OK people here tis. Sorry if it's rambling but I'm at work and have no time to tighten it up.
Like I mentioned in my previous post, I found out a local store had the new 50 Pioneer Elite Pro 1130 (new 6th Gen) on display for a few hours today. So I zoomed past my house, grabbed my trusty test DVDs and off I went.
And sure enough, in a stroke of luck, they had the new model set-up right below the previous (5gen) 50 Elite model, both running from the same DVD player and Hi-Def box.
Perfect for a comparison.
First off, the new display looks very nice. It's amazing what shaving off a few inches from the bezel did to the apparent size. Next to the 5th Gen model, you might mistake the new model for a 43 display. I much prefer the smaller, more discrete bezel, and it still set's off the image very nicely.
The new model was indeed being fed by its external media box.
Both displays were being fed by a fairly pricy Rotel DVD player, via component inputs (the split feed appeared fine - no additions or subtractions to the image quality that I could detect). It's too bad I couldn't see them with a digital connection, but they both seemed to be performing great so I'm sure I saw an accurate account of their image.
So the salesman turns them on at the same time and.and.well.are you sure this is the new model?
The image of the 5th and 6th gen panels looked so similar they were almost identical. I kept looking at the high-def being played and for the life of me couldn't tell the difference. Then I quickly said, Lets calibrate a little and see some DVD scenes. When the signal to the displays was nixed I did notice the screen of the new model appeared a bit darker.
In goes The Hulk DVD. First we tried setting both units to the Cinema (or was it movie) mode. Unfortunately it appeared the different software between the old and new model made this an imperfect comparison - the brightness/contrast values were different.
The guys in the store went into the Standardpicture mode on both displays, and did a re-set. Better, but again needed tweaking. So I took some scenes with a good range of shadow detail and tweaked both sets. I took each down to where they just displayed deepest black, with the least noise, and observed what the tweaking did for shadow detail in each display. I got them looking much the same.
We turned off the lights in the room, but there was a large window at the far end letting light in, so I'd rate the viewing conditions as dim lighting, but certainly not home-theater dark.
But what about the new gen black levels?
Yup. Darker for sure. Panasonic dark? I wish I could say for sure, but if not the black levels certainly seemed close. I'd hoped to get home to re-check my Panny again but alas
I'm not sure the black levels are quite as dark as the Panasonic, but I may be entirely wrong if I ever get them side-by-side. I'd put them in the ball park of Panasonic,/ the Sony Qualia RPTV and perhaps the Samsung plasmas.
What about shadow detail vs the 5th gen panel? Well, I played around with both sets and did not see that the new model offered any more shadow detail. That is, once I got the 6gen panel just into displaying its deepest black levels, just like the 5gen panel, both panels displayed almost precisely the same amount of shadow detail. Certainly I could lift the brightness of the 6Gen to get some more shadow detail, but of course I could do just the same with the 5th Gen and see the same things. The only difference is that it seemed I could play around a bit more, lifting the black levels a bit on the 6th gen with a little less noise appearing as I did so. But it seems to me I'd want to have the levels set to achieve the deepest blacks possible from the display anyway, soit's a toss-up for shadow detail. Both are excellent.
And especially in the 6th gen model, the lack of noise within dark and shadowed areas is
Wonderful - definitely better performance in terms of noise suppression than what I've seen from the Panasonic models (although I haven't thoroughly tested the latest Panny 50 inchers).
So the new panel does as good, smooth shadow detail as you can find in a plasma. (Although still bettered, I think, by something like the Sony Qualia or some other CRT RPTVS). On second thought, I do remember quite a few times when directly comparing the Panny and Pioneer 5th gen models, seeing occasional deep shadow details in the
Panny that weren't in the Pioneer. But in comparing the two Pioneers the dark areas looked absolutely identical, excepting that the darkest areas were definitely blacker on the new model. (Hmmmdon't know if that means anything).
Ok, so how did this play out in normal viewing? Interesting enough, the difference seemed quite subtle for a while. I honestly don't think the average viewer would notice, at least under the conditions I was able to view (in fact, the salesman showed one interested customer both models, while I was there, doing his best to alert the customer to the differences. But the customer definitely had an if you say so attitude toward spotting differences between the models).
At first the black level differences were most easily seen during dark scenes. The new 6Gen model definitely had darker black bars for 2:35:1 films and definitely deeper shadow areas, for a punchier more solid look in dark scenes. The 5th gen looked somewhat more washed out in comparison. I wondered are they dark enough? Yeah, I think so. It just edged into satisfying territory. I was finally looking at a Pioneer plasma in which I could essentially forget about a glowing effect of the dark areas and take in the image, undistracted.
The beginning of Alien, with the spaceship pass-over, a ship mottled with shadows against deep space, looked kind of flat on the Pio 5th gen. On the 6th Gen it looked delicious - the deeper blacks carved out the depth and heft of the ship and the various items sticking out of the ship passed by with wonderful dimensionality, almost sticking out of the screen.
Lets leave black levels for a moment. Anything else good? Oh yeah!
Picture noise was subtly, but noticeably and distinctly, reduced on the 6th gen model. The 5th gen displayed what had always sort of annoyed me on the Pioneer models: a sort of blocky quality to fine detail rendering - a digitized effect to fine edges. The 5th gen gives the impression of an over-enhanced type of detail (due, it seems to me, to the sharp blockiness of the processing on edge detail). That's with the noise processing off, but when you put the noise processing on (the 5th gen) it does an artificial, mannequin-like reduction of detail.
Whereas the new display had all the same details but distinctly more natural. On details in people's faces, outlines were certainly clear, but soft and human, without the over-enhanced, synthetic look. Plus, general dithering/scaling noise was noticeably reduced on the 6th gen over the 5th gen. Not totally eliminated but for a plasma it was darned close to it.
(The champ for no-noise DVD reproduction is still the panny ED, from my experience).
Actually, as time went on I was astounded how clean and solid the image was on the new model! It leant a remarkable creamy, solid quality to the image, giving more of the reach in and touch it effect to objects on the screen. Again, subtle and not something that the average Joe is going to notice, but for people who care about these things it is a very rewarding improvement in the image, increasing the overall beauty, naturalness and realism of the image.
We briefly turned on an adjacent LG 42" plasma with the same feed and, while it looked very punchy, it had waay more noise in the image than the Pioneer 6gen. Just looking at that LG and then peering into 50" of serene, solid noiseless expanses on the Pioneer 6gen really said a lot about what Pioneer has achieved.
Color performance on the 6th gen also looked decidedly improved. The slight orange quality to the reds of the 5th gen panel were replaced by a very natural red in the 6th gen, and over all grey scale performance looked superb. No particular color bias standing out. That meant the image could be quite colorful, without everyone's lips looking like they are wearing lipstick (an effect still somewhat present on that 5th gen panel, in comparison.
The 6gen also seemed to eek out just a bit more color detail as well, even though it looked like the color was dialed just a touch back down from the 5th gen. Skin blotches, freckles etc on actors were just a bit more in evidence, although not unnaturally so.
The Pioneer colors have always been a bit too candy-like for my eyes and I've preferred the Panasonics. This is the first time I've seen a Pioneer look so natural and believable, while still giving that Pioneer vividness.
How about the old Motion Judder issue that some of us see? The salesman told me the motion processing had been improved.
In went the torture test from The Hulk in which the camera passes by a bunch of machinery that often brings out judder. Result? Sorry to say: Judder still there. The machinery passed by in distinct, staggering steps of motion, rather than passing by smoothly.
There is a bit of judder noticeable in this shot on my Panasonic, but it is truly distracting on the Pioneer. Both 5th and 6th gen displayed precisely the same amount of judder, so I'm thinkin' that hasn't been improved upon.
And man is that panel BRIGHT! My eyes were actually starting to feel strain after a while, watching it in dimmed lighting. That kind of brightness is nice to have if you need to combat a sun-lit, or very brightly lit room. But under the conditions I actually view anything remotely critically, such brightness would be largely wasted (given I have to crank down my less-bright Panasonic as it is).
As I watched about 2 hours worth of DVDs the across the board improvements in the new model became more and more obvious and significant to my eyes. The deeper black levels didn't only improve the image in dark scenes; it actually helped in most shots. The 6gen just had a slightly deeper, depthier, richer image. Even the various little bits of shadow in an actor's face in a non-night scene were a bit deeper and richer, which sculpted some more solidity and dimension into the image. And across the board, on most images, the 6th gen seemed to have a subtle layer of haze removed from the image, compared to the 5th gen. It made the image more direct.
The combination of awesome clarity - the same as the 5th gen but cleaned up and more natural - along with the cleaner image and deeper blacks gave the display a pristine quality that is hard to match. There is just so much detail in the image, so smoothly and realistically present. I could see every little mud patch on The Hulk, every mottling of his skin tone in vivid yet natural relief.
Has Pioneer now made the best 50 plasma? Well, Pioneer salesmen have been telling me that for the past couple of years but I've just found some things wanting until this new 6gen model. Now it's harder to argue with them. I think it may well have just edged into best plasma territory. But I can't say absolutely for sure until I look at the Fujitsu again or do a good demo of the latest Panasonics. For instance, a few times recently the Panasonic 50 have blown me away with the punch and depth of the image - a holy cow those blacks look rich and deep reaction on some hi-def. The same hi-def looked great on the Pioneer, but for whatever reason the richness of the blacks never blew me awayI was more quietly impressed. (Could have been viewing conditions).
My summation is this, so far from this experience: For sheer picture quality it's hard to go wrong with this panel. Its image is exquisite in almost every way. It is a definite improvement over the previous generation in black levels, reduction of image noise and better color rendition. These are fairly subtle and, again, I think would actually go unnoticed by many novice viewers. But for the picky among us the improvements are noticeable and well worth waiting for. Whether the black levels have reached Panny territory is still up in the air for me, but now at least you don't have to feel cheated on that count in getting a Pioneer. It may well turn out that the Panasonics are close enough for less money for people to still choose a Panasonic.
I think anyone who has ordered one of the 6gen Pioneers will be terrifically happy (unless you have some extremely high expectations on how much improvement you'll see over the last gen).
Nowback to work.
I have to thank Steve at Brentview who was great in just letting me go at it, dueling remotes in hand, and turning off all the store lights for me!