Simply put, the picture quality of the Pioneer PDP-5080HD is among the best we've ever tested. That's due mainly to the set's ability to produce a very deep level of black, which impacts many other areas of performance. We would have liked more control over color temperature, and we'd certainly like to see more accurate primary colors, but overall, those complaints aren't enough to spoil an excellent performance.
As always, we began our evaluation by adjusting the TV's picture to optimum levels for our completely dark theater. We attenuated light output to about 40 footlambert (ftl), which was just a bit lower than the set's level in Movie mode (a good sign). We appreciated that the Warm color temperature preset came relatively close to the standard of 6,500K, although it appeared a bit minus-green and plus-red overall. As we mentioned above, we really missed the ability to fine-tune the grayscale, and since the set lacked this ability in the user menu, we did not perform an "after" calibration (see the Geek box below). Of course, we're sure a professional can get the 5080HD a bit closer by accessing the service menu. For our complete user-menu adjustments for a darkened room, click here.
After setup, we sat down to compare the Pioneer PDP-5080HD side by side against some competing HDTVs we had on hand, including the Samsung HP-T5064 and the Panasonic TH-50PHD9UK--both equal-resolution, albeit significantly less-expensive 50-inch plasmas--along with the Pioneer PRO-FHD1, a 1080p 50-inch plasma from 2006 that currently costs around the same as the 5080HD. We also threw a 52-inch Toshiba 52LX177 1080p LCD into the mix for good measure. We chose to watch 300 on HD DVD, delivered by the Toshiba HD-XA2 at 1080i resolution.
Throughout the film's dark introduction, from the hill of skulls, to the boy's hunt of the black wolf, to the inspirational speech around the fire, it was quite obvious that the Pioneer produced the deepest shade of black in the room. The letterbox bars, the depths of the wolf's fur, and the shadows on the outskirts of the soldiers were inky and rich--as satisfying a representation of true "black" as we've seen on any non-CRT HDTV we've ever tested. The set's picture seemed to blend almost completely into the black walls of our theater. Our measurements backed up the evidence of our eyes; using the standard checkerboard contrast-ratio pattern, after calibration the PDP-5080HD delivered the deepest black we've ever measured (0.01ftl), and thus the highest contrast ratio (3,075:1).
Even with this deep black level, the Pioneer preserved all of the detail in the shadows, outlining the muscles of the fire-lit Spartans, for example, without losing any definition. We could have achieved an even deeper black by lowering the brightness further, but as usual, that crushed some detail in shadows. Dark scenes were also clear of discernible low-level noise caused by the display (called "dithering"; we're not talking about noise in the source, which was readily apparent on 300) from distances more than six feet from the screen, although the FHD1 looked cleaner in this regard. In short, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD does difficult dark scenes exceptionally well.
Moving on to color, the PDP-5080HD was once again helped by its deep blacks in delivering very impressive saturation. When the king approaches the assembled 300 in the field, the red of his cloak, the sunlit skin of the warriors, and the gold of the wheat looked powerful yet realistic. The delicate balance of the queen's face did have a bit too much flush, however, a result of imperfect color temperature. We also noticed the red of the cloaks appeared somewhat redder, and thus less realistic, than on the Samsung or the Pro-FHD1, due to the 5080HD's just-average primary color of red. The Pioneer's green is also quite yellowish--a common issue with plasmas--and while 300 lacks the give-away greens that illustrate this issue, we did notice a subtle yellow in other green-dominated scenes, such as the jungle during an episode of Sunrise Earth on DiscoveryHD.
In terms of video processing, the Pioneer did a fine job of deinterlacing 1080i content, passing the HQV test with in every Film Mode except Off (see the Geek box below). We recommend choosing Standard or Smooth for 1080i sources (Advanced is for 1080p/24 sources), depending on your preference. Smooth removes some of the slight full-frame choppiness or "judder" that can be seen in pans and other camera movement especially, which characterizes film-based material displayed on most HDTVs. We still saw some choppiness in HQV's very slow pan over Raymond James stadium with Smooth mode engaged, but it did smooth out faster pans quite noticeably. For example, during one of the Persian harem scenes, the camera moving over the bodies of the women and the grotesque hunchback stayed smoother than on the other displays--with the exception of the Toshiba, which, if anything, looked smoother still during motion. (Update 08-22-07) We also noticed that Smooth introduced some artifacts in certain scenes -- specifically, in a pan that follows a plane taking off during Flags of our Fathers, the tailfin became almost detached-looking and quite unnatural in Smooth mode, but was fine in Standard. We ended up liking Standard best, mainly because we're used to the film-based judder and found the smoothness a bit disconcerting. Having the option is definitely a great thing, however.
Advanced mode, for its part, was just as disappointing, as we found with the PRO-FHD1 at delivering the promised smoother picture. To test it, we switched to our Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player (the Toshiba HD-XA2 isn't currently capable of 1080p/24 output) and checked out Aeon Flux and a couple of other titles. We saw more judder and choppiness in Advanced mode than either Smooth or Standard--with Smooth again living up its name the most. After Aeon narrowly misses face-planting in the razor grass, for example, the stone walls evinced more choppiness in Advanced mode as the camera rose to a more birds-eye angle than in the other two modes.
The Pioneer is also equipped with a Text Optimization option, which we left off for most of our tests in 1080i because it caused the set to fail the 1080i deinterlacing test. It did clean up tearing and jagged edges on some kinds of moving text, however, including an overlay from the HQV DVD, although the ticker from ESPNHD was unaffected. We recommend only turning it on if you notice that kind of tearing.
The Pioneer is equipped with an antireflective screen that did a very good job of attenuating glare in the room. It wasn't quite as effective as the matte, antiglare screen on the Panasonic TH-50PX77U, for example, but it was the best nonmatte solution we've seen, outperforming the antireflective screen of the Samsung, for example.
When we ran the PDP-5080HD through a battery of standard-def tests, courtesy of the HQV DVD played at 480i through the component input, it performed quite well. The set resolved every line of the DVD format (although the lines of horizontal resolution were less distinct than on the Samsung and the Toshiba), and the finest details in the stone bridge and grass scene looked as natural as we expect. The Pioneer did an excellent job of smoothing out jagged edges from diagonal lines, such as the stripes on a waving American flag. We also really appreciated the two kinds of noise reduction, each available in three strengths in addition to "off," because they went a long way in reducing--and in some cases eliminating--the moving motes of snowy video noise in the skies and sunsets from the disc. The Pioneer also effectively, if not as quickly as most other sets, implemented 2:3 pull-down detection in all of its video modes.
We also checked out the venerable pan from the beginning of Star Trek: Insurrection and, as usual, it provided a great comparison between video-processing modes. The Smooth mode again made motion seem significantly smoother, as if the moving camera was "on rails" compared to Standard mode and the other TVs in the room (the exception was the 120Hz Toshiba LCD, which looked smoothest and steadiest of all). The Advanced mode wasn't designed for 480i, and it proved it by introducing more judder and artifacts than the others. All three again successfully implemented 2:3 pull-down.
With PC sources, the PDP-5080HD delivered the goods, although naturally its 1,366x768 resolution wasn't as impressive as that of a 1080p panel. We achieved the best results when we connected our test PC via an HDMI input from the PC's DVI output, and set the resolution to 1,360x768; the Pioneer resolved every line according to DisplayMat and text looked crisp, although it was a tad softer than we've seen on some other displays. Using analog VGA yielded worse results. Yes, the panel resolved every line, but the lines on the horizontal resolution pattern flickered in the highest register, and we saw some flicker in backgrounds as well. Maybe a judicious tweaker could cure this issue, but nonetheless, we recommend going in digitally if possible.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,518/6,218K||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 191K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.659/0.329||Average|
|Color of green||0.268/0.641||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.059||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Pioneer PDP-5080HD||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||330.6||228.56||253.72|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.31||0.21||0.24|
|Cost per year||$114.34||$83.35||$90.99|
|Score (considering size)||Good|
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