HD performance with the built-in digital tuner and my DISH 942 receiver was excellent. I knew the Pioneer would trounce my reference 55-inch Hitachi in color accuracy and black level, but I could hardly wait to see if it would replicate that “looking through a window” 3D effect that the Hitachi can sometimes do on bright scenes. It was awfully close, even though the Hitachi’s screen is bigger. The direct comparison also revealed that the Pioneer was even sharper than the Hitachi, and yet with less edge enhancement—something I hadn’t expected.
DVD performance was very good. The PRO-1130HD sailed through the tough “Anglerfish” scene in Finding Nemo with remarkable resistance to false contouring around the light, though I did notice some dithering noise near black. Dark scenes in Vanilla Sky, which brought on some dreadful artifacts on the Hitachi, were flawless on the Pioneer. When I used component inputs, a 480i source (which uses the set’s own deinterlacer and 3:2 pulldown) looked and measured every bit as good as 480p from a state-of-the-art DVD player, though the HDMI connection held a very slight edge on both. Viewing up quite close, the picture was hurt most by subtle video noise unless I enabled one or both of the noise-reduction features. Finally, the way this set displayed the difficult green foliage in Jurassic Park 3 (using PURE mode) was exceptional and well beyond the league of virtually every other plasma and LCD set on the market. Reds and blues were considerably more accurate than on the Hitachi. This set simply has remarkable color rendition.
Movies in an unlit room absolutely require dark blacks in order to look good, and this Pioneer’s black level passed the home-theater test as well as any other current plasma—Panasonic included. Blacks were about 75% lower than the 55-inch Hitachi, though it wasn’t obvious except in darker scenes.
Pioneer’s built-in digital tuner proved to be better at pulling in difficult stations than most sets I’ve tested, and picture quality was very good even on non-HD program material. Conventional analog cable and NTSC off-the-air broadcasts exhibited more video noise on the Pioneer than the Hitachi, but this improved tremendously when DNR (noise reduction) was set to HIGH. This set’s noise reduction feature is highly effective, yet it seems to soften the picture almost imperceptibly. Even digital stations and HD usually benefited from DNR, which made a huge improvement in animated features like The Simpsons. Rarely have I been a fan of noise reduction before this.
People ask me all the time, “What’s the best 50- to 55-inch HD plasma TV?” I always give them the four contenders: Panasonic, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and Pioneer. Picking a winner from among these manufacturers is difficult, because each has its own strong points. If you put them all head to head for picture quality, they can all look pretty darn good. But the Pioneer Elite PRO-1130HD has more overall strengths than the others mostly due to intelligent design features, great cosmetics, and friendly operation.
Purely from a picture-quality standpoint, the Pioneer has unmatched color accuracy, good blacks (about as good as plasmas get), and great resistance to the ugliest plasma artifacts. Other sets may well “jump out at you” more on the showroom floor due to various enhancement techniques, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. For pure textbook video accuracy, this Pioneer Elite is the best plasma I’ve tested. All things considered (except price), I haven’t been more impressed with any plasma TV, and I hope it stays around here a while longer.
How will this model compete against the upcoming 1080p version? That depends on how far you sit from the screen and how flawless your vision. At distances of 12 feet or more, you may not see any difference.