OK, I actually have the 5061 in my possession, now up and running. Some initial impressions…
As background, I previously had a Fujitsu PDS-5002, which died after 3 ½ years and didn’t seem worth repairing at the estimated $2500. I had a Panasonic for a few weeks before that, which I returned due to a buzzing issue.
I really liked the Fujitsu. The blacks were excellent—same as the Panasonics (not surprisingly, as it’s the same glass in both). The Fujitsu added much better deinterlacing; the Panasonic was quite poor in this area, with lots of combing. I believe later models are better in this regard, but not up to the level of Fujitsus. What I didn’t like about the Fujitsu was fan noise, which I partially quelled by lining the back cover with Dynamat, replacing the four fans with quieter models, and placing acoustic foam behind the unit. This problem has been addressed with current Fujitsus, which are much quieter. In terms of picture quality, the only complaint I had was occasional false contouring.
OK, now on to the Pioneer. First, some unpacking notes. The box included not only a table top stand, but also a wall mount, which I don’t need. (My understanding is that this is only true of the Best Buy models). The stand at first seemed to be lightweight plastic, but there are heavy metal supports which go inside it. The stand was labeled as made in Japan, the media box in Malaysia, and the plasma panel itself, interestingly, was assembled in the USA with Japan and USA components. The bezel around the screen is thinner than on previous Pioneers, but I believe still a bit thicker than the Fujitsu’s. A nice touch was the inclusion of a screen cleaning cloth.
I have the media box connected to an HD-TiVo by component (I have an HDMI cable on order, but from what I’ve read, the expected improvement is somewhere between slight and imperceptible), an SD DirecTV TiVo via S-video, and a Panasonic RP-91 DVD player via component. In addition to satellite, the HD-TiVo is also connected to a rooftop antenna for over-the-air HDTV. Finally, I have an RCN digital cable box connected via S-video. (I don’t use cable much, but it’s included in my condo fee, so I can’t get rid of it.)
When I first turned it on, it was really bright, with oversaturated colors. Torch mode, I guess. The black level was also quite high—kind of a medium gray. I didn’t panic, knowing it needed some adjustment. I first turned off the default “dynamic” mode, and then I briefly did some calibration using the Video Essentials DVD (the older version).
With this done, I re-examined the black level. The Fujitsu, although it had a silver frame, had a strip of black glass around the image, and I was always aware of some difference between that black and the black on the screen. That is, black on screen was a somewhat grayer. Well, with the Pioneer, that difference (compared to the black bezel) seems about the same. That is, the black level on the Pioneer appears equal to that on the Fujitsu. At first, I even though it was better, but I’m not as sure now. Still, looking at black objects onscreen, I think the word “inky” can reasonably be applied. I certainly wouldn’t expect any complaints in real-world viewing.
An additional test I’d like to try out when it’s dark out tonight is to look at the Pioneer with the screen blanked. I have a hack on the TiVo to blank the screen when paused for more than 30 seconds (to decrease burn-in), so I’m very used to seeing how much light the Fujitsu put out when displaying nothing (i.e., black) in a darkened room. I think that’s a slightly less subjective way to interpret black level. I’ll let you know how it goes.
After calibration, I watched some of the test materials on Video Essentials. Even with the good black level, I could see somewhat more detail in the dark areas, and I did not see any false contouring in these areas (which was where it was most visible on the Fujitsu). The deinterlacing (which I checked with the DVD player set to interlaced output) was excellent.
I then changed over to HD, watching the Bears-Lions game. The image was certainly crisp and detailed. The colors certainly do have some pop to them. I haven’t quite decided whether they pop too much—i.e., are they lifelike. The color rendition is somewhat different than on the Fujitsu, and at least initially, I felt the Fujitsu was more lifelike. With a bit more viewing time, though, I started to get used to the Pioneer’s colors, and they started to seem quite pleasing.
I should remember to mention the issue of noise. There really isn’t any. If I put my ear up to the plasma, there’s a whisper of a buzz, and if I get close to the media box, there’s a very slight fan noise. Both are imperceptible from a few feet away, and are much less than the hard drives in my TiVos.
Overall, I’m very pleased. The picture quality is outstanding, in terms of black level, detail, color, and deinterlacing of SD material. The unit looks great, and it’s very quiet. I’ll leave it at that for now, so that I can finish watching the Bears lose.