Pioneer Elite HDTV Plasma Review
Model: PRO-1130HD (package contains PRO-505PU panel and media receiver)
Description: 50-inch Plasma TV, 16:9 Widescreen Format
Resolution: 1,024 x 768
remote control, external media receiver with integrated NTSC and ATSC tuners,
detachable, side-mount speakers, table stand
Color: Gloss Black
Before the advent of plasma televisions few people associated the name Pioneer with TV. Today Pioneer is known for turning out some of the best and most-desired plasma TVs on the market. Pioneer’s mainstream plasma product line competes only with Panasonic and possible Hitachi. The company’s high-end Elite series is in a class all its own now that Sony’s XBR plasma is no longer in production.
The Elite 1130HD was perhaps the most versatile and capable TV we’ve tested to date. Viewing enjoyment comes at a high price and most shoppers will get by with fewer features for a lot less money. Still, videophiles with deep pocketbooks shopping for a plasma TV will want to consider the Elite 1130HD plasma TV.
PICTURE QUALITY: 97/100
Almost any HDTV set can produce an impressive picture from a clean 1080i signal. Unfortunately the majority of broadcast material and all DVDs we watch fall well below 1080i resolution. Many pricey, flat panel TVs handle these lower-quality signals poorly, leaving consumers who shelled out big bucks for a TV disappointed. What sets the Pioneer Elite apart from other TVs is its ability to display an impressive picture from almost any source. The Pioneer Elite's picture handling is the most versatile we've seen on a plasma display yet. It may seem ironic that you pay top-dollar for the best quality TV so you can better enjoy poor-quality video signals, but that's the strange reality of the plasma TV market today. Color handling, dark matter detailing, de-interlacing, and scaling are all top-notch on the Pioneer Elite 1130HD. Its picture is nothing short of astounding.
While color is excellent out of the box, users have plenty of options for adjustment. In the pro-adjust section of the picture menu users can individually adjust the levels of red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta in their picture. There are also five predefined color temperature settings, with the option of manual adjustment. We found the default mid color temperature setting to yield accurate skin tones and realistic whites. In the basic picture controls users can adjust color and tint, but here too we found the out-of-the-box defaults excellent.
We could fully appreciate the 1130HD's color handling while watching film-legend Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education... The movie, set in Spain during the 1970s and 1980s, is packed full of the vibrant colors that dominated the eras of disco and cocaine. Glowing polyester, Gaudi-esc ceramic walls, and aqua pool water came through with the over-the-top vibrancy Almodovar intentionally packs into the sets of his films. At the same time color abounded in each scene, the characters' skin tones were fully natural with no hint of exaggeration. Throughout the DVD version of Bad Education the Elite demonstrated that it could display any hue thrown its way, natural or artificial.
Using Joe Kane Production's Video Essentials’ test patterns during initial setup we arrived at a contrast setting of 30 (on a scale of 0 to 60) and a brightness setting of -2 (on its scale of -30 to +30). Moving through the full range of contrast and brightness settings on the TV we only saw blooming with contrast set exceptionally high, where it would quickly shorten the plasma’s life. The TV's compliant behavior during these demanding tests was an indication that it would do well with both bright and dark scenes.
In a dark, rainy night scene in Bad Education the Elite 1130HD's dark matter detailing ability shined. As Ignacio (Francisco Boira) exited a black Spanish taxicab into the night we could see detail in car's black bumper, the black interior of the car, and Boira's dark hair. On most TVs we'd be lucky to see any detail in the scene beyond the car's headlights. On the Elite we saw detail as if we there in real life with our pupils fully dilated to see in the night.
While watching Bad Education at 480i we noticed no artifacts or shortcomings in the plasma TV's built-in de-interlacer. Just to be sure the de-interlacer lived up to the Elite name, we tested the plasma TV with a series of challenging video clips. Waving flags were devoid of jagged edges. Pans of suspension bridges and skyscrapers, scenes that introduce horrible pulsation on cheaper televisions, were noiseless on the 1130HD's screen. Pioneer states that the Elite 1130HD Plasma TV comes with a 3:3 pull down as part of its PureCinema system, which eliminates jitter that persists through a normal 3:2 conversion. The circuitry behind JVC’s de-interlacer is clearly a cut above the competition, with a 480i input it matches or exceeds most HDTVs used with a 480p signal.
The plasma display’s video scalar is high quality too. For 4:3 sources users can select from 5 aspect ratio settings. Native 4:3 displays the image with gray bars along both edges, full enlarges 16:9 images to full the screen, zoom performs a vertical stretch to eliminate letter boxes, cinema is used to scale 14:9 letterbox pictures, and wide performs a variable stretch, keeping the aspect ratio most correct at the center of the movie. With the exception of zoom, every aspect ratio setting looked natural on screen. For HDTV sources only the wide aspect ratio setting is available.
The built-in tuner's ability to scale analog broadcast signals to fill the 50-inch plasma was second to none. Taking an NTSC signal, scaling it up to 50 inches at 1280x768, and getting anything but a blurry picture is beyond most plasma television sets' capabilities. Even when sitting close to the plasma TV we saw a good picture from analog, broadcast NTSC signals. Better still we could enjoy great digital and HDTV content using the media receiver's built-in ATSC tuner. The high-resolution of HD broadcasts was clearly visible on the Pioneer Elite 1130HD. Clarity when watching 720p and 1080i HD content was crystal clear. Watching a 1080i feed of Terminator 2 we could see the detail in Arnold Schwarzenegger's vertically gelled hair. Skin detail that was previously only visible on the big screen poured out of each scene on the Elite 1130HD.
Off-axis viewing on the Elite 1130HD was superb. Anywhere inside of a 170-degree vertical or horizontal area color appeared nearly indistinguishable from an on-center viewing. Anti-glare coating on this glass is second to none.
When used as a computer monitor the Pioneer Elite 1130HD performs as well as any plasma TV we've seen. Connecting our laptop to the VGA input and setting the resolution to 1280x768 we were treated to a flicker-free picture with very little picture distortion.
In terms of picture quality the only thing the Elite 1130HD doesn't do better than the competition is deliver brighter whites and darker blacks. Though it doesn't surpass the competition when it comes to contrast, the Elite is still ranked with the very best. Improvement here would've landed the TV a perfect score, but for now I'm willing to rate it as “near perfection.”
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: 97/100
The Pioneer's feature-set is missing nothing. Except for electronic noise from the plasma panel and a remote control that doesn't match the TV's gorgeous design the TV is flawless.
During normal operation noise from the plasma TV's electronics becomes louder as the picture becomes brighter. This is very annoying to a tester who watches the TV with no sound during testing, but chances are with your surround sound system going you won't notice any noise from the electronics. Still, for a plasma TV with such a high price tag we expect perfection in all areas. In addition to the panel noise a small amount of noise is emitted from the accompanying media receiver. You’ll want to hide the media receiver out of sight and out of earshot using the 10-foot signal and control cable.
The Pioneer 1130HD's remote is made of grainy plastic and clad with vibrant primary colors, a design that looks dated in 2005. Appearance aside, the illuminated remote is easy to use, hold, and has handy shortcut buttons for changing between inputs and picture settings. The remote's straightforward design pairs well with the Elite 1130HD's intuitive menu system. Picture control menus don't timeout, which makes adjusting picture an easier task. The onscreen display information for the built-in tuner is information-packed and unobtrusive.
There are plenty of inputs available on the external media receiver. On the back of the media receiver there are two antenna/cable coaxial jacks, an iLink (aka FireWire, aka IEE-1394) jack, two HDMI inputs, two sets of composite jacks supporting either S-video or RCA connections, and two sets of component jacks supporting interlaced and progressive inputs. One set of component jacks also supports composite RCA/S-video connectors. A second multi-input set of jacks is located under a fold-down door on the front of the media receiver, along with the media box’s VGA input. Sound out is available via an optical out connection. There are built-in ATSC and NTSC tuners, which are excellent at gathering station and programming information. A CableCARD slot will eliminate some owners' need to keep their cable box.
Picture-in-picture is easy to use and versatile. Different inputs can be displayed side-by-side or as small overlays in the corner of the screen. Clearly labeled buttons on the remote make controlling the system a breeze.
The Pioneer PRO-1130HD comes with 3-way speakers. The speakers can be flush mounted or recess mounted along the sides. Flush mounting covers the power, input, channel, and volume controls along the side of the TV.
The panel's power consumption is 363 watts and the receiver’s is 43 watts. For the math impaired that is 406 watts total power consumption, which isn't bad for a 50-inch plasma TV system. Heat, which isn’t pronounced, vents off the top and rear of the unit. The Pioneer Elite 1130HD is made in Japan.
The $6,499 in store price of the Pioneer Elite 1130HD could get you a used Corolla. If you're seriously thinking about buying this TV, chances are you don't drive a Toyota Corolla, new or old. It’s pricey and it can only be purchased from Authorized Dealers in store. There are no authorized Internet sales allowed on Pioneer Elite plasma models (except Crutchfield).
For those who have to have the best in plasma TV, the Pioneer Elite PRO-1130HD is a sound choice though at quite a premium to even other Pioneer units with stellar performance. The Pioneer PDP-5060HD sells for around $2000 less and still has that fantastic color and depth – using the same plasma screen display element. There are better deals for sure from Pioneer and other first tier manufacturers. That said, this plasma display was a pleasure to review.