Pioneer Elite PRO-110FD Plasma TV Real-World Performance
Planet Earth is one of the best nature-oriented Blu-ray titles I've ever seen, and it certainly did not disappoint in any way on the Pioneer. In the first episode, "Pole to Pole," detail was exquisite—as the camera zooms out above a huge flock of flying birds, each bird remained sharply defined, as did each hair on a polar bear as she emerged from hibernation with her cubs.
Colors were likewise gorgeous, especially the deep blue sky, green forest, brown caribou, gray elephants, and flaming reds and oranges of fall foliage. I was very impressed with the TV's artful rendition of subtle variations of white in the polar regions. There was some slight banding around the sun in a few direct shots, but it was nothing serious.
Click on Blu-ray told the same story—at least in terms of color and detail. This is a sweet tale about Michael Newman (Adam Sandler), a harried architect who acquires a universal remote that is truly universal—that is, it controls his entire universe—and the Blu-ray transfer is stunning. Color on the Pioneer was superb, from natural skin tones to green grass to the yellow wallpaper and shag carpeting in Newman's house. In the detail department, everything was razor sharp.
I did notice something odd in pans across the city skyline—with the Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player set to output 1080p/24, those pans looked surprisingly jerky. When I looked at the TV's film-mode (deinterlace) setting, all options except Off were grayed out, yet the Advance setting appeared to be selected with a dot next to it. (I had forgotten to turn it off for 1080p/24 from the Samsung.)
A Pioneer spokesperson confirmed that I had uncovered what I can only call a bug in the Pure Cinema selection menu. The film modes are supposed to be unavailable for progressive signals, but if one is selected before sending such a signal, the display behaves unpredictably. Hopefully, Pioneer will correct this problem in the next generation (or maybe even this generation with a firmware update—hint, hint). Until then, if you routinely send progressive video to the display, leave the film mode off.
If your disc player can't send 1080p/24—for example, an upscaling DVD player that can send 1080i or 1080p/60 only—it might be better to send 1080i to the Pioneer, especially if the player's video processor is not up to par (in which case, it might be better still to send 480i and forget about upscaling in the player). This also applies to Toshiba's entry-level HD DVD players, the HD-A1, A2, and A3, which top out at 1080i.
To see how the Pioneer's deinterlacing works on real-world material, I played The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift on HD DVD from an HD-A35 set to output 1080i. Looking at a scene in the opening credits with a close pan across a car engine, the Smooth film-mode setting resulted in the smoothest and clearest motion, but it caused the moving credit text at that moment to stutter and break up; other moving text in the credits looked okay. The Advance setting cleared up the text in that spot, but the pan was actually jerkier. I recommend using the Smooth setting if you're sending interlaced signals.
I also checked out chapter 8 of Mission: Impossible III on HD DVD at 1080i—the pan across the staircase was completely moiré-free in all three film modes. Shadow detail in the catacombs was also exceptional, with more dim details clearly visible than I normally see in these shots.
With blacks this low, I had to watch something set in outer space. Star Wars IV: A New Hope on THX-certified DVD was just the ticket—the black of space was inky deep, colors were rich but natural, and detail was excellent. The whites of the interior of Princess Leia's ship were well-differentiated, and shadow detail in the Jawa transport was better than I usually see it. The only problem I noticed was some shimmering in the scrolling back-story as it fades into the distance at the beginning of the movie. Interestingly, it was a bit worse when the TV was doing the upscaling, but it was certainly present in any case.
Grayscale Studio, UAV's testing facility, has a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv8000 laptop with Windows XP Media Center Edition, so I was able to try out the Home Media Gallery feature. The laptop had Windows Media Player 10 installed, but it wasn't difficult to update it to version 11, which is required for HMG. Pioneer provided some high-def Windows Media Video clips on a USB thumb drive, which I copied to the laptop. Also on the computer were some photos and standard-def video clips as well as some music files.
After connecting the laptop and TV to the studio's router via Ethernet and configuring Windows Media Player to recognize the TV, I opened the Home Media Gallery menu in the Pioneer and selected the computer as a server. I found the videos, photos, and music files in their respective folders, and it was easy to select them to play on the TV.
The standard-def clips had lots of jaggies and shimmering in fine details, which was no doubt due to the high level of compression needed to squeeze them down to a small size and bit rate. The HD clips looked a lot better, but they still had a bit more noise than I've seen on most Blu-ray and HD DVD titles, and there was some slight banding in the subtle color variations in underwater shots.
Photos from GalleryPlayer, a company that offers high-def stills of well-known fine art to occupy an otherwise unused high-def display, looked stupendous. But the few low-res photos I found on the computer looked very soft with lots of jagged edges. The Pioneer's better-than-usual sound system did well with music files, which can be played while you watch a slideshow of photos—very cool.