current recording mode. The lower section of the fascia drops down to reveal a very busy panel of controls and connections, which includes a common interface slot for adding pay TV channels, two USB ports (type A and type B) and a DV input, plus S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs for temporary connection of peripheral devices such as camcorders. You can also control the unit from the front panel using a cluster of buttons that includes Record, Play, Stop and One Touch Copy.
The rear panel is equally busy thanks to a comprehensive array of sockets. All the basic AV inputs and outputs are present and correct, but the most exciting is the Ethernet port, which allows you to connect to your PC and transfer DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG files onto the 250GB hard-disk drive, plus you can use the USB port for the same purpose or transfer files from DVD or CD. Add support for unprotected MPEG-4 AAC files into the mix and you’ve got yourself a complete home entertainment hub.
Elsewhere, video outputs include HDMI (v1.3), component, S-Video, composite and an RGB/S-video/composite SCART, while video inputs include an RGB-capable SCART, S-Video and composite. Audio connections include stereo audio in/out and coaxial digital audio output, and the line-up is completed by a G-Link port for automatic control of external TV receivers, a system remote control port and separate RF inputs and outputs for the analogue and digital tuners.
Recordable disc support is comprehensive. The unit records onto any format, including DVD-RAM, DVD-R DL and DVD+R DL, which makes life easy when shopping for discs. But with a 250GB hard disk on board, offering up to 711 hours of recording time, you’re only likely to use discs when backing up the programmes you want to keep, making the multi-format drive seem like overkill.
To alter the quality of recordings and use up less space on the hard-disk, the unit provides six recording modes, ranging from the best-quality XP mode (about 9Mbps) down to the lowest-quality SEP mode (about 1Mbps). These presets are backed up by a manual mode that lets you alter the recording quality in 32 incremental steps, and adds two bonus modes towards the top end – a version of XP that records audio in LPCM instead of Dolby Digital, and 15Mbps XP+, which is primarily intended for high-quality transfer of DV camcorder footage. It’s this sort of advanced functionality that makes Pioneer’s recorders perfect for those who want to do more than just timeshift TV.
The DVR-LX61D’s vast range of recording and editing features give you a pleasing amount of control over the final look of your recordings. Video is stored in the fantastic Disc Navigator menu, which uses a cute yet sophisticated layout that lists programmes with a moving thumbnail and displays the full programme name alongside them. Using the Edit menu, you can get a bit creative and change the thumbnail, erase a section, divide a title in two and edit chapters.
All of the unit’s menus share this intelligent and classy design, which is a real godsend given the vast array of features on board. The Setup menu, for example, is densely packed with options, meticulously covering every function you could possibly imagine – it’s the kind of attention to detail that could scare off beginners but for obsessive AV enthusiasts it’s like a techno-paradise.
The overkill continues with a choice of two 7-day EPGs – the clunky Guide Plus and a superior Pioneer-designed version, which is well presented, easy to follow and can be accessed while recording, but sadly it’s not superimposed over live TV.
However, programme details can be accessed while you watch by pressing the Info key, and particularly impressive is that now/next information isn’t locked into the channel you’re currently watching – you can browse the entire range of Freeview channels on the fly.
Controlling the unit’s immense range of functions with the busy remote is easier than it first seems. Yes it’s jam-packed with buttons – all of which give a satisfying little click when pressed – but the core menu controls are intuitively placed under the thumb and the lesser-used keys are clearly labelled. Particularly useful are the three Home Media Gallery keys that give you direct access to video, music and photos stored on the HDD.
The remaining functions are too vast to discuss in detail, but highlights include 1080p upscaling from the HDMI output, pause live TV, KURO Link CEC, built-in CD ripping with a Gracenote database for automatic song tagging and a Video Adjust menu that provides an astonishingly detailed array of picture tweaks.
In action, the unit is wonderfully responsive and delivers superb recorded picture quality. As expected, XP+, XP and SP recordings from the Freeview tuner are crisply defined and dazzlingly vibrant, with very little noise to speak of.
Studio-based quiz and chat shows best demonstrate the deck’s video processing prowess, with Countdown on Channel 4 and The Wright Stuff on Five both looking identical to the live broadcast. And of course the whole thing is boosted by some top-drawer upscaling, which almost doubles the vertical resolution of Freeview pictures without introducing any unwanted artefacts.
Even with the high quality video components inside the unit, Pioneer can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and when using recording modes in the lower reaches of the bitrate range (SLP, SEP) picture quality is riddled with fuzzy, smeary compression artefacts. But even in SEP, the results are still strangely watchable – much more so than some rival recorders’ low-quality modes.
We’re also highly impressed by the sharpness and purity of the deck’s DVD playback, delivering movies on a 1080p TV with the sort of cinematic verve and refinement you’d normally only get from a dedicated high-end player. It also makes a surprisingly decent CD player when used with good quality audio components.
We couldn’t find fault with any of the unit’s multimedia functionality – the CD ripping feature and Gracenote worked flawlessly, files transferred from a PC to the hard disk with consummate ease plus music, video and photo files played back without any fuss.
We defy anyone to spend a couple of days in the company of the DVR-LX61D and come away unimpressed. It’s quite simply a sublime combi recorder that boasts a stupefying range of features, immaculate recording performance and bomb shelter build quality. In fact the only criticism we can find is that the comprehensive functionality might make it too complicated for newcomers to digital recording, but for AV enthusiasts that’s more of a blessing than a hindrance.
Score in detail
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