Pioneer, a longtime leader in plasmas, put all of its TV eggs in the plasma basket after dropping out of the CRT rear-projection business last year. The company's plasma lineup includes two 2005 models that lack the high-end Elite nameplate, yet still cost a bit more than competing plasmas from other makers: the 43-inch PDP-4350HD and the 50-inch PDP-5050HD. On paper, this 50-inch plasma looks nearly identical to 2004's PDP-5045HD--the company made couple of tweaks to its styling and left the innards essentially unchanged. In any event, the PDP-5050HD still has one of the most comprehensive input bays around, anchored in an external media receiver, and offers a slick look and plenty of other features. While its image quality isn't up to the stiff competition of , the Pioneer is a competent performer, if not a reference display, in the 50-inch plasma category. The design of the Pioneer PDP-5050HD panel itself is simple yet classy and attractive. The screen is surrounded by the company's signature glossy black finish, and the included swivel base is finished in silver (optional wall-mount kits are available). We do wish the finish was less glossy, as it tends to reflect room light, but it does look snazzy when turned off. The panel measures 29 by 50 by 3.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 84 pounds.
Like many wall-mountable displays, the PDP-5050HD comes with an external A/V controller that routes all of the A/V sources to the panel via a two-wire umbilical cord. Pioneer includes a 10-foot cord and offers longer cables if your installation requires them. The A/V controller is finished in silver with a black, flip-down door that hides a set of front-panel inputs, and its rack-friendly size is roughly equivalent to most standard A/V equipment.
The completely backlit remote is largish, extremely comprehensive, and fairly well laid out considering its complexity--although the sheer number of buttons may put off beginners. In one potentially confusing move, the designers directed the Split button on the remote to toggle between split screen and picture-in-picture modes, rather than giving PIP its own key. The user interface is straightforward and relatively easy to navigate. Despite its entry-level placement in Pioneer's 2005 lineup, the PDP-5050HD boasts an excellent feature package. It has a native resolution of 1,280x768, which definitely qualifies it as a true HDTV since it exceeds the resolution required to fully resolve a 720p HDTV signal. All other input resolutions, including 1080i HD signals, computer, and standard video sources, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
While it lacks the TV Guide on-screen EPG that's so fashionable among 2005 HDTVs, we don't think that's a major omission since the Guide has so many issues. The PDP-5050HD does include CableCard capability (aka DCR, or Digital Cable Ready) for tuning digital and high-def cable without a cable box, and also has a built-in ATSC decoder for reception of off-air HDTV signals.
Useful adjustments abound. Several selectable color temperatures are available, with warm being quite close to the broadcast standard of 6,500K. The five video presets, with the exception of Dynamic, provide the ability to change the picture controls to optimize the picture. Dual-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) with split-screen is on tap for sports junkies. The panel also features five selectable aspect-ratio modes when viewing standard-def programming, only two of which are available with high-def sources.
There are several features in the Pro section that we deemed less useful. First off, the highly touted 72Hz function, a.k.a. "3:3 pulldown" and labeled Advanced under the Pure Cinema section, does not work all that well (see for details). The DRE feature is a high-contrast mode that is best left off. Finally, the CTI (Color Transient Improvement) feature does the exact opposite of improving color: it actually destroys color resolution, and should be turned off for all inputs and sources.
Connectivity on the PDP-5050HD will suffice for all but the most-elaborate setups. Inputs 1 and 3 give you the choice of either component video or HDMI with stereo audio inputs. Unfortunately, you must manually engage the HDMI inputs--we would prefer the system to default to HDMI. Input 2 can be either S-Video or composite video, and input 4 on the front panel of the A/V controller offers component, S-Video, composite, and a 15-pin VGA input for a PC. There are also two RF antenna inputs, one of which is capable of decoding off-air digital and HDTV broadcasts. Finally, a CableCard slot and a set of monitor A/V outputs with composite and S-Video round out the connection options. A two-wire umbilical cord connects the controller to the panel. The Pioneer PDP-5050HD exhibited impressive out-of-the-box image quality. In the standard picture mode and warm color-temperature setting, the grayscale approached closer to the standard of 6500K than did most other plasmas we've seen. Grays did appear a bit too greenish on the bottom of the scale, however, an effect easily visible in skin tones and dark material. Our grayscale calibration fixed this completely. Color decoding was relatively accurate although not perfect, with green exhibiting a bigger error than red. We ratcheted down color several clicks after setting it with SMPTE color bars in order to make skin tones look natural and not too red, but we still ended up with plenty of saturation.
The black-level performance of the Pioneer PDP-5050HD is its weakest point. The darkest blacks appeared as dark gray, and the opening scene from the Alien DVD revealed somewhat muddy blacks with less than ideal shadow detail. This is only an issue with very dark material--but you'll find such scenes in just about every movie. Bright scenes, on the other hand, looked much better.
Video processing performed well for the most part, with fast 2:3 pull-down detection when in the Standard Pure Cinema setting. However, the highly touted 3:3 pull-down mode--engaged by selecting the Advanced Pure Cinema mode--doesn't work nearly as it should. While it does smooth the picture out a bit, reducing the judder effect common with 2:3 pull-down (a stuttering of the entire frame most visible in pans), it also adds noise to the picture, as well as an instability that's not present in the standard 2:3 pull-down mode with 480i material. We looked at the opening scene from Star Trek: Insurrection and noticed the canoes and some of the buildings were shaking wildly, and there was significantly more noise in the picture than with standard 2:3 pull-down. We also checked out the long opening pan from Shakespeare in Love via both 480i component and 1080i HDMI and saw essentially the same thing: the Advanced/3:3 setting did reduce overall judder a bit, but introduced instabilities that, to our eyes, looked worse than judder. Since most people will be using a progressive-scan DVD player this won't be an issue with DVDs, but we recommend you leave the Pioneer in "Standard" Pure Cinema mode for film-based movies and television programs.
Chapters 12 and 13 of the Seabiscuit DVD looked good, with solid color saturation and skin-tone rendition. Most of the HD material looked first-rate from our DirecTV HD satellite feed, and bright scenes from HDNET in particular had a snap that was definitely impressive.
Overall this panel is a good choice for folks using it in family rooms where ambient light is the norm, and black-level performance isn't as important as in darkened dedicated home-theater environments. For dedicated home-theater rooms, the would be a better option.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6550/6200K||Good|
|After color temp (20/80)||6650/6600K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 317||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 89K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||-5%||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||-10%||Average|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||N||Good|