Pioneer Elite PRO-101FD Plasma Monitor Real-World Performance
As usual, I started with chapter 8 of Mission: Impossible III on HD DVD at 1080i. The pan across the long staircase pulsed with moderate moiré, but the shadow detail in the catacombs was excellent, and colors were beautifully natural. The black letterbox bars never even entered my consciousness—in fact, I couldn't really see them at all.
I've been using Stargate: Continuum on Blu-ray as a real-world test quite a bit lately, but with blacks this low, I had to see its opening star field, which was breathtaking—I felt as if I was floating among the stars. Blacks this low really make the picture pop, which it did in every scene I played. The color of skin tones, blue sky, green foliage, and everything else was rich yet completely natural, and shadow detail aboard the Achilles and in the Russian stargate facility was superb, revealing many more dim details than I normally see. Overall detail in things like the rusting hull of the Achilles and spaceships was likewise exceptional, almost three-dimensional.
To test the white-clipping issue, I played some of Antarctica Dreaming on Blu-ray from HDScape—plenty of snow scenes on that title. Whites did seem clipped when DRE was off, flattening and washing out the image. Setting DRE to High made the picture look too contrasty, but Low looked fine. Otherwise, detail in the exposed rocks and sea-lion whiskers was stunning, and the colors of rocks, penguins, and blue/white ice were gorgeous.
I also cued up the scene with the white waiter's uniform on The Fifth Element DVD, and sure enough, that uniform lost some detail with DRE turned off. Checking some other scenes, detail was very good in the stone temple, facial textures, and cityscape as Leeloo escapes the nucleolab, and the colors of skin tones, yellow cab, and blue ocean of planet Fhloston were fabulous. The black of space isn't all that deep in this movie, which is no fault of the display, but the letterbox bars were completely invisible.
Returning to Blu-ray, I popped in Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City. The first word I wrote in my notes at this point was, "Wow!" The detail of the guitar strings, facial stubble, and intricate oriental rug on the stage was razor-sharp, and colors were beautiful. Shadow detail in the audience was exceptional, as was the differentiation in different shades of black, such as the performers' black T-shirts, pants, and guitar straps.
Seven Years in Tibet on Blu-ray is full of strong colors, from the monks' red robes to brown dirt and rocks to green foliage to blue sky, and all looked incredible on the Pioneer. The detail in the sweeping Himalayan vistas, textures of whitewashed buildings, and intricate textiles was unparalleled—I could see every window in long shots of Lhasa. And shadow detail in the night scenes was first-rate. I've never seen this movie look better.
I didn't test the PRO-101FD on broadcast standard-def material, but Tom Norton did in his review of the 60-inch version, the PRO-141FD, for Home Theater. He found that native 4:3 images were flanked by gray pillarbox bars that cannot be switched to black. (If a 4:3 image was sent by an HD channel and included black pillarbox bars in the signal, they were faithfully reproduced.) I know that gray pillarbox bars are intended to reduce the chance of image retention and burn-in, but they are very annoying, and there are plenty of other ways to combat image retention, including a screen-wipe function that floods the screen with a solid white field. This monitor should have the option of displaying black pillarbox bars.
Another glitch Tom discovered was with letterboxed images within a 4:3 window at 1080i. In this case, the aspect-ratio control does not let you zoom the image to fill the screen. When he changed the output from his cable box to 480i, the zoom settings worked as expected. Another solution would be to use an external video processor, such as the DVDO Edge.