In my Pioneer line-show report in Issue 63, I revealed that the company had finally brought the black level of their latest plasma panels down to industry-leading Panasonic territory while exhibiting color accuracy second to none. As if to prove the point, the PRO-1130HD 50-inch Elite model is probably the best Pioneer plasma you can buy and just might be the best plasma on the market at this time.
The 1080p Pioneer plasmas are coming out this spring, but you can expect to pay a premium for those. And while this full-featured set lists for $6500, it can actually be bought at a surprisingly competitive price, though still far above what you’d spend on a Dell. Is it worth the premium price? What will that buy you over the $2500 models? Will it give you that “you are there” illusion with the best HD material? The answers await below.
The PRO-1130HD lacks nothing in the way of premium features. It comes with detachable speakers and a separate input/processing unit for the ultimate in flexibility for custom installations. If you add additional components, you simply plug them into the external box, which can be up to 30 meters away from the panel itself; adding another component to an allin- one wall-mounted plasma requires running additional cables through the wall. If you’re simply putting this set on a table, Pioneer includes a swivel tabletop stand. Cosmetics are beautiful piano black.
This set has dual NTSC tuners as well as a top-quality ATSC (digital) tuner, and it’s fully digital-cable ready with a CableCARD slot. One major complaint about CableCARD is that it isn’t compatible with the cable company’s onscreen program guide. In response to this problem, Pioneer has thoughtfully provided the TV Guide On Screen interactive program guide (free) which can perform “TiVo-like” automated recording using your present analog or digital VCR. A PC Card slot lets you view your digital photos on screen, and it’s compatible with most memory cards. A computer input allows the panel to be used as a PC monitor.
Last year, Pioneer introduced its First Surface Pure Color Filter to facilitate accurate color rendition and minimal reflections of room light. This year, they’ve added a Crystal Emissive Layer between the glass and the individual cells. This is part of how they drastically reduced black levels while maintaining high light-output capability.
The Elite models use the same plasma panel as the non-Elite models and therefore have virtually the same picture quality. But there are a number of cosmetic and functional features found only in the Elite series, and the added cost over standard Pioneer models is only about $1000. One of the most useful features is the advanced ISF C3 calibration capability, whereby the set can be calibrated for best color accuracy and brightness in your particular viewing environment and with your particular components. The DAY and NIGHT buttons that call up this custom ISF calibration are even located on the remote control. Other Elite features include enhanced audio performance, multiple video memories, and, of course, that beautiful finish.
Finally, both the owner’s manual and the remote control are among the best I’ve seen. The remote can even “learn” specific commands from other remotes. It’s backlit, and you can find the LIGHT button easily, even in the dark. It runs up to three other components and is very intuitive.
Setting up the PRO-1130HD was easy, but as you would expect in a high-end set, there are many features to play with in the menu system. For starters, there are five preset video modes. The most useable ones—STANDARD, MOVIE, and PURE—each has its place. STANDARD would be logical for broadcast or cable TV and MOVIE the likely mode for DVDs, but what’s that PURE mode all about? For starters, PURE changes two of the color primaries (the actual color of red and green) from the hyped-up color we’re used to seeing on modern displays to dead-on the actual HD color spec. The effect might seem subtle, but it’s part of what separates this set’s color rendition from all the rest.
I found PURE to be a great choice when using the HDMI inputs, but with the component inputs, it was a touch soft-looking. The HDMI inputs also had near-zero overscan and perfect centering. I used one for my DISH 942 satellite receiver/recorder and the other for the latest Pioneer DV-79AVi DVD player, both outputting 720p. Each of the factory-preset modes can be customized, and those custom settings are remembered when you switch modes or input sources.
In the video menu, PRO ADJUST contains the advanced settings. PURE CINEMA is for 3:2 pulldown (480i movie sources) only, while ADVANCED invokes a 72Hz refresh rate said to make film-based material even smoother. (Star Trek: Insurrection looked jerkier in ADVANCED mode than it did in STANDARD mode, but I was unable to reach anyone technical at Pioneer to discuss this before the review was due.) The DRE (DYNAMIC RANGE EXPANSION) section contains various enhancement features to dynamically increase contrast. They’re subtle compared to similar controls in other sets.