Some people are of the opinion that Blu-ray players are over-priced. Those people should not continue to read this review, because the Pioneer BDP-LX71 is pretty much the most expensive Blu-ray player we've reviewed in the last year. We're keen to point out, however, that not all Blu-ray players are created equal, and just because this one costs more than a weekend in New York, it doesn't automatically make it bad value.
Although the Pioneer BDP-LX71 has a list price of around £600, we have seen it available for around £500. That might not sound like a significant reduction in price, nor will it strike many people as a bargain, but this is designed to be a high-end player rather than the sort of thing you'll buy from Comet. The question we'll try to answer in this review is if it's worth that premium.
Although the Pioneer is around twice the height of most modern Blu-ray players and about two-thirds taller than the average DVD player (420mm wide by 124mm high by 360mm deep), it's still a smart-looking device. Pioneer has a particular standard it sticks to with home-cinema equipment -- you'll find that its AV receivers and DVD/Blu-ray players all fit together beautifully and are designed to work better with each other than mixing and matching components.
The remote is the same style as all Pioneer controllers -- it's long, substantial and feels hefty. Unlike the metal TV remotes this one is made out of plastic, so it doesn't quite have the same authority or burglar-beating credentials. It's still pleasant to use and well laid-out.
The front of the player is well-designed. Despite its size, the finish has a classy, expensive look and everything feels durable. Pioneer obviously put some effort into symmetry, because the player is perfectly balanced, with the power button on the left being mirrored on the right by an identical 'play' button.
Crucially, the Pioneer has every kind of output you'll ever need. Obviously there's an HDMI socket, which will be the best way for you to get high-definition 1080p video to your television. You also get component video out, S-video and even composite outputs, although we're not sure who would use them.
Most impressive though, is the inclusion of analogue 7.1 audio outputs. These take the form of RCA jacks and enable you to pass decoded audio from Blu-ray to an AV receiver. This is handy if you don't want to use HDMI for audio, or your receiver doesn't support the latest lossless codecs.
There are also coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, but those won't be much use for HD sound, as they don't carry enough data. That said, for DVD these are perfect for conveying sound to your surround-sound receiver.
The LX71 is a profile 1.1 Blu-ray player, which means you don't get an Ethernet socket for downloading extra content from the Internet. Pioneer is of the opinion that this feature is unlikely to be a selling point, and we do think that's probably a safe assumption. Despite being present on every HD DVD player, it was only really used effectively on a couple of discs -- notably Transformers and Blood Diamond.
If you're an audiophile, the LX71 introduces one important feature. It has a built-in system that aims to reduce audio jitter over HDMI. Of course, you'll need top-of-the-range speakers and a pioneer AV receiver to get anything out of this feature. But then, this player is aimed at the sort of people who want the best possible quality.
The LX71 also features DIVX playback, which has become standard on most DVD and Blu-ray players recently. Handy if you have plenty of standard-definition video you've downloaded from the Internet, but not so useful if you have a MKV HD video you want to watch.
The strength of the Pioneer is, of course, its picture-processing modes. There are lots of these, from defaults like LCD TV, to Plasma TV and a special Pioneer plasma setting, optimised for the company's own sets. There are also custom modes, which enable you to tweak the settings until you're happy with them. We made use of this with our DVD of Jurassic Park, which while pretty good quality, does have some MPEG mosquito noise artefacts. Tweaking the Pioneer's settings enabled us to even this out slightly, although we noticed setting it too high -- over 50 per cent -- reduced the overall picture detail too much.