Pioneer's latest 43-inch plasma, dubbed the PDP-4350HD, has a somewhat misleading name. With a native resolution of 1,024x768, it most definitely does not qualify as a true HD display. Now that doesn't mean that HD sources don't look good on the panel, they do, but technically, 1,280x720 is the minimum native resolution required for true HDTV display. Then again, no other plasma in this size range has more pixels. Once you've digested its name, you should note that the PDP-4350HD is very similar to its predecessor, the , except it has a somewhat refined panel and includes a CableCard slot. Its image quality is also nearly identical, although it didn't score quite as high overall because the competition has improved: Panasonic's TH-42PHD7UY is just that good. That said, if you don't like the Panasonic's minimalist styling and feature set, this swanky, full-featured plasma is a good alternative.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
Pioneer includes a pair of matching black speakers with the 4350HD that can be mounted vertically on the sides of the panel or left detached. The unit also comes with an outboard A/V controller, which is finished in silver with a mirrored faceplate. The controller houses all of the 4350HD's connectivity, and connects to the panel itself via a single 10-foot umbilical.
The remote is very well designed and laid out. It is long and slender, and--lo and behold--completely backlit for use in darkened home theaters. There are direct access keys for all inputs, which makes switching sources a snap. The internal menu system is also simple and intuitive to navigate.As we mentioned at the outset, the PDP-4350HD's native resolution of 1,024x768, while higher than that of similarly sized EDTV plasmas (more info), does not qualify for true HD status. Naturally, the set can display high-def and just about anything else you throw at it, including computer sources up to 1,280x768; it just converts the incoming signal to match its native resolution.
Despite its place in Pioneer's lineup as the least-expensive consumer 2005 plasma, the PDP-4350HD has a fully loaded feature package. It includes both types of digital tuner: a digital cable ready tuner that works with the CableCard slot, and an ATSC terrestrial tuner for off-air HDTV reception. For your convenience, dual-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) with split-screen is on tap along with independent input memories. Several different preset picture modes are also available, and selectable color temperatures include Low, Mid, and High, with Low being the closest to the broadcast standard of D6500.
The 4350HD has a number of other picture-enhancing features worth mentioning. It is one of the few plasmas with a 72-hertz refresh rate or 3:3 pull-down, which is designed to eliminate the jerky motion (film jutter) normally preserved in the 2:3 pull-down process. Other advanced picture adjustments include video noise reduction, CTI (a mode said to provide clearer color contours) and DRE (an autocontrast circuit). For more on the effects of these settings, see the Performance page.
At first glance, connectivity appeared to be awesome, but we quickly realized that there are really only four A/V input slots available (in addition to dedicated slots for PC [VGA], antenna, and FireWire). In other words, regardless of the number of physical jacks, you can select from only four different inputs (AV1 to AV4) in the menu system. This should be enough for most folks, especially those who use an A/V receiver for switching, but will limit some systems.
The input labeled AV1 offers a choice of HDMI, component, S-Video, or composite video. AV2 offers S-Video or composite video. AV3 offers HDMI or component video. AV4 covers the front-panel input, which, to our pleasant surprise, offers a choice of component, S-Video, or composite video. Also out front is a VGA-style analog RBG input with a minijack audio input for computers. Around back again, we counted two FireWire ports, an optical digital audio output, a monitor A/V output with composite and S-Video, a CableCard slot, and a VCR controller port. This last item works with the included IR blaster to command a VCR or DVD recorder to make timed recordings.