Pioneer has consistently lived up to its moniker when it comes to flat-screen technology. It launched the world's first plasma television back in 1997 and it has just unveiled its eighth generation of plasma TVs, of which the PDP-508XD is currently the highest-specced, highest-priced model.
Search online and you can expect to pay around £2,500 for this 50-inch TV, plus extra for speakers and a stand should you need them. That sounds like a lot considering Panasonic's highly impressivewill set you back a mere £1,250 or so, but Pioneer claims that this model has the features -- and more importantly the performance -- to warrant its princely price tag.
This screen, say its makers, offers the most film-like performance of any flat-screen TV on the market.
The styling and build quality certainly suggests you're getting a top-class piece of equipment for your cash. The screen is surrounded by a narrow frame finished in glossy piano black and almost free from any adornment, except for a single power button and the Pioneer logo. The stand and speakers are optional, so those who want a wall-mounted display will end up with a very clean-looking and relatively compact solution. The speakers can be attached either below the screen or on each side.
Build quality is equally impressive. Our review model arrived with a swivelling tabletop stand and pair of speakers already attached, and everything feels rock solid and reliable.
Pioneer has really gone to town on the connections. First and foremost, it's toting no less than three HDMI inputs, each of which conforms to the latest version 1.3 specification. You also get a component video input, so it's possible to connect four hi-def devices at once (or even five if you hook up an Xbox 360 or PC via the VGA input). Three Scart connections and a subwoofer output round off the socket selection at the back, while the left side-panel has S-Video and composite inputs, plus a headphone socket and a USB port (for viewing photos from a USB stick or card reader).
As befits a wallet-bashing top-of-the-range television, the PDP-508XD is packed to the gills with advanced technology. For example, it can display Blu-ray and HD DVD at their original speed of 24 frames per second (fps) -- many TVs still speed them up to 25fps, increasing the pitch of the audio by 4 per cent. In addition, it boasts a handful of different noise reduction features, plus the PureCinema function, which scales up the frame rate to ensure smooth, steady motion when you're watching a movie. It even comes with a light sensor that allows it to automatically tweak the brightness level for the light conditions in your home.
In fact, true home cinema nuts can even get the screen custom calibrated by a professional, thanks to its ISF C3 feature. This allows an engineer to accurately set the TV's contrast, tint, colour level and so on for your room's light levels -- the idea being that you get a perfectly balanced image.
The menu system is a variant of the one that has appeared on every Pioneer plasma TV of the past few years. It's fairly simple to use, although it can sometimes take a lot of button presses on the remote to access a feature. One nice touch is the button that allows you to flip the picture from before to after you changed settings (and vice versa) -- it makes it much easier to see the results of your tweaking.
A host of picture-in-picture modes is offered, as well as the Home Gallery function for viewing digital photos from a connected USB device. The Home Gallery has been slightly updated, allowing you to view pictures in crisp high resolution. We did find it a touch slow and clunky to use though, with full-resolution photos taking a few seconds to appear.