Pioneer Plasma TV Review

 

 

Models: Pioneer PDP-503CMX and Pioneer PRO-1000HD Elite Plasma Televisions

Description: 50-inch HDTV Plasma Display, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 1280 x 768 (WXGA)
Includes:
PDP-503CMX: Built-in speakers and remote
PRO-1000HD Elite: Remote

Colors:
PDP-503CMX: Charcoal gray bezel
PRO-1000HD Elite: Gloss black bezel

Reviewer: Robert Wiley




Differences Between Models: PRO-1000HD Elite & PDP-503CMX
There is no difference in the glass or internal component processing in these two plasma displays. The Pro-1000HD has the video board already included in the unit. It also has a large high gloss black bezel, which measures 3-1/8" thick. I measure the surface area of the unit at 5-3/4" from the wall when mounted on the optional wall mount. Input options are basically the same between the two models except that the PRO-1000HD uses RCA type inputs while the 503CMX has BNC inputs. The PRO-1000HD plasma screen has a 2-year parts and labor warranty while the 503CMX has one.

Aside from those differences the picture quality, functionality, menu options, and special features are the same. I have referred to the model as the 503CMX but the two model numbers could be interchanged throughout the remainder of the review.

INTRODUCTION

Viewing video presentation equipment side-by-side using the same pure video or computer sources (without looping the signal) is the only way to truly test and grade these technologically advanced plasma TV/Monitor displays. Internal interpolation, conversion, and scaling all affect the way the naked eye perceives the image quality presented - regardless of the native pixel resolution. Several sources must be used with varying signal resolution during testing.

Pioneer has come out with some exciting new offerings in the plasma display product arena. They are one of four Japanese manufactures to operate a plasma display element (e.g. glass) manufacturing facility. In fact, the new pixel structure of the display element is one of Pioneer's key selling points of the latest product line.

Pioneer has been one of the four leading manufacturers of plasma technology and the market has to admire their ambition with plasma product. They were the first manufacturer to offer a 50" plasma TV, and they now have some new product offerings in 43", and in the consumer market with the HD line. They experiment, and take the plunge of new technologies. The Pioneer PDP-503CMX replaces the Pioneer PDP-502MX with an incredible leap! The 502MX was on the market for a record 2 years - an eternity in the plasma display market. It was a good performer with computer signals and fair as public display piece for digital signage. With video input it suffered from motion artifacts, false contouring, and pixelation.

The charcoal gray bezel is truly the only visible aspect of the older model (502MX) that made it into the well-engineered PDP-503CMX.


pioneer plasma
The above picture shows the Pioneer PDP503CMX (Top Right) being reviewed against the Fujitsu PDS5001 (Top Left), the NEC 42MP4 (Bottom Left) and the RCA PR42300 (Bottom Right)

PICTURE - 95

Image quality from video sources such as PC's, DVD players, HDTV receivers, digital cable or satellite, and even VCR's render the primary concerns for testing picture quality. We use at least three different sources for comparison, since plasma display images can vary greatly among different offerings between signal sources. The picture on the models tested is exactly the same in a side-by-side comparison.

The Pioneer PDP-503CMX is an outstanding performer in the picture category for several reasons. One, Pioneer has deepened the structure of the plasma display element pixel cells, thus allowing more phosphor area (40% increase) and less light leakage. This translates to you and I as incredibly bright vivid colors When first reading the specifications for the new Pioneer units I was not convinced there would be any real enhancement to the naked eye. But this engineering feat proved effective and produces stunning images and color saturation.

With higher end video signals (480p, 720p, 1080i) using progressive scan DVD players, computer input, or HDTV broadcasts - colors are rich, bright, and vibrant. With these video signals, however, the unit displays more background noise behind the key subject matter. It's a minor distraction and one caused by so much attention to the source material. The definition of this plasma is incredible, with brilliant colors and deep blacks.

Displaying video signals from 480i and lower (regular DVD signal, VCR, cable or satellite), the unit loses some of the brilliance of color but has little background noise. Either way, the unit performed superbly - giving me incredibly realistic flesh tones. Black levels, gray scaling, contrast, and brightness are all excellent.

Compared with the Fujitsu PDS5002 and Panasonic TH-50PHD3U models we tested the unit against, I found the color saturation more vibrant and bright with the Pioneer. The 503CMX was also superior in definition with an HDTV signal source due to the richness of dark tones. The Panasonic TH-50PHD3U model provided the most realistic image of the three 50" units and the best scaling features.


When viewing the DVD All The Pretty Horses there were many subtle hues that actually changed a good bit between signal sources (480i or 480p) or from one DVD player to another. This plasma TV is finicky about its components, and wants the best.

With standard cable or VCR in a 4:3 format the plasma monitor uses gray banding on the left and right sides of the picture rather than black. This will help cut down on noticeable picture differences caused by phosphor usage. Personally, I prefer the black. The gray just doesn't look natural and is slightly distracting.

One of the most outstanding features of this plasma display is its ability to display video or computer signals from close distances without visible pixelation/motion artifacts.. With most larger plasma display offerings, at least 12 feet of viewing distance is recommended so that pixelation (noticeable blending across pixel lines during a video signal) and motion artifacts do not interfere with viewing pleasure. This is the first 50" plasma display that I have seen that can comfortably be viewed from close distances of 5-10 feet. The deep pixel structure has to be credited with this.


OTHER CONSIDERATIONS 91

 

The connectivity selection from these two models are fairly standard these days for plasma with inputs for composite (BNC or RCA), s-video, component video (BNC or RCA which can be 3 pin or 5), 15 pin VGA and a digital RGB (DVI). The unit also has two video outputs for composite and s-video signals.

 

Built in amplifiers are included in the 503CMX but are not included in the PRO-1000HD (must use outside audio amplification).

One of the most unique and well thought out techniques of the 503CMX is to use an optional video board slot, which enables the user to upgrade the video card in future years to newer and better processing technologies. The current optional video, the PDA-5002, does not tune the signal. This video processor detects and upgrades signals with 3:2 pulldown-encoding as well as processing color information to the plasmas upgraded color filter.  This optional video board slot also applies to the 1000HD although the video board is already installed. The board (pictured below) simply slides into the open board slot and takes two screws to tighten. Another option for the video card slot is a video card capable of tuning the signal, or even a board capable of tuning the signal and decoding HDTV. These are already on the market, and Aurora is one of the manufacturers.

 

The Pioneer 503CMX has fairly ordinary looks. The bezel (frame) of the unit is cookie cutter charcoal gray with no personality. The frame of the PRO-1000HD is a large (adds 3-1/8” to width and height) black pretentious affair in gloss black. It would take a certain décor to display this unit.

Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Sharpness settings are easily accessed and adjusted through the simplistic remote control. After calibrating with test patterns for a while, I found the following to be optimum picture settings for the dark test room:

  • Contrast: -5 to save the unit; up to +8 for peak performance/ sharpest edge
  • Brightness -3
  • Color -3
  • Tint +3
  • Sharpness -7 (All the way down)

 

Pioneer does not allow the user too much room with picture settings. White levels tested through Contrast do not allow the level to approach blooming. They obviously have an interest in preventing frivolous user mistakes as setting contrast levels too high can permanently damage the unit’s phosphors.

 

The 503CMX/1000HD will display all computer resolutions tested up to UXGA (1600X1200). The computer resolution setting that I found to be the best with text images as well as video content was SVGA (800X600). It may seem that a higher resolution would be more compatible with this plasma’s 1280X768 pixels but this is plasma technology– and we must be mindful of all that conversion circuitry.

Lastly in other considerations, Pioneer has done a good job with regulating burn in occurrence. There are several system management tools, which act together to control brightness levels in peak intensity images, as well as throttling back power consumption. The built in fans activate on demand by the units heat sensors and are not audible. Big plus there – quiet operation.

SPECIAL FEATURES

STRENGTHS
  • Deep encased pixel structure adding to color brilliance
  • Up to UXGA resolution though the unit tests best with SVGA
  • Optional video card slot enables future technology expansion or tuner card.
  • Built in speaker amplifiers in PDP-503CMX
WEAKNESSES
  • Looks, 503CMX has plain bezel, PRO1000HD has wide glossy affair
  • Background noise on 3:2 content material at high resolution
  • Needs adjustment out of the box
  • Finicky about input components
VALUE - 90

The Pioneer 503CMX represents excellent value priced in the $8,500 neighborhood. It has great functionality, easy menu adjustments and superb black levels, contrast and color saturations which lead to an excellent picture. The PRO1000HD is priced in stores around $14,000. I am not convinced it is worth the extra $$ for the extra year warranty and glossy bezel.

OVERALL RATING - 92.75 (picture double weighted)



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