Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The Pioneer PDP-4340HD is one handsome-looking panel. A wide, high-gloss black bezel surrounds the 43-inch-diagonal screen. The only things interrupting the expanse of black are a remote sensor, a power button, one power indicator light, and the Pioneer logo.
A separate A/V media receiver houses all the connections, so only a single proprietary cable runs from the receiver to the panel (though the panel and the receiver require separate AC power cords). It's a convenient arrangement unless you find yourself having to purchase a cable longer than the standard 10-footer; the 30-foot version costs $600. You can place the component-size media receiver horizontally on a shelf or a rack or vertically on the small included base.
The matching silver-finish speakers can either be mounted to the side (as pictured) or beneath the screen, and the included stand has a cool swivel base. Pioneer also offers a couple of wall brackets, starting at $250.
The remote, a redesign of an older Pioneer unit, is a fully backlit, universal clicker capable of controlling a wide variety of A/V gear. The keys are relatively well laid out, but some are a bit on the small side, making them somewhat awkward to use. We found the newly designed internal menu system relatively intuitive and easy to navigate. Unique among today's HDTVs, the Pioneer PDP-4340HD runs on a 72Hz vertical refresh rate. That's an exact multiple of the 24 frames per second at which films are displayed, enabling the panel to use a video-processing technique called 3:3 pull-down (instead of the 2:3 pull-down used in previous 60Hz displays). In English, that means you should see a more stable picture when viewing DVD movies and other video material that was originally shot on film. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be the case in our tests (see Performance for more).
This panel shares with its like-size, similarly priced competition a 1,024x768 native resolution. That number of pixels bests less expensive 852x480 EDTV models and results in sharper high-def images (but not in sharper DVD or standard TV images). Even a count of 1,024x768 pixels can't display 720p, the lowest high-def resolution, in full detail, but it's as high as plasmas get in this screen-size range.
Pioneer packed the PDP-4340HD with cool features. This is the first plasma we've seen to offer an onboard ATSC tuner for off-air HDTV reception. The numerous convenience features include dual-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) with a split-screen option.
On the picture-enhancing side, we found the obligatory color temperature selections (Low, Mid, and High) and a 3DYC comb filter for composite-video sources such as VHS and standard cable TV. Numerous picture presets, along with the ability to remember picture settings for each input individually, should satisfy image adjusters. The five selectable aspect ratios don't affect HDTV sources, but three of them do function with PC sources.
The PDP-4340HD's media receiver includes more jacks than we've seen with any plasma system to date. On the receiver's back panel, we counted two component-video inputs, two HDMI ports (you'll need a special adapter to convert DVI sources to HDMI), two FireWire ports, two A/V inputs with S-Video, two RF inputs (for the NTSC tuner), two RF outputs, an ATSC antenna input for off-air HDTV reception, and an RS232 control port for use with touch-panel control systems such as Crestron and AMX. A flip-down door on the front of the box hides a component-video input, an A/V input with S-Video, and a VGA input for computers, complete with a 1/8-inch minijack audio input. Even before we had made any serious adjustments, the picture in the Movie mode and the Low color temperature looked surprisingly good. Color fidelity, in particular, was outstanding. Reds and greens were in nearly perfect balance, allowing us to fully saturate the image with realistic color.
Unfortunately, the promise of the 72Hz refresh rate and the 3:3 processing didn't seem to have much effect on our favorite test DVD for these types of issues, Star Trek: Insurrection. The pan across the boats and building tops still showed the same amount of jutter, which appears as a faintly jerky motion of the entire frame, that we saw in normal 2:3 pull-down processing. The Pioneer did a good job of removing jagged lines and other artifacts, though not quite as commendable as we've seen on some HDTVs.
You'll have to be careful with the sharpness control. Set too high, it introduced the worst edge enhancement we've ever seen on any display, placing serious artificial edges around all lines; set too low, the picture looked soft. We settled at minus 2, which removed the edge enhancement and still preserved the sharpness of the picture.
After calibrating the panel, we looked at some scenes from Seabiscuit, one of our new reference DVDs. Colors were vibrant, and skin tones looked extremely natural. Dark scenes, on the other hand, suffered from a lack of shadow detail as a result of the panel's inability to display a deep black. Even the darkest areas were only a very dark gray. To Pioneer's credit, the PDP-4340HD produced truer blacks than previous Pioneer plasmas--indeed, better than most of the competition, with the exception of Panasonic plasmas such as the TH-42PX20UP. In contrast to the Panasonic, false contouring artifacts and dancing pixels were minimal and visible only in extremely dark scenes.
HDTV sources from our DirecTV satellite HD feeds looked mostly excellent. Colors were exceedingly natural, thanks to the excellent grayscale tracking and color decoding (see the geek box for details). Color is definitely the PDP-4340HD's strongest performance parameter--better than that of any plasma we've seen yet. Dark scenes were a bit problematic, however; they exhibited the same performance hiccups in HD that we observed on DVDs.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,450/6,250K||Good|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,450/6,500K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 219.4K||Good|
|After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 52.7K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||0%||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||-5%||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps*||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|