Pioneer Elite PRO-FHD1 Plasma HDTV Page 3
But before I get to the movies, the PRO-FHD1 arrived right in the full swing of both the NFL season and Major League Baseball's playoffs, right up through the World Series. Not only were the pictures from these HD broadcasts spectacular in their dimensionality, detail and, overall "pop," I was able to clearly discern the qualitative differences between what were mostly very good HD feeds. Particularly striking to me was how much crisper, and freer of noise the opening World Series games were in Detroit than the games in St. Louis that closed out the series (and the Tigers).
These live broadcasts and others, such as NBC's Sunday Night football and ESPN's Monday Night football, often showed the most obvious benefits of the NR circuits as outlined above. Even with those circuits engaged the images looked as crisp and snappy as the broadcasts allowed- and left no doubt that NBC's Sunday Night Football, at least over DirecTV, is the softest, and least detailed of the bunch. But on the better broadcasts scuffs and smudges on helmets, textures in the painted areas of football fields, the weaves in the fabrics of the players' hats and uniforms, and even the grain of the pigskin itself were all clearly revealed. The only time this performance has been equaled in my home with these sports broadcasts was when the Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector lived here for a time. There's no substitute for the size that front projection offers. But beyond that rational limitation, this plasma simply provides the most tack-sharp performance I've yet seen with HD broadcasts.
Watching these games in HD also revealed something else about the PRO-FHD1, and that's its outstanding color palette. Reds were deep and natural, venturing into crimson when called for, not fallings short into orange. The varying flesh tones always looked spot-on, and very natural. But more impressive than that, the greens, which are a big problem for so many digital displays, looked deep and natural, not limey or nuclear. I could see clear differences in the varying shades of the fields and turfs without the PRO-FHD1 imposing its own impression of what green is on the fields. Color reproduction overall reminds me of the best front projection rigs I've seen- accurate, but also natural and pleasing to the eye.
With standard-def broadcasts of low quality, I found the Pioneer to be excellent. Many of DirecTV's lower quality channels are limited by lower bitrates. There isn't much any display can do to remedy this- the bits simply aren't there. While sets like this one do an excellent job of cleaning up some of the noise and garbage, there's only so much that can be done with an inherently low quality source.
The most frequent complaint I hear from former small analog set owners who have upgraded to larger digital displays is that these low quality feeds don't look as good as they did on a 27" CRT. This is similar to those who buy a high-resolution audio system and then wonder why it doesn't make every one of their poor recordings sound better. Whether it's audio or video the system's job is to faithfully reproduce the signal, for good or for ill, and in the case of video the best any set can do is apply some clever band-aids to spruce up the worst of it. The PRO-FHD1 is as good as any I've seen at mitigating the damage wrought by poor source material, and again, better than any flat panel I've previously experienced.
Moving way up in the video food chain, the images I saw with HD DVDs were nothing short of "to die for" exhilaration. Batman Begins on HD DVD is simply among the best HD I've ever seen. The detail of the image is striking, three-dimensional and rock solid at every instance. But what's more impressive here is how this plasma handled the many dark scenes and held that level detail. An excellent example is in chapter 24 when the Christian Bale's Batman is stealthily hiding in an apartment when the Scarecrow and few of his cronies come in. As the Dark Knight crouches down and recedes into the black background, his shape remains a visible outline, just discernible above absolute black. This is a tough scene that any set that was crushing detail near black wouldn't resolve clearly.
Although the blacks here are deeper than any flat panel I've yet tested, the image does get more charcoal gray than black in the very darkest scenes, including the scene from Batman described above. But what separates the PRO-FHD1 here is that even though the blacks don't go as inky as the CRTs of yesteryear (or today's best front and rear projectors), there is still a clear sense of contrast in even the toughest of scenes, and the other artifacts that so often accompany weak blacks in digital displays are completely absent. There was none of excessive noise, false contouring or posterization in those dark areas as there are with so many flat panels. It just fades to a charcoal, and even in the worst of scenes it's still remarkably watchable and strikingly clean and devoid of other artifacts.
Not only were newer HD DVD standouts like Chronicles of Riddick and The Last Samurai eye-popping in their depth, dimension and clarity, older movie transferred to HD DVD like The Searchers and Blazing Saddles looked simply phenomenal, rich and even film-like. The colors were gorgeously rendered on both, and the detail was amazing. On Saddles it was very obvious that many of the costumes were brand spanking new, even though the shirts were ripped or torn here or there to look dated.
It's been observed by both editor Tom Norton and myself and written at UAV that the best 720p displays look simply spectacular even when the HD is 1920x1080. But this Pioneer plasma showed that when 1080p is implemented at an equally high level there's simply no comparison. In addition to the obvious fact that there's simply more resolution of small, important details evident throughout the image, I noticed that the grain structure of many of the films on HD DVD, such as Blazing Saddles, is intact on a terrific 1080p display like this one, and simply lost when the 1920x1080 image is rendered on screen at 720p.
Film grain is somewhat controversial. Some people mistake it for noise or other artifacts, and some simply don't like it in their home video transfers. Count me among those who find that it subtly enhances the home video experience by making it look and feel a little more like film. Anyway, the point is that it's low-level information in a transfer that can get lost on a lower resolution display, even one with a true HD pixel count. On the Pioneer it's there, rock solid.
One last note on this plasma's superb performance is how well balanced the light output is for both video and movie based material. Dialed in for home theater use, the set was putting out around 36fL on a 100 IRE white window. This is very bright compared to most consumer grade front projectors, and bright enough to give sports and other TV shows some real snap. But it wasn't so over the top that bright scenes following a dark scene would make you squint like you just walked out of the matinee and into bright afternoon sunlight either.
What else is there to say about a product that, for me, has redefined the performance capability of the entire flat panel category? As the world's first 1080p plasma the Pioneer Elite PRO-FHD1 succeeds completely and spectacularly, but that startling resolution is but one of the ways in which this remarkable plasma stands above the crowd. This set has a certain something else. While the sheer detail certainly astounds this set's real success is in looking utterly natural and organic and letting me completely forget that I'm watching a digital display. This is a certain something that so far has solely been the province of expensive front projectors.
In fact, for me this 1080p plasma represents the same watershed experience I had with the first HD2+ DLP front projectors a few years back. As with DLP then, the PRO-FHD1 is the first plasma I've seen that has progressed the state-of-the-art to the point that I was able forget about the technology and just enjoy watching.
$8K is a lotta money for a plasma. But this Pioneer Elite is a lotta plasma. And if I thought you could buy a better flat panel for less money I'd tell you so. But this is the best flat panel I've ever seen. If you can afford it, this is the best flat screen you can buy, period.
Spectacular, eye-popping and yet cushy, natural detail
Color fidelity that matches the very best digital displays we've seen
Natural, fatigue free images devoid of artifacts that plague most flat panels
Excellent blacks and contrast for a flat panel
While excellent for a flat panel, absolute blacks still not at the level of the best front and rear projectors