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Pioneer PDP-5000EX (PRO-FHD1) 50" 1080p Flat Panel Plasma TV

January, 2007

Ofer LaOr

 

Specifications:

 

Diagonal Screen Size: 50" (127cm)

Resolution: 1920 x 1080
● Accepted Inputs: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
Contrast Ratio: 3000:1
Brightness: 1000 cd/m2
Power Consumption: 420W
Dimensions: 30" H x 51" W x 4" D

Weight: 90 Pounds

● MSRP: $10,000; $8,000 Street USA


Pioneer Electronics Europe

www.pioneer.eu

Introduction

Double the pixels, double the fun.

I first laid eyes on the Pioneer PDP-5000EX (it is known in the states as the PRO-FHD1) in Las Vegas at CES 2006. The little sign beneath it, touting a Full HD plasma display (1920 by 1080 pixels) with full support for 50 Hz, 60 Hz, 72 Hz, and 48 Hz caused me to exhale quite loudly.

People were walking past this amazing piece of design without paying attention to the marvel of engineering standing right next to them.

The PRO-FHD1

The PRO-FHD1 is the first production plasma display with full HD resolution, and the fact that it supports these rates at native resolution was quite a dramatic leap for me.

Well, I finally got the unit for a one week evaluation, during which time I subjected it to every test, probing for signs of weakness with the full arsenal of HT toys at my disposal.

Whereas most 50" plasma displays max out at 720p (just over 1 million pixels), the PRO-FHD1/PDP-5000EX hosts 2 million square pixels, to the fullest extent of the HDTV format (1080i). This allows you to sit much closer to it while retaining every detail on Vanessa Williams' face (apparently, much to her discontent).

When would you need full HD on a 50" plasma? Well, to put it bluntly: when you want to sit up REALLY close and really see every detail. If you're planning on sitting 12-15 feet away from your 50" display, or if you don't consider yourself to be a hawk eyed videophile, you can save quite a bit of cash by getting a 720p display.

However, if you're like me wanting to see every excruciating detail captured on film/tape, if you notice "video artifacts" (or even know what they are), then you should seriously look at a 1080p display (although TV programs are broadcast at a maximum of 1080i, Blu-ray DVD players can send 1080p to your display).

Externally, this monitor looks very high quality and professional. It hosts two HDMI inputs for HD content, a DVI connector (primarily for HTPC connection, but this can be used for anything else), RGBHV/component BNC connectors, as well as composite and S-Video inputs for SD content sources. It also sports many stereo analog audio inputs by way of RCA jacks for those video sources.

While LCD displays have long touted full HD status on panels ranging from 21" to 60", these panels have had quite a few flaws. A typical 37" full HD LCD display usually suffered from slow response time (black to gray or gray to gray), causing detail to smear dramatically during motion scenes. Additional flaws included grayish blacks, making it very hard to watch dark movies such as The Bone Collector.

So, my first tests were specifically targeted at seeing how well this monitor displays motion content and dark scenes.

Yoda fight scenes from Star Wars Attack of the Clones were nothing short of amazing. Not a pixel out of place, and the dark surroundings were detailed and precise. Every individual strand of hair on his head was visible even in dark lighting, and with amazing sharpness. Yoda's white robes were dark because of the low light conditions in the scene, but still, the rough individual strands of cloth stood out, and even small creases on his face and clothes were crisp and clear.

Up close, there was no screen door effect (SDE), and only slight shimmering of the pixels was observed. You can stand a couple of feet from the display, given a good HDTV source, and not be disappointed by what you see.

The promise of a display that can finally resolve virtually every frame rate known to man was too hard to pass by for me. I started testing with various frequencies, using 1080i and 1080p. These days, most displays support 50 Hz sources but do show various types of conversion artifacts, ranging from judder (very common) to banding (usually on NEC and LG displays).

The judder test can be easily checked using a moving pattern generator, but the best device to use for this type of test is an iScan VP50. I tested for judder and native rate (this requires use of the "Dot by Dot" aspect ratio from the display), and the results were interesting. 50 Hz and 60 Hz locked perfectly when the display was set to Dot By Dot mode. However, 72 Hz and 75 Hz had some issues syncing to native rate. At 48 Hz (twice the rate of 24 fps, if we have a 3:2 pulldown source), the set locked on to a pristine image (native rate with zero judder). This is quite unique and goes to show that Pioneer engineers have a full understanding of how much HTPC owners and video processor owners have been clamoring for perfect native rate support.

An interesting option was shown when 50 Hz sources were fed to the unit. The unit can convert such sources to 75 Hz or 100 Hz, reducing the annoying flicker for that type of source. Even with this feature turned off, I could not really see any visible flicker, and there was very little visible difference when this conversion was turned on.

Testing the contrast ratio revealed that the set's CR is much closer to 2500:1 than the reported 3000:1. Even with that said, the display shows graceful and balanced blacks.

Out of the box, the display is not really calibrated, but calibrating it is a breeze, and the results are very good.

On screen menus are quite easy to manage, and the remote is a good match for the display looking dark and very professional. As with many Pioneer displays, the blaring lack of discrete controls (aspect ratios and discrete on/off buttons) on the remote was annoying. How many high-end plasma owners need discrete controls? I have no idea, but I would guess that quite a lot of them have some kind of investment in a remote capable of macros or even some type of home automation system.

I went on to test some additional HDTV content: Once upon a time in Mexico. Antonio Banderas looks fantastic in this movie, with deep and rich skin tones, but I felt drawn to more Attack of the Clones tests, and the monster attack scenes were just brim full of details.

Sadly, the set did not do so well on my SDTV tests. The picture was soft, and even from quite a distance, I could still see that the processing on the set leaves a lot to be desired. DVE and AVIA resolution tests resolved correctly, but the scaling was simply not up to par. The de-interlacing and scaling of this display, particularly with SD content, are seriously underwhelming given the picture quality level of this set, and watching SD content with this display should either be avoided, or the set should be purchased together with a suitable video processor (I'll expand on this point shortly).

The display's gamma curves ranged from 2.22 (gamma 1 setting) to 2.18 and 2.04 (gamma 2 and 3 settings, respectively). I found myself in need of a slightly higher gamma setting for HD content, but this is more of a personal taste issue. Color temperature on this set tended to be higher than desired and leaned more towards Japanese taste (9300K) than European/American standards (6500K).

As with all plasmas, this set lacks saturated blues, and more research in this area should be invested by the industry.

The display comes with audio decoding and amplification for the two front speakers, although this is much more of a movie monitor that should be bundled with high quality speakers and amplification than an overpriced TV display that has two adjacent flat "plasma-ish" speakers.

I connected some speakers to the unit and tested it with several HDMI sources, including the Oppo 970 HDMI DVD player. Audio decoding worked perfectly every time, and amplification was enough to simulate a typical TV volumes.

Hooking up the Oppo 970 to the display at SD resolutions produced terrible results. This player simply pumps out the data to the HDMI input, but as with other SD sources, the PRO-FHD1 showed a dramatically unsharp and fuzzy image from this player.

Adding the iScan VP50 between player and display changed things dramatically. SD content was far sharper and much more detailed. Again, I strongly recommend to connect SD sources to this display only via an adequate processor. HD content through the VP50 pushed the envelope once again, and with the same scenes, it was able to extract even more detail and three-dimensionality. The Lumagen HDP Pro did just as well, with just a hint more sharpness on both SD and HD sources (better scaling shows up very clearly here), at the expense of a little more combing.

Aspect ratio control was quite good in this display. I have already noted the special Dot By Dot mode, which removes any overscan and gives an exact replica of the signal going in. A typical wide version of this aspect ratio simply adds overscan elimination to avoid any dark bars on the edges due to signal incompatibility (if you see any, just yell at your satellite or cable company). 4:3 mode can be detected by the set automatically, in which case it can show the picture with bars on the sides (not recommended due to the dangers of burn-in) or non-linear stretching.

Conclusions

There's no question, put any LCD along side this display and watch it shrink in shame. Panasonic has announced four new 1080p models. They will have to make quite a leap to reach the bar level as set by Pioneer's PRO-FHD1/PDP-5000EX.

 

- Ofer LaOr -
 

Mr. LaOr is Editor of Hometheater.Co.Il, a Hi-Fi magazine published in Israel. He is also the moderator for the AVS Forum Video Processing section.

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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