Pioneer's remote has a familiar design that hasn't changed much in the last several years. Thankfully, it's fully backlit for use in darkened rooms, and it can operate a wide variety of A/V components. Direct-access keys for all inputs make switching sources on the fly a snap. They'll also please custom installers since they make programming touch-panel remotes much easier. The remote's only awkward feature is its placement of the volume and channel keys; the volume key sits on the right, and the channel key on the left--the opposite of their usual positions. Other than that, we found the clicker well designed and laid out. The GUI, or internal menu system, is also intuitive and easy to navigate.
Instead of housing all its inputs on the rear of the panel, the Pioneer PDP-4360HD has an external media receiver that contains the inputs and connects to the panel via an included proprietary 10-foot cable; for installations that require them, longer cables are available. The idea is to eliminate wires dangling from the back of the panel; instead, you plug them into the component-size (16.5 by 3.5 by 12 inches) receiver, which you can set on an A/V rack near the rest of your gear. The Pioneer PDP-4360HD's feature package is among the best on the market. Compared with 42-inch models, the Pioneer starts off with an extra inch of screen, although the display itself has the same 1,024x768 native resolution as most high-res 42-inchers. That isn't quite enough resolution to display every pixel of 720p HDTV, but to achieve that you'd need to get a 50-inch plasma anyway. The PDP-4360HD scales all sources, including HDTV, DVD, standard-def TV, and computers, to fit the pixels.
Like all late-model large-screen TVs, the Pioneer includes an ATSC tuner, and like most, it's Digital Cable Ready with a CableCard slot. Complementing the latter feature is the TV Guide EPG, which is designed to make up for losing your cable company's EPG when you ditch a cable box for a CableCard. However, we've found TV Guide unreliable with some digital-cable systems.
The PDP-4360HD has several convenience features, including two-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) with inset, split, freeze, and swap functions. The Pioneer PDP-4360HD offers a generous selection of five aspect-ratio choices with standard-def sources and four with high-def. On the audio side, the numerous sound modes include SRS TruSurround, SRS Focus, and SRS TruBass for enhancing the sound through the set's included stereo speakers.
As far as picture-enhancing features, this set offers the usual three selectable color temperatures: Low, Mid, and High, with Low the closest to the broadcast standard of 6,500K. Picture modes include the fixed Dynamic mode, which provides no access to picture controls; the Standard, Game, and Movie modes, which allow you to adjust the picture to your liking but aren't keyed to any one input; and the User mode, which lets you tweak the picture independently for each input. You can also adjust the image's position (but not size) horizontally and vertically. Pioneer is still the only manufacturer to offer 3:3 pull-down at 72Hz for smoothing out the "jutter" that film transfers preserve. This feature appears in the Pure Cinema menu under the name Advanced. The Standard setting gives you 2:3 pull-down (see the Performance section for more).
The Pioneer PDP-4360HD also includes a few power-saving options, such as two settings that limit peak brightness and a mode that automatically puts the panel to sleep after a period of inactivity. It lacks settings to combat burn-in, but we don't consider that a major loss since the danger of burn-in is minimal (more info).
Connectivity options on the Pioneer PDP-4360HD abound, although we were disappointed to find that many jack types share the same input designation, so you'll have to choose one or another instead of hooking up all the jacks simultaneously. On the rear panel of the media receiver, Input 1 can accept HDMI, component video, S-Video, or composite video; Input 2 can accept S-Video or composite video; and Input 3 can accept HDMI or component video. There are also a pair of RF inputs, the CableCard slot, two FireWire ports, an optical digital audio output, a composite A/V output, and an RS-232 port on the back of the receiver. Behind a flip-down panel on its face is another pair of inputs. Input 4 can accept component video, S-Video, or composite video. Additionally, there's a front PC input with a maximum input resolution of 1,280x768. The Pioneer PDP-4360HD's overall performance definitely improves on that of previous Pioneer plasmas and is among the best of any plasma available. Color accuracy was excellent, with very good color decoding and superb grayscale tracking after calibration. The primary colors of red and blue also came closer to accurate than those of most plasma panels, although green was distinctly yellowish (see the geek box).
Pioneer claims to have improved black-level performance with its latest generation of plasmas, and it absolutely has. Blacks are definitely deeper and richer than on previous models, though they still aren't quite as good as on our reference Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK, which is part of that company's industrial line. For a black-level torture test, we spun up the excellent DVD transfer of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It rendered space scenes and other very dark material well, with good shadow detail and blacks that actually resembled black, not dark gray. However, we saw some low-level noise in dark scenes. Seabiscuit on DVD revealed excellent color saturation and exceptionally natural-looking skin tones, thanks to the highly accurate color decoding and grayscale tracking.
The video processing was decent, with 2:3 pull-down evident in the Standard setting of the Pure Cinema feature. The Advanced setting gives you 3:3 pull-down at 72Hz in an attempt to smooth the "jutter" that 2:3 pull-down from film transfers otherwise preserves. While we found it did indeed smooth the jerky motion on the opening pan of Star Trek: Insurrection, stationary objects, such as the buildings in the scene, became shaky and vibrated a bit. We found the standard 2:3 pull-down setting preferable. In fairness to Pioneer, the company literally pioneered this feature, and it has improved since last year, but in our opinion it's still not quite ready for prime time.
HD material from a Time Warner Cable HD feed looked impressive, with excellent color saturation and good contrast ratio. Compared with larger, higher-resolution plasmas, the Pioneer slightly obscured fine detail on people's faces and individual strands of hair--but that is to be expected. Dark concert footage on HDNet looked good, with discernable shadow detail in the darkest parts of the image. We saw some minor low-level noise but none of the dreaded false-contouring artifacts.
We have only two minor complaints with the Pioneer PDP-4360HD's performance. One is with the less than reference-quality black-level performance; the other is with the minor low-level noise in dark scenes. However, Pioneer has certainly improved the blacks over those of earlier models, and the other aspects of the PDP-4360HD's performance are indeed impressive.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,950/7,650K||Poor|
|After color temp||6,475/6,425K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,180K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 61K||Good|
|Color of red (x, y)||0.646/0.328||Good|
|Color of green||0.233/0.692||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.063||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|