Once, Pioneer’s Blu-ray players were among the best available, but lately the company’s newer models have been a disappointment, falling some way behind the class leaders in terms of both specification and performance.
However, the new BDP-LX55 looks a great deal more competitive than some of its forebears: indeed, Pioneer describes it as "a return to the winning formula" that once spawned such highly regarded decks as the BDP-LX52 and BDP-LX71.
Translation? Unlike some of its recent Blu-ray players, the BDP-LX55 is a Pioneer through and through, rather than a badge-engineered version of another company’s product.
Certainly anyone familiar with the company’s early Blu-ray players (or indeed its oft-acclaimed DVD kit) will find the BDP-LX55 familiar. Its metal fascia and sturdy build forms a classy first impression, as does its hefty, AV receiver-esque remote handset.
Universal disc player
The specification makes good reading, too: a universal disc player, the Pioneer can spin older formats most price rivals eschew, including DVD-Audio and SACD.
There’s no wi-fi included (although an AS-WL300 adaptor is optionally available) but twin USB inputs suggest a promising flexibility with digital media.
For video, Marvell’s increasingly ubiquitous QDEO scaler is on hand to administer 1080p-quality finesse when needed, and of course, the Pioneer is 3D capable.
By virtue of its twin HDMI outputs (one of which carries only audio information) it’s also suitable for use with older AV receivers that don’t support 3D: you simply use two HDMI cables, one to pass audio to your receiver, and one to send video to your display.
Alternatively, should you want to link the BDP-LX55 into a Pioneer AV receiver (such as the Award-winning VSX-LX55) you’ll be pleased to note that it includes the latest iteration of Pioneer’s long-standing PQLS (Precision Quartz Lock System) technology.
PQLS eliminates jitter
When the two components are linked together via HDMI, PQLS allows the AV receiver to take control of the Blu-ray player’s digital ‘clock’, which, Pioneer asserts, eliminates jitter during signal transfer.
We’ve noticed the system’s beneficial effects with older products, particularly with CD: now, in its most sophisticated third-generation form, PQLS is capable of supporting all forms of audio including bitstream (ie: Dolby TrueHD and so forth).
That said, not all Pioneer’s receivers include the feature as standard: for the full PQLS monty, you’ll need a VSX-1021 or better. Cheaper models in the range must make do with PCM audio support only.
Exceptional picture quality
In action, the BDP-LX55 is a positive delight. With both DVD and Blu-ray and in 2D or 3D, its picture quality is exceptional, with richer colours and more distinct, accurately defined detail than others in its price class.
Shadow detail is properly nuanced, while blacks are at once dense and, where appropriate, invested with texture and insight. Motion is stable and seamless too. All in all, it’s delightful – all the more so because rivals offering similar standards of picture performance cost at least £150 more.
Sonically there’s much to admire too. Connected via its analogue audio outs (supported by a 32-bit/192kHz DAC), the BDP-LX55 exhibits Pioneer’s trademark agility, excitement and speed, making it a surprisingly enjoyable CD player or music streamer.
Lean, fast, attacking sound
Link it to your AV receiver via HDMI and, of course, the sounds you’ll enjoy depend greatly on the relative quality and tonality of the receiver in question. All the same, the Pioneer’s presentation still carries over some of that leanness and fast, attacking character. That’s not a criticism – more an interesting observation…
More critically, the BDP-LX55 lacks the range of embedded streaming services you’d find in an LG, Panasonic, Samsung or Sony Blu-ray player.
Yes, it can access Picasa and YouTube – but they’re a poor substitute for the likes of Acetrax, the BBC iPlayer or LoveFilm.
Return to a winning formula
However, we’ve no such complaints over the Pioneer’s media-replay capabilities: it’ll handle the likes of MKV and FLAC, and includes proprietary Stream Smoother Link and Sound Retriever Link technologies aimed at optimising your viewing and listening experience with streamed media. Add in Pioneer’s iControlAV2 app – which works especially well on the iPad – and you’ve a compelling proposition by any standards.
We tested the BDP-LX55 as part of a home cinema package in our March 2012 issue, and we were impressed. The lack of online video content is a glaring omission given that rivals pack in much more for the same price, but this remains a highly capable player with impressive build and a great picture.