Panasonic TH-50PHW3 & Pioneer PDP-5030HD Page 2

Pioneer PDP-5030HD
Because the PDP-5030HD is not just a monitor but a full TV, it provides seven front-panel buttons near the lower right corner that control On/Off, Volume, Channel, and Input.

My initial impressions were that the Pioneer was bright, sharp, and capable of producing convincingly deep blacks—and just as incapable as other plasmas, including the Panasonic, of producing detail in black areas. This is the state of the plasma art: great improvement over earlier models, but still less than what we've come to expect from any conventional CRT-based TV.

High-definition on the Pioneer was superb. The color palette broadened, as it should, and images were exceedingly sharp. Like the Panasonic, the Pioneer crossed that threshold— it was like looking out a window.

One quirk showed up when Jamie Wilson of Overture Ultimate Audio/Video came by to calibrate the set just a few days after its arrival. First he set the black level, which proved difficult to do: With Video Essentials' PLUGE pattern on the screen, he adjusted the contrast and found that, as he dialed down the Contrast control, the color temperature changed as well. In other words, when the contrast was rolled up or down a few steps, white boxes took on decidedly blue or red or yellowish tints, which made it hard to adjust the contrast properly. When I viewed a full-screen white field, edges of the field had a trace of blue or red, depending on where the Contrast control was set.

I don't want to overstate this. Watching the PDP-5030HD with regular program material, movies, or TV, I never once noticed a fault in the picture that could have resulted from this issue, which was like many of the quirks found when using test patterns: They may not be readily visible when watching normal programming, but once you know they're there, you find yourself wondering if perhaps they're impairing the picture in some way you haven't yet noticed.

The Pioneer PDP-5030HD arrived a few days before the Panasonic was hauled away, but I ended up having only a short time to look at the two side by side. My initial impression was that they were twins: They looked equally bright and sharp, though the Pioneer performed slightly better on frequency-sweep resolution test patterns. Both had deep blacks combined with limited detail in those blacks. And both had the same minor smearing on fast action sequences.

The Pioneer's scaler was good, if not quite as good as the Panasonic's. Artifacts were slightly more apparent, though still not bothersome. And while the Pioneer showed far less video noise than other plasmas I've seen, it had a bit more than the Panasonic.

The Panasonic TH-50PHW3 and the Pioneer PDP-5030HD are outstanding plasma displays, among the best I've ever seen, and improve the state of the plasma art by several notches. Of the two, I'd choose the Panasonic. Its performance was a bit better, its price a bit lower. But for its higher cost, the Pioneer does include the conveniences of built-in sound, more inputs, and an NTSC tuner. You won't go wrong with either one.