Pioneer Elite PRO-730HD rear-projection CRT TV Page 2
The PRO-730HD's remote is almost an ergonomic wonder—the buttons are grouped logically, and the main function buttons have clearly defined shapes that are positioned for quick and easy use. Pioneer put the backlighting button on the remote's upper right corner—very easy to find in the dark. Most of the buttons are labeled so that the backlight shows their function clearly. All too often, such labels are printed on a remote's unlit face, making nighttime use hit or miss. The Pioneer remote is a hit.
Before I even began tweaking its user controls, I put the PRO-730HD through my standard monitor analysis. I stumbled upon some complaints about the Pioneer's convergence on some online discussion groups, but my review sample required no more than a touchup in the three months I had it—about normal for 7-inch CRTs. CRT drift usually affects the entire picture equally, and since Pioneer includes both center (global) and multipoint convergence, any drift could usually be corrected in less than a minute using only the Red and Blue center controls. After the initial calibration, a full multipoint tune-up is seldom needed more often than once a year.
The PRO-730HD exhibited better edge definition and more detail with its outer screen removed, but the image was slightly grainier. The Plexiglas outer screen appeared to act as a sort of integrator, smoothing out noise and motion artifacts at the expense of light output. I measured 26 footlamberts at 1080i and 24fL at 480p on the Minolta CS-110 spot light meter with the outer screen in place, and 41fL at 1080i and 38fL at 480p with the screen removed—a considerable gain in brightness.
Pioneer's Pure Cinema III video processor permits 480i or 480p sources to be displayed at 480p or 1080i—a first, in my experience. The video processor did a great job with both video- and film-based sources, although very discerning viewers will notice that the 480p setting has better motion processing on such images as billowing smoke and flowing water. The 1080i mode also caused the leading edges of some moving objects—such as the nose profiles and the white hat of the lead sculler in Video Essentials' Montage of Images—to break down into distinct horizontal lines. Scaled to 1080i, the image was also almost imperceptibly softer than at 480p.
But these 1080i shortcomings were not serious, and the 1080i setting produced a slightly brighter image because more of the CRT's phosphors were illuminated at any given time. For those who need this increased light output, there's little sacrifice in using the 1080i setting. Nevertheless, I ended up using the 480p mode because of its better handling of motion.
The Panasonic HD Tuner Experience
The first high-definition material I watched on the PRO-730HD was a 720p D-VHS recording of some video material and test patterns that video expert Joe Kane compiled a few years ago. Because no current CRT set reproduces this type of signal in its native form with no processing at all, my expectations were low. To my surprise, the Pioneer handled 720p material so well that I was nearly convinced that it was passing the 720p signal without softening it to 480p or slicing'n'dicing it to 1080i. Actually, it was scaling 720p inputs to 1080i—it simply was doing it exceptionally well.
The PRO-730HD turned out to be a natural at displaying 720p and 1080i over-the-air broadcasts from Detroit, 35 miles away, picked up using a Panasonic outboard HD tuner and my attic antenna. Sports, in particular, were outstanding. On NBA games, faces deep in the crowd across the court were clear enough to recognize. I found nothing to complain about in the Pioneer's handling of HDTV, whether from test patterns or active video.
The DCS Encounter
If the above suggests that the Pioneer did a fine job on DVDs directly from a 480i or 480p output of a DVD player, that's true. But I was so enamored of the PRO-730HD's proficiency with 720p sources that I arranged to borrow a friend's Faroudja Digital Cinema Source DVD player-scaler. I was giddy at the prospect of seeing how $10,000 of DVD-perfection-in-a-box would play on a set costing only half as much.
While configuring the DCS and display to work well together, I noticed a strange digitizing of the luminance and chrominance ramp test patterns. Usually, these patterns are reproduced with a smooth, gradual increase in brightness from black to white (luminance), or dark to bright yellow-green (chrominance). With the PRO-730HD, these patterns showed distinct lines or steps at various increases in brightness. I didn't see this with the DCS or the Sencore generator driving a 65-inch Sony PTV, which indicates that the problem was either the Pioneer's video processing or something else in the set's circuitry.
On real video material, however, not test patterns, the PRO-730HD showed only a hint of this effect. I watched many DVDs with the Faroudja-Pioneer setup, and the lack of picture noise made them look like 720p HD, matching my memories of the quality of upconverted movies broadcast on ABC. One night, I had some friends over for a screening. They politely endured my rapid-fire retail-sales demo-disease exchange of discs as I showed off the system with two-minute snippets of explosions, gunplay, and general mayhem, before we democratically chose a movie to view. Even with the director's intentionally dull color scheme, the combo of PRO-730HD and DCS drew us deeply into Snatch's world of earthy criminal antiheroes with images clear enough that we could lip-read Brad Pitt's Irish Gypsy mumblings. The DCS produced an outstanding picture on the PRO-730HD.
One couple even brought along their Xbox game console, so they could see how it looked on a big, widescreen, hi-def set. This was my first experience with the robot-war game Halo, and I warn you now: Play games on this set and you'll lose sleep. Keep the PRO-730HD in Game Mode and, assuming an average amount of game playing, you shouldn't have to worry about phosphor aging. Pioneer says to watch six hours of TV in widescreen mode for every two hours of gaming.
When I ramble on about the relatively minor issues that keep this product from being perfect, I feel like one of Cindy Crawford's early dermatologists, who just couldn't keep his eyes off that mole. But having lived for some months now with the Pioneer Elite PRO-730HD, I am smitten. It rocks. The PRO-730HD (now HDi) is a substantial high-definition monitor that will do almost everything expected by the demanding user.