Pioneer PRO-1110HD Plasma HDTV

Pioneer's latest isn't just a plasma, it's an HDTV.

For a display to be called an HDTV, it has to have a built-in ATSC tuner. Many of the RPTVs in last month's Face Off were so equipped, but Pioneer's Elite PRO-1110HD is the first plasma we've reviewed that has one. It seems so simple, especially when you consider that this plasma (like others) has an external box for all of its inputs. How hard could it be to stick a tuner in there? Shoehorns are cheap. In fact, Pioneer has included ATSC tuners in all four of their new plasma sets.

Until there's a bump in pixel count, I'll take a 50-inch display as the best size for a plasma. Sure, 60-inchers are great; however, without a corresponding increase in resolution, you have to sit too far away. You can also find an HD-capable plasma in the 40-something crowd (and it's getting to be quite a crowd), but that's a little small for a good-sized room or average-sized home theater. So cover me with porridge; we're diving into the just-right, two-box, 50-inch PRO-1110HD HDTV.

Like most two-box plasma systems, the PRO-1110HD's chassis has very few video inputs. By very few, I mean none—other than the two plugs for the system cable that leads to what Pioneer calls the media receiver, which is where you'll find a copious amount of inputs. There are two RF ins (and outs) for antenna or cable and another for the antenna that gets over-the-air HDTV; one shared composite and S-video; a composite and S-video pair that's shared with a component input; and another separate but not-so-lonely component input. You also get two FireWire inputs, two HDMI connections, and an optical out for the Dolby Digital audio from the HD feed. Another component/S-video/composite trio and a PC HD-15 connector are on the front. In other words, there are enough inputs. . .and then some.

The remote is better than what comes with many plasmas. It has specific buttons for four of your favorite channels, plus aspect-ratio controls and direct-input access. Not to whine here, but every TV remote should have direct-input access. This remote is also fully backlit. According to the manual, the button that turns on the backlighting is for "performing operations in dark places." I don't believe that this button (or anything else, for that matter) should perform any type of operation in dark places. I'll check with some doctors, but I'm pretty sure I'm on solid ground on that one. This remote will also learn from your other remotes and has built-in codes for many products. It doesn't have the best layout, but it's not bad.

Like many plasmas, the PRO-1110HD is very attractive. Its gloss-black finish can get annoying depending on where the lights are in your room (because of reflections), but overall the TV looks very sleek. In a dark room, the frame blends into the background, and the picture appears to float in thin air. Very cool. The media receiver follows the same theme (and looks a lot like Pioneer's Elite line of DVD players), and you can place it upright. A word of caution about setup: Even though the plasma is commendably silent, the media receiver has a fairly noisy fan.

Out of the box, the PRO-1110HD is set up like most displays—that is to say, bright and blue. What's surprising is how accurate you can make this TV by simply changing the picture preset. In the movie mode, the picture is very close to 6,500 kelvin, has excellent DC restoration, and isn't so bright that it's trying to blow you out of the room. In other words, it's pretty much set up for you.

So how does the picture look? Well, pretty damn good. With a panel resolution just north of 720p (1,280 by 768), the PRO-1110HD is plenty detailed. Every bit of fine detail is apparent. As with most plasmas, if you're less than five picture heights away from the screen, you'll see some noise, especially in fine-detail areas, but it's far less noticeable than on other plasmas I've seen. In fact, when I sat at the correct distance, the image was remarkably noise-free, revealing a smoothness that most plasmas or, for that matter, most digital displays lack. The noise-reduction setting defaults to low in the movie mode, and you should probably keep it this way. Many noise-reduction systems do very little to improve the picture, but this one actually helps. Mileage may vary, so check this setting out on your own with your own sources.

The PRO-1110HD's scaling (everything needs to be scaled) is predominantly good. It passed our usual barrage of tests without any major stumbles. Switching from the PureCinema mode to Pioneer's new Advanced PureCinema mode (see the sidebar) moves the TV's refresh rate to 72 hertz with film material. A good demonstration of Pioneer's Advanced PureCinema mode's effectiveness occurs about 11 minutes into Training Day. Detective Alonzo's black Monte Carlo is going over a bridge. With the regular 3:2 processing, there's a subtle jerkiness to the motion. With the 3:3 processing, it's much smoother (again, see the sidebar). Is it the most amazing change ever? No, but it's certainly cool, and more high-end displays should have it. The image just looks right, even though you probably didn't notice that what you were previously looking at was wrong. Unfortunately, the display doesn't allow you to change the aspect ratio of HD material, although you can with 480p sources.

As with most digital displays, the PRO-1110HD's black level isn't great. Even at its darkest, it's a dark gray. The traditional HT mind would balk at this, but it's really not that bad. Watching this TV with any amount of ambient light provides the viewer with an extremely balanced, attractive picture. Even with no light, the only time you'll really notice the high black level is when you're watching a letterboxed movie. I like deep blacks as much as the next videophile, but the Pioneer's level didn't bother me at all. The rest of the image was too good to be distracted by this one issue. One thing that helps is the display's near total lack of quantization error, which occurs when there aren't enough bits in the analog-to-digital conversion to accurately display gradations (like transitions from light to dark within an image). The PRO-1110HD isn't quite as smooth as most CRTs, but it's among the smoothest digital displays we've reviewed.

Granted, the PRO-1110HD isn't cheap, but it is one of the best plasmas I've ever reviewed. The color is surprisingly accurate (even though the green color point is slightly off), it's beautifully detailed, and the image has very little noise. Add to that a built-in HDTV tuner, and this is one of the first plasmas that we've come across that will not only impress your neighbors but your HT enthusiast friends, as well.

• 3:3 processing is triple cool
• The display is accurate with minimal adjustments
• Smooth

Pioneer Elite
PRO-1110HD Plasma HDTV $15,500
Dealer Locator Code PIO