In the past, Pioneer's line of plasma TVs has performed well in our tests, but they failed to eclipse the picture quality of the best plasmas. This year, however, starting with the 43-inch , we noticed a marked improvement in Pioneer's performance, especially in the panels' ability to produce a deep color of black. Among 50-inch models, such as the Pioneer PDP-5060HD reviewed here, we still consider the Panasonic TH-50PHD8UK to be the king of the picture-quality hill but just by a nose. The 50-inch Pioneer offers more features and connectivity, not to mention having a classier design than that of the Panasonic. The Pioneer has excellent performance in its own right, although it does cost a few hundred dollars more. In other words, if you're looking for a fully featured 50-inch plasma and can afford to pay a few extra bucks, the Pioneer PDP-5060HD comes highly recommended. The Pioneer PDP-5060HD looks as sleek and high-tech as any plasma on the market, with a thick, glossy-black frame surrounding the screen. The screen itself is also quite dark when turned off, so if you mount it on the wall, it will look like a large dark monolith. When table-mounted, on the other hand, the set gives you a two-tone look, thanks to the included silver stand. The panel itself measures 48.2 by 28.3 by 3.6 inches (WHD) without speakers and stand.
Pioneer includes matching detachable speakers (pictured) with the PDP-5060HD, but the most notable addition to the standard plasma package is the separate media receiver. This component-size silver box (16.6 by 3.6 by 11.8 inches, WHD) houses all of the connections as well as the plasma's tuners. The idea is that you connect your gear to the media receiver, then you have to run only one cable--a proprietary, 3-meter digital A/V/control umbilical--into the back of the panel itself, though the media box and the TV still require their respective AC cables. Longer umbilicals are available for installations that need them.
The remote is the familiar Pioneer design that hasn't changed in several years, and thankfully, it is fully backlit for use in darkened environments. Despite the numerous buttons, we found the large, rectangular unit well laid out. The keys are grouped in such a way that your thumb can reach the most important keys (Menu, Volume, Channel) easily. The remote is universal and capable of controlling a wide variety of other A/V components. For the most part, Pioneer's onscreen user interface is equally well thought out, although we were annoyed that we had to go into the menu system to enable the HDMI connections. In our view, HDMI should be engaged by default. The feature package of the Pioneer PDP-5060HD is pretty impressive, but we'll start with the basics. This panel has a native resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, which is plenty to resolve all of the detail of 720p HDTV sources. All sources, including high-def, computers, DVD, and standard TV are scaled to fit those pixels. Most other 50-inch plasmas have resolutions of 1,366x768, but in our tests, we didn't miss the extra few pixels.
Along with the standard gamut of conveniences, including an ATSC tuner, CableCard, the TV Guide EPG, and picture-in-picture, the Pioneer PDP-5060HD includes many performance-affecting features. It offers a generous selection of aspect-ratio options--five with standard-def sources and four with high-def. There are several color-temperature settings available, with Warm being the closest to the broadcast-standard color temperature of 6,500 Kelvin. There's a User picture mode that lets you change controls such as contrast and brightness to optimize the picture for various sources, and you can save different settings for each input. There are also three adjustable global modes that apply to all inputs, as well as a Dynamic mode that has fixed presets.
Pioneer makes a big deal out of its 72Hz refresh mode, which supposedly provides a smoother picture than those of standard processors with film-based sources, but we preferred to leave the mode, labeled Advanced under Pure Cinema, turned off (see Performance). We also found that the CTI (Color Transient Improvement) feature is exactly the opposite of its name--it reduces color resolution and should be turned off for all inputs and sources.
The connectivity on the Pioneer PDP-5060HD's media receiver is comprehensive, but unfortunately, many of the input slots give you a choice between two input types, rendering the one you don't choose inoperative. Inputs slots 1 and 3, for example, give you the choice of either component video or HDMI. Granted, you can have both connection types associated with one slot, but you have to delve into the menu and disable HDMI to allow component video to function--an inconvenient solution at best. We suspect most installations will choose either component or HDMI for these inputs.
Input slot 2 offers either S-Video or composite-video, while slot 4 refers to the front panel of the A/V controller, offering a choice of component, S-Video, composite, or a 15-pin VGA input for a PC. There are also two RF antenna inputs, with Antenna A being capable of decoding digital off-air HDTV broadcasts, as well as two FireWire ports. Finally, a CableCard slot and a set of monitor A/V outputs with composite video round out the connection options. As we mentioned above, a proprietary umbilical cable connects the media receiver to the panel. The Pioneer PDP-5060HD is an excellent performer in just about every regard. Specifically, Pioneer has dramatically improved the black-level performance over last year's models, such as the . Now blacks are deep, rich, and inky instead of muddy gray. Shadow detail was exceptional, and the blacks are also blissfully free of most false-contouring artifacts and low-level noise. Chapters 2 and 3 of Revenge of the Sith have myriad space shots and dark material, and the Pioneer revealed clean, deep, rich-looking blacks in these sections.
Video processing on the Pioneer PDP-5060HD is also decent, incorporating 2:3 pull-down for the elimination of motion artifacts with film-based material. Pioneer's 72Hz mode offers what the company calls 3:3 pull-down, which is supposed to smooth the image; but in our tests, it had some issues. While the jutter, or minor stuttering effect characteristic of film, was somewhat smoothed out, we noticed significant artifacts that were not visible in standard 2:3 pull-down mode. All of these video-processing modes work with only non-HD 480i material, which means they're not available if you have a progressive-scan or upconverting DVD player attached.
Color was fairly accurate on the Pioneer PDP-5060HD (see the Geek box below for details). The primary colors of red and blue are much more accurate than most plasma panels on the market, but green is way off, which is typical of most panels. The Pioneer does exhibit a slight red push, which means you have to back the color down somewhat and sacrifice a little saturation. Color temperature was very good both before and after calibration.
Turning back to DVD, chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the superb Superbit version of The Fifth Element DVD looked spectacular, exhibiting great detail, solid overall color saturation, and natural-looking skin tones. There was a tiny bit of visible low-level noise in some scenes, but it was not enough to be objectionable.
HD material from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked exceptional. HDNet in particular looked as crisp as we've seen it on a 50-inch plasma, with good color saturation. Olympic hockey on UHD also looked impressive. The PDP-5060HD did pass all the resolution in a 720p multiburst pattern at the HDMI input but cut off a small amount of the horizontal resolution on the component input.
While the Pioneer PDP-5060HD has slightly more stable blacks than does our reference 50-inch panel, the Panasonic TH-50PHD8UK, the Panasonic has better color decoding, gamma, and grayscale tracking. It is a tough choice between the two, but we give the picture-quality nod to Panasonic. Pioneer also offers a 50-inch Elite model, the PRO-1130HD, with improved color decoding and a special ISF mode for calibrators. It's significantly more expensive than either model, however, so the marginal improvement in performance won't be worth the cost for most buyers.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,500/6,750K||Good|
|After color temp||6,500/6,450K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 480K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 83K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.646/0.330||Good|
|Color of green||0.230/0.693||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.153/0.069||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|