Pioneer PDP-5000EX

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Pioneer PDP-5000EX

Pros

  • Native 1080p panel, Exceptional image quality, Attractive design

Cons

  • Expensive, No TV tuner, No speakers

Bottom Line

The PDP-5000EX is the best display available on the market, though it comes at a price.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 1 store)

The Pioneer PDP-5000EX is the world's first 1080p plasma display panel. It is aimed squarely at AV purists and early adopters. Easily the best plasma panel currently on the market, its incredible image quality reveals just how good true high definition content can look. With crisp, clean edges, wonderfully balanced colour and an almost complete lack of noise or image aberrations, the PDP-5000EX is nothing short of incredible.

One important thing to note about this panel is that it is just that, a display panel. It comes with no television tuner or speakers, which means you will need a home theatre system and external set top box to make proper use of it. It is an added cost to be considered, however when paying this much for a television it shouldn't be a major issue.

Many people already think the high definition era is here, and they are right to some degree. In the coming months the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats will duke it out for supremacy in the HD home entertainment market and in November the Playstation 3 will make an attempt to topple Xbox 360 in the high stakes HD gaming arena. However up until now, Australian consumers have known high definition as a 720p signal (720 lines of resolution drawn all at once, known as 'progressive resolution') but in actual fact this is not full high definition. Full HD consists of 1080 lines of progressive resolution and is considerably more detailed than 720p. While 1080 has been achieved in the past through interlacing (displaying half the picture then the other half in rapid succession), it has always been an inferior cousin to 720p.

We tested the PDP-5000EX in both standard and high definition and were amazed by the results. Since 1080p is an emerging technology, we fully expected to discover limitations and aberrations with respect to image quality. However, the panel ploughed through all our testing procedures effortlessly.

Preparing to test

Normally, we test televisions at their factory default settings, before trying to improve upon them via calibration to ensure the best results possible; however with this display we took the process one step further. When purchasing this unit, Pioneer offers free installation and professional calibration by an Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) Officer. Therefore, since the calibration service is offered as standard, Pioneer sent an ISF representative to our offices. ISF uses spectrographic equipment to check the accuracy of the display's image. They then optimise the panel for each separate device (DVD player, games console, etc.) with different settings for viewing during the day or at night. These become available as image presets called "ISF Day" and "ISF Night". Pioneer worked with the ISF to develop calibration tools which they then hard-wired into the 5000EX and they can only be accessed by ISF via the service port at the rear of the device.

1080p

To evaluate the 1080p capabilities of the PDP-5000EX we played multiple HD test videos and previously recorded HDTV broadcasts using the MediaGate MG350 multi-codec media player and a PC connected via DVI-D connection at the panels' native 1920x1080 resolution. The results were stunning with incredible clarity and definition. Colours were impressive with subtle gradation between light and dark shades. Remarkably, we detected no image noise and no over-sharpening either. Using the MediaGate, we played some 1080p WMV HD files and HD DivX files. Both looked quite good although the limitations of the formats were apparent.

Pioneer provided us with their PPN1080 network media player which they pre-loaded with 1080i footage from a HDTV station in Antwerp, Belgium. This is the same footage that they showed at the launch event we attended for this unit and is the same as consumers will see when they first encounter this unit on the showroom floor. Pioneer provides a PPN1080 to each retailer that sells the 5000EX to show off its capabilities. The footage is remarkable and looks crystal clear with high detail and rich colours. Despite being a 1080i file, it illustrates both the brilliance of the panel and the mediocrity of so-called HDTV in this country where some of our content isn't even recorded in a high definition resolution.

When connected via PC, we ran QuickTime HD files and .TP and .TS high definition video files at 1080p as well. The QuickTime trailers and Cornell University test footage we ran looked exceptional and far superior to their DivX and WMV counterparts. The .TP and .TS video looked on-par with the Antwerp footage, and once again we sat mesmerised by the 5000EX.

Standard definition was assessed by viewing our test DVDs via both component and HDMI connections while 720p and 1080i high definition tests were carried out using an Xbox 360 and the Pioneer PPN1080 network media player.

In standard definition, we ran the Digital Video Essentials test DVD, the Philips CE2006 Demo and the Fall of Carthage scene from Gladiator. The test images in Digital Video Essentials were rendered flawlessly. There was no noise in any of the grayscale images and the SMPTE colour bars were delivered with ease. The Philips tests showed some minor motion jitter but it was far less than other plasmas we have reviewed.

The scene from Gladiator looked better than we have ever seen it. The pixel depth of the panel and the high quality interpolation created realistic images and an excellent level of detail for a DVD. Naturally, this pales in comparison with the 1080p content but for those that have extensive DVD collections, it's good to know that this unit will display them well.

We ran high definition tests at 720p and 1080i with the Xbox 360 and, once again, were not disappointed. Madden 07 was our game of choice and were quite impressed with how crisp it looked. There was no undue pixilation and the colours and detail were rendered very nicely. The panel has noise reduction options which we quickly turned off because it created an annoying level of motion blur which made the game painfully unplayable.

Design

In addition to the awesome image quality of this panel, its design is also very attractive. Similar to previous Pioneer plasmas, it has a glossy piano black bezel with function buttons running along the top edge. However, the stand on this unit also has a glossy black finish which completes the overall aesthetic. While the connections of the panel were reasonably good, they weren't as extensive as we would have liked from a display at this price point. The PDP-5000EX has two HDMI, one DVI, one component and one composite connection. While a second component connection would have come in handy we can understand why Pioneer made this design choice: those purchasing a unit of this ilk probably have home theatre AV receivers. The fact that there are no speakers or TV tuner on the unit is definitely a point of contention but the same line of reasoning was probably used when deciding to omit them as well.

If you have the spare funds and you want the very best plasma on the market, the PDP-5000EX is your best bet. It is not only an attractive unit that will look great in any environment but it also performs brilliantly. We have never seen images that looked this good on a plasma panel. In fact, with a pixel density this large and dot pitch so incredibly minute, you would swear you were looking at an LCD. This plasma would make any AV purist blush and we highly recommend it. We look forward to the day when future incarnations will become more affordable. Until then, it stands at the top of the bunch and deservedly so.

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