When it comes to Blu-ray players, Pioneer always puts performance high on the agenda, an approach that’s made it the darling of the home cinema cognoscenti. All of its decks to date have delivered stunning picture and sound quality, usually accompanied by tank-like build quality and generous connections. If there’s a weakness it’s features - Pioneer’s players lack the envelope-pushing pizzazz of Panasonic or Samsung, but perhaps the BDP-LX52 can redress the balance.
It certainly looks like a tasty proposition on paper. This player, the midrange BDP-320 and entry-level BDP-120 are the lowest-priced Pioneer decks to offer BD Live support, which has previously only been available on the reference BDP-LX91. You also get 1GB of built-in memory for BD Live downloads, which saves you the hassle and cost of plugging a USB flash drive into the back.
And yes, the LX52 is a beautifully built machine, tarted up in Pioneer’s customary gloss-black finish and peppered with ice blue lights and silver flashes on the fascia. At 83mm high it’s the type of important, imposing piece of kit enthusiasts die for, and its build quality is immaculate.
The back panel covers the essential connections but the lack of multichannel analogue outputs is surprising, given that they’ve featured on every Pioneer Blu-ray deck to date. It means you’ll need an HDMI-equipped amp to savour the delights of Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio, although it doesn’t necessarily need to decode these formats - the deck will convert them to LPCM for you.
The Ethernet port provides wired hook-up to the web but we can’t help lamenting the lack of Wi-Fi on a premium player like this, especially as rivals like Sony and LG are about to unleash wireless-capable players. Still, if you can conceal the cable then there’s fun to be had downloading bonus content from the web.
Also disappointing is the uncharacteristically awkward media support. Yes you can play DivX, MP3, WMA, JPEG and AVCHD but only from CDs or DVDs and not USB – the port on the back is used only for adding extra memory if you need it.
Elsewhere on the feature list you’ll find a wealth of detailed picture adjustments and presets for different types of display, plus Pioneer’s Precision Quartz Lock System (PQLS), which eliminates jitter when playing audio through the HDMI output. This is the first player to apply it to multichannel PCM as well as stereo, but it only works with a compatible Pioneer receiver.
The LX52 takes over a minute to load up some Blu-ray discs, which is an age compared with some rivals, but once the film starts you can see why cinephiles hold Pioneer in such high esteem. 1080/24p pictures are so smooth and sharp that we couldn’t take our eyes off the screen, while the deck’s inky blacks and wide ranging contrast gives the image a richness and solidity that most budget players can only dream of.
It also displays admirable deftness with colour, rendering delicate skin tones and strong hues in the same frame without making any of them look unnatural. Noise reduction isn’t flawless, with some grain slipping through the net but you’ll be too dazzled by the deep colours and meticulous detail retrieval to care.
Decoded Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks are relayed with plenty of detail and vitality, while the LX52 delivers stereo music with a maturity you normally get from a dedicated CD player, making this a great all-round performer.
Given the LX52’s wallet-busting price, the lack of bells and whistles is slightly jarring - there’s no Wi-Fi, multichannel outputs or USB media playback, all of which can be found on Samsung’s much cheaper BD-P3600. But what might convince you to crack open the piggy bank is the Pioneer’s luxurious picture quality, which is among the best we’ve seen at this price point.