The PDP-4350PU displayed DVDs with finesse, coming in a close second to the Philips 42PF9966/37. It also took second to the Philips for displaying recorded standard-definition TV, though it trailed by a substantial margin. For high-definition content, however, the Pioneer placed a disappointing sixth, in large part because it ranked near the bottom of our group of eight tested sets in its ability to display detail--the hallmark quality of HD.
That mixture of good and so-so results gave the PDP-4350PU an overall visual performance ranking of sixth. Such a lackluster finish is disappointing, especially given the set's relatively high street price of $5500.
Like the last Pioneer plasma we reviewed, the 50-inch PDP-5040HD, this set deeply saturates reds and greens. The effect was nice when it displayed candy-apple-red autos in HD footage from a classic car show or the deliberately pumped-up colors in the dramatic final race scene of the Seabiscuit DVD. But it often made people appear a bit flushed and vegetation somewhat artificial.
One notable visual feature is the set's PureCinema technology for smoothly displaying film content, which is shot at 24 frames per second. To fit this material into a standard digital TV refresh rate of 60 frames per second, video processors must display one film frame three times in a row, the following frame twice in a row, and the next frame three times again--a syncopated pattern that makes all films look a bit jumpy on TV. But Pioneer sets with PureCinema can refresh 72 times per second in order to show all frames an equal number of times (since 72 is a multiple of 24). Though the result is subtle, films do appear somewhat steadier and smoother when PureCinema is turned on. (Note: For this to work, the DVD player must be set to an interlaced format, either 480i or 1080i.)
The set's audio performance was delightful. The two 13-watt speakers put out clean sound, even at maximum volume and with SRS surround sound and bass enhancement enabled. We could hear subtle undertones clearly, such as the sound of car engines in Kill Bill Vol. 1 under the twang of Al Hirt's "Green Hornet," or the faint, ominous string tones that well up in parts of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The PDP-4350PU has a slick design. A glossy black frame (which catches some distracting glare) is the only adornment on the elegant panel. The price includes a pewter-toned stand that allows 2 degrees of tilt and 10 degrees of left or right swivel. At a rather light 59.1 pounds, the screen should be easy to wall-mount. The included speakers are detachable, so the TV can have a streamlined look if you opt to pair it with a separate surround-sound audio system.
But however you set up the panel, you must reckon with its media receiver, a tethered box about the size of an audio amplifier that houses all its inputs and much of its circuitry. The receiver provides more convenient access to the TV's ports--especially for wall-mounted installations (it also requires that fewer cables be pulled through the wall or otherwise hidden). But it adds another component that needs a home, and you can't locate it too far from the panel. The PDP-4350PU comes with a 3-meter umbilical cord, but Pioneer charges a startling $600 for a 10-meter version. At the end of June, the company will offer a companion model, the PDP-43A5HD, with all ports and electronics built into the panel.
One definitely positive aspect of the receiver is its plentiful connection options, including two HDMI inputs, three component input sets, and four each of S-Video and composite video jacks. It also accepts analog computer signals via a VGA input, plus digital video camcorder output through its two FireWire ports. Additionally the PDP-4350PU has an NTSC tuner, plus an ATSC tuner for high-def reception either from an antenna or from a cable service providing a CableCard decoder. The Pioneer can relay surround-sound audio from these TV broadcasts to an external audio system via its optical digital audio port.
While the swanky PDP-4350PU is a fair performer overall and a good screen for DVDs, we've seen better image quality from Pioneer.