Pioneer is one of the most respected makers of plasma displays, so it’s no wonder the company is the first to market a 50-inch model with 1920x1080 resolution. At $8000, it's among the most expensive 50-inchers out there, but if you want a 1080p plasma at that size, it’s the only game in town.
Inputs are adequate: two HDMI, one DVI, one component/RGB, one S-video, and one composite, plus an RS232 port for control systems. Back-panel connectors face downward, which is a big help for wall-mounting, but it's difficult to seat the connectors when they brush up against the back of the unit. Also, heavy, high-end HDMI cables could have a tendency to fall out under gravity's pull.
Other than its 1920x1080 resolution, perhaps the FHD1’s most important feature is what Pioneer calls Advanced Pure Cinema. Part of Pioneer’s Pure Drive II video processing, Advanced Pure Cinema accepts an interlaced signal at 60 fields per second (which, in the case of movies on DVD, HD DVD, or Blu-ray, includes duplicate fields as part of the 3:2 pulldown process), extracts just the fields that make up the movie’s original 24 frames per second, and displays each frame three times, refreshing the screen 72 times per second. This only works with interlaced signals, not progressive, and it avoids all the artifacts of 3:2 pulldown and creates a smoother sense of motion in the image.
Also available is Standard Pure Cinema mode, which processes film-sourced interlaced fields in the conventional manner. In both cases, the Pure Drive II video processor uses 10-bit resolution, which results in finer gradations than 8-bit processors can deliver. Other processing functions include digital and MPEG noise reduction and a digital color decoder.
Unlike just about any other consumer video display currently available (except others from Pioneer and a few from Sony), the FHD1’s two HDMI inputs can accept 1080p/24 (that is, 1080p at 24 frames per second), and it displays each frame three times, which also avoids any 3:2 problems. However, the only 1080p/24 source at the moment is Pioneer’s BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, which should be available by the time you read this. This capability is a big step in the right direction for both sources and displays, and I encourage other manufacturers to follow Pioneer's lead in this regard.
Another important feature is the inclusion of ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) CCC (Certified Calibration Configuration) Day and Night modes. These are special picture modes that allow a technician to calibrate the display for daytime and nighttime viewing according to ISF standards and lock those calibrations in to prevent any tampering by the consumer. The ISF CCC modes do not appear in the picture-mode list until activated by a technician using special Windows software.
The PRO-FHD1 is a pure monitor—no tuners, no sound system. This is entirely appropriate for such a display; I would certainly use an external sound system and sources with it.
The remote is one of the best I've seen with any video display— simple and clean with surprisingly few buttons. No universal-remote button clutter here (though, oddly, there are Volume Up/Down and Mute buttons). The direct-access buttons for all six inputs are a welcome change from cycling through the inputs with a single button, but I would prefer it if they were named rather than numbered.
The menu system is likewise clean and wellorganized. For example, when you adjust a picture control, the menu disappears and the selected control moves to the bottom of the screen, which is great.
On the downside, there are too many levels in the hierarchy. For example, the Picture menu has the standard picture controls and a Pro Adjust item, which opens a submenu with five items. The last of these is Others, which opens a submenu with two items that would easily fit in the previous submenu.
The factory-default picture mode was Standard and the color temperature was Mid, which is better than most. Still, setting the picture mode to Movie and the color temp to Low got closest to the D65 standard. Even then, the grayscale was way too blue. Calibrating the ISF Night mode got it close to perfect.
As our favorite video specialist David Abrams measured and calibrated the PRO-FHD1, video guru Joe Kane stopped by to take a look, and he brought his media center PC to see how the display handled 1080p. They discovered that the display clips below-black and above-white with a 1080p/60 input, and the ISF modes cannot be calibrated for such a signal. According to Pioneer, this is because 1080p/ 60 requires so much processing horse-power.
The Dot By Dot aspect-ratio mode is the one to use for high-quality 1080i/p content, because it maps the source pixels directly onto the display's pixel structure with no overscan. Even then, Abrams and Kane found that 1080p/60 exhibited slight rolloff at the highest frequency. When I looked at a 1080i one-on/ one-off pattern, it looked a bit rolled off, but each pixel was clearly visible.