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The new Pioneer 1080p plasma is stunning, but over-priced.

To buy a 1080-line screen or not to buy a 1080-line screen, that is the question that has been on everyone’s lips recently.

Surely, the argument goes, it’s better to have a TV with a native resolution that precisely matches the 1080 source so that there’s no need for any potentially mess-inducing scaling?

Actually, though, our experience to date hasn’t always borne this out, as we’ve found that the visible differences between a 1080i image fed without scaling onto a 1080-line screen and a 1080i feed downscaled to 720p are marginal in the extreme on a ‘regular’ sized screen – by which we really mean anything up to 37 and maybe even 42in.

There can, however, be notable differences on bigger screens. Which is why AV fans are so excited by Pioneer’s PDP-5000EX: Australia’s first truly native 1920×1080 resolution 50-inch plasma monitor.

Finding a genuine 1920×1080 pixel count on a 50-inch plasma would be an event under any circumstances – but finding it on a screen, from what is in our opinion currently the world’s finest domestic plasma manufacturer, raises hopes to the rafters. But will the technical difficulties of fitting so much resolution into a plasma TV cause Pioneer’s traditional qualities to crumble?

There’s certainly nothing to worry about on the design front. The glassy black screen frame with deep grey outer trim is an exercise in minimalist class, and reeks of high-end build quality. No speakers are built in, but connectors are provided for an optional external pair.

Connectivity is fantastic in some ways, slightly disappointing in others. The highlight is the presence of two HDMIs and a DVI-D. Even better, all three can take 1080p.

There’s also a set of BNCs that can double up as analogue HD component jacks or a PC input, with the DVI-D jack also obviously able to take computer connections. Conspicuously absent, however, are both a tuner socket and any Scarts. The 5000EX isn’t a television, but a display you’ll need to add your own tuner sources to.

Does this mean the panel doesn’t sport all the lovely cutting-edge video-friendly technology found on Pioneer’s current ‘standard’ plasma range? Thankfully not. For instance, the pixels are still separated by a Deep Waffle Rib design to reduce cross-pixel light leakage. There’s also the PUREBLACK Crystal Layer sandwiched between the plasma glass and the individual light cells to help each cell discharge faster and more efficiently; Pioneer’s Direct Colour Filter for removing the ‘double image’ effect noted during off-axis viewing; and the Pure Drive 2 HD image processing system.

One new trick developed for the 1920 x 1080 panel is a T-shaped electrode, which Pioneer claims prevents the misfiring of individual cells even though each cell is only around half  the size of previous plasma cells.

Performance

Has the need to squeeze in so many more pixels compromised Pioneer’s picture quality? Not one bit. Images looked quite simply breathtaking on the 5000EX. And yes, comparing 1080i feeds on the 5000EX with a 768-line 50-inch plasma TV suggests that at least some of the impact is indeed down to the 5000EX’s higher native resolution.

For instance, the picture looks more detailed, with greater visible texture in the grass on the pitch and sensational definition to the shots of the crowd. Perhaps even more pertinently, some of this dazzling clarity is down to the complete lack of noise in the picture – exactly the sort of thing we’d hope to see with a natively ‘mapped’ 1080i picture. For instance, the HD pitch shows none of the fizzing or slight smoothness visible on the 768-line screen.

It should be said, too, that 1080p feeds from an upscaling Marantz DV9600 DVD deck look unusually clean on the Pioneer, as the resolution reduces the need for secondary processing on top of that being applied to DVDs by the Marantz.

Elsewhere, colours combine monumental vibrancy with a general naturalism of tone that no other flat TV we can think of can match. Black level is hugely impressive too, enjoying both excellent depth and some terrific subtlety when it comes to shadow detailing and greyscale differentials.

The Direct Colour Filter system means you can watch pictures from a wide angle without seeing any double edging; peak whites are perfectly judged for video; and edges have no over-emphasis or harshness.

Standard-def also looks very good indeed when painted up to the Pioneer’s higher native resolution, proving the quality of the Pure Drive 2 HD image processing system.

Conclusion

If you want to be able to tell everyone you know that you own the latest 1080 plasma, buy this TV.

It is a fine piece of plasma engineering but if you wait six months, the price of 1080p screens will drop by as much as 20 percent and more content will be available.

With screens that don’t have particularly great picture processing engines, we still have lingering doubts over the real necessity for choosing a 1080-line panel over a 768/720-line one.

However there’s no doubt that the 5000EX prove that if there’s good enough glass and driver electronics, having 1080 native lines in a big screen really make 1080 feeds well and truly mind blowing.

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Pioneer PDP-5000EX | $14,999 | | www.pioneer.com.au
For: Truly native 1080 resolution comes to plasma for the first time
Against: Slightly disappointing connectivity
Verdict: Will produce mind-blowing HD feeds – if you have the money


 

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