We've longed for plasma televisions to include built-in HD tuners and this year Pioneer has finally delivered in both the AU$6,499 50-inch PDP-507XDA and its AU$4,999 42-inch sibling, the PDP-42XDA.
Image quality improvements include a thin layer of magnesium -- something Pioneer labels the Crystal Emissive Layer -- inserted between the plasma glass and individual pixels, which produces better contrast. In addition to more detailed blacks, Pioneer claims that this magnesium layer allows each phosphor-filled cell to be charged and discharged faster, so lighter areas appear brighter, too. It also makes the panel more energy efficient, with power consumption rated at 350W.
With its Direct Colour Filter, Pioneer has optically bonded a layer of film directly to the plasma glass to reduce ambient light reflections which improves colour accuracy and contrast in daylight or brightly lit rooms. It you like to watch footy in the afternoon, there is also a Sport Mode that sharpens colours, particularly the greens of the pitch.
Speakers are fitted underneath the screen and its 2 x 13 watt stereo amplifier has separate bass and treble controls.
Pioneer has always strived to offer one of the best customer services packages available in Australia, with its free delivery and installation service, and 5 year warranty. Added to the mix this year is the optional service of an ISF-certified professional calibration. Once the television has been 'run-in' for 150 hours, a technician trained in ISF (Image Science Foundation) standards will customise the levels of contrast, tint, colour level, gamma and other parameters to optimum levels for your specific viewing environment. Two ISF settings, one for bright daytime and one for evening, are then locked down on the set so that they cannot be inadvertently altered when changing picture settings.
CNET.com.au first saw an ISF calibration demonstration at the Cedia Expo (coincidentally on a Pioneer commercial plasma display) and can attest that the improvement in picture quality was startling. As slight changes in one parameter can greatly impact the optimal settings in all others, it is unfortunately not possible for a tinkering enthusiast to get the same result as someone fully trained to do the job properly.
There's no external tuner box to worry about any more, but the built-in HD tuner does make the screen slightly thicker (1224 x 717 x 115mm) and heavier (34.8kg) which may be a consideration if you're planning on wall mounting this panel.
The PDP-507XDA has 2 HDMI ports and is 1080p/24 HZ compatible to handle Blu-ray source material, but with a 1365 x 768 pixel resolution, it is not a "full" HD 1080p television. For that you'll have to take a big budget step up to the Pioneer , which sells for AU$14,999.
While CNET.com.au does recommend taking up the offer of custom calibration, there are currently only about 40 ISF-certified professionals in Australia at this time and the extra service will cost you between AU$250-$400.
Pioneer's sole focus on plasma technology continues to pay quality dividends and with the addition of a built-in tuner and a top service package, the PDP-507XDA will be a tough act to beat.