Despite its looks, this 50-incher isn't a plasma TV. It's actually a display, meaning that it doesn't come with home comforts like TV tuners or built-in speakers.
That said, it is intended for the home market, and for home cinema fanatics especially -- you'd have to be quite the enthusiast to consider shelling out the wallet-pounding £6,000 it costs. Because of its ultra-high resolution 1,920x1,080-pixel screen, it's one of only a very select group of plasma screens able to show 1080p high definition. And with two HDMI sockets and one component video input, it's certainly got the potential to be a hub for several hi-def devices.
50 inches used to be pushing the upper limits for a home cinema display, but with Panasonic throwing out 65- and 103-inch models recently, it's starting to seem pretty average. Okay, so we're not serious. This is a very large, imposing screen and it's not the sort of thing most people will want to put in a 3m by 2m living room -- it needs a bit more space than that. It's actually surprisingly light, though, and moving it around isn't the hernia-inducing task we'd expected -- good news if you plan on wall-mounting the thing.
The PDP-5000EX is a really nice-looking, solidly built product, too. The frame surrounding the screen gives off a glossy shine, and the desktop stand you get with it is inoffensive enough to fit in with the décor of most rooms (it doesn't swivel, though). Part of the reason for the good looks is a total lack of speakers -- there are, however, standard spring-clip terminals around the back so you can connect up your own.
All the display's sockets are located at the back of the set. Again, because it's not strictly speaking a TV, some of the things you expect to see just aren't here: no Scarts and no connection for an aerial. You do, however, get two HDMIs; one component video-compatible BNC (you might need three adaptors to connect your component video kit to this); one DVI-D (with HDCP, so it could be used as a third hi-def digital input, albeit one without a built-in audio feed); and one S-Video and one composite video input. So altogether you've got four hi-def inputs, which isn't bad going at all. We'd have liked to see a dedicated VGA input for PC use here, as well as at least one Scart for convenience's sake, but it's an excellent selection for those with hi-def kit. You also get stereo inputs for each video connection.
Because of its 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, this screen has the rare ability to accept a 1080p video signal from a Blu-ray or HD DVD player, but only via HDMI -- via component the maximum resolution available is 1080i. Not only that, but if you do feed it 1080p or 1080i, you can also select a 'dot-by-dot' aspect ratio that displays the source image in its entirety, with each pixel from the source corresponding to a pixel on the screen. This results in a sharper, more detailed image. Most screens will overscan the image slightly, shaving a little off the edges, so it's a great feature to have -- especially if you plan on feeding in a PC via DVI or HDMI.
The display also includes a bevy of Pioneer technologies to enhance picture quality. There's a Direct Colour Filter, which sees the glass filter used by most plasmas replaced by a thin plastic one, reducing both reflections on the screen and refraction through it, so you get a slightly sharper picture and have to worry less about ambient light affecting the visibility of the picture. Then there's noise reduction technology (for both digital and MPEG noise), a scaler to improve standard-definition pictures, active contrast adjustment that reacts to the amount of light in the room -- the list goes on. There's even something called a Deep Waffle Rib Structure, which apparently improves the brightness of each pixel.
The menu system is extremely simple -- there's no TV tuning to worry about, and the remote control is truly excellent. It's a reassuringly weighty device with no more buttons than necessary, and one of our favourite features is the fact that it has a button for each external input. This means you can quickly switch to your DVD player, Blu-ray deck, satellite box and games console without having to dip into the menu or cycle through each and every one.
There's only one word for this screen's performance: sublime -- and that goes for both HD and standard-definition images. Because of the high resolution, great black levels, bright colours and strong contrast, HD material from Blu-ray, Sky HD and our Xbox 360 all looks absolutely drop-dead gorgeous here -- you don't get the intense sharpness you might from a top LCD, but the image is more lifelike and almost totally noise-free. Movement is silky-smooth, too, which is great news for gamers, and we had no issues with impressions of static images 'burning' into the screen, either.
What's also interesting is just how good standard-definition material looks here. Most flat panel TVs don't really shower themselves in glory when showing SD programmes, but we have to say that the Pioneer does a spectacular job of making the bad stuff look good and the good stuff look great -- it seems to be mainly down to the way it deals with noise, but we're sure that the combination of all the technologies helps. The fact that it can blow standard-definition material up to 50 inches and make it look good gets a major thumbs up from us.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield