A popular and affordable 43-inch, 16:9 HDTV-Ready plasma display, the Pioneer PDP-4312 package with the PDP-4304 black bezel monitor and matching speakers and stand, is back at some Costco stores this week!
In south Sacramento, California, the big box discounter received four sets on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 and I was told the eastern Sacramento store (Rancho Cordova) is scheduled to receive another four or so later this week. Sorry about the length of this post. I am taking this opportunity to consolidate and post information compiled from various sources, since we are considering a purchase today. It seems as if an official thread is needed for this model, since information is posted in different AVS sub-forums.
A report on another Web site indicates Pioneer is shipping newer, 5th generation plasmas to retail outlets, but several AVS'ers who've purchased this package seem to consider it to be a pretty good value. According to one online post about Pioneer models on another Web site, the first two digits in product names denotes screen size and the last designates the plasma generation (I think I have this straight, but maybe not). This would make the 4304 a 43-inch, fourth generation plasma technology. However, other information available online may conflict with this characterization of the 4304 as a fourth generation product (see PURCHASE NOTES, below).
Besides the nice bezel and black color which nicely frames the screen, what makes the PDP-4312 so attractive is that it is one of a few, recent generation HDTV-Ready flat panel plasmas available for under $3,000 (U.S.). Similar-sized LCD flat panel displays are much more expensive ? from about $4,000 to $7,000 (U.S.).
According to some Web forums posts and product reviews, this more affordable plasma also delivers good black levels (perhaps only surpassed by a couple of similarly-priced Panasonic plasmas), and a clean picture largely free from artifacts, noise and jaggies. I can attest that when viewed next to an even less expensive 42-inch ED plasma on display at the store, the Pio PDP-4312 picture looked much sharper with brighter, more vivid colors and much better (though not perfect) blacks. I also can attest that the range of colors reproduced seemed good (green values were vivid and especially impressive). However, I also noticed that orange uniforms and clothing worn by Syracuse University basketball players and fans in one demo scene appeared to nearly be over saturated and posterized under the arena lighting pictured. This caused me some concern about the red spectrum response of the display, and I still am thinking about this. I still believe the PDP-4312 provides an impressive picture for the money, but it is not perfect. Certainly, Costco does not have a very good HD demo loop to show off the capabilities of their displays.
One way that Costco has kept down the cost of the 43-inch model: using a 1024x768-pixel screen with a resolution that actually is slightly lower than HD resolutions, though right in line with typical plasma resolution offerings to date. Another shortcoming: no ATSC or NTSC tuners are included, but cable and satellite customers may not want to pay extra for these features anyway. The PDP-4304 does not include popular features such as a sleep timer function, or built-in audio controls for tone, surround sound, bass or left-right balance, though this could be mitigated with the purchase of a separate AV home theater receiver that has a remote control. Also absent are connectivity ports such as a cable card slot, OAR antenna input and outputs, i-Link (FireWire), an IR Blaster, or Digital Audio output and Subwoofer output ports. These features are available on other, more expensive, Pioneer models.
Some basic features included are a remote control with twin PIP (Picture-in-Picture) setting and an Energy Star certification. Both Pioneer models available at Costco (and sometimes through at least one other dicsount outlet ? Tweeters) also appear to utilize Pioneer's state-of-the-art Pure Drive technology, which maintains an all-digital signal to reduce distortion and produce a clear, smooth image. The Pioneer PureDrive feature is noted on the boxes, and on Costco's Web site. At the Pioneer Web site, other displays includes the following technologies (edited and condensed here):
? Advanced Continuous Emission II (ACE II): one billion colors; no false contouring and banding
? Deep Encased Cell Structure, new fluorescent materials results in highest brightness levels
? Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) effectively reduces random noise.
? MPEG Noise Reduction effectively reduces mosquito noise unique to MPEG signals.
? Natural Enhancer emphasizes image contours without causing adverse effects
? Color Detail Adjustment allows users to independently fine-adjust the six basic colors.
According to a Pioneer telephone support technician, the PDP-4304 has the same basic specifications as the_PDP-434CMX model, a 43-inch plasma that sells for prices ranging from about $2,400 to $4,300 online, with no external speakers or stand. The PDP-434CMX is a 'professional' display often sold to commercial users for digital signage, board room and other business applications. The PDP-434CMX's DVI-D connector has been replaced with an HDMI connector on the PDP-4304 (4312) version, so that it can be used as a modern home theater solution. The more commonly available PDP-434CMX also has two open architecture card slots (for communications and video), to add functionality such as a TV tuner, World Wide Web access (modem?), system control, MPEG playback, signal interface, or wireless connectivity or for an embedded PC.
The PDP-4312 box highlights the display size and resolution specifications, PureDrive, Deep Encased Cell Structure, Advanced Pure Cinema, five color temperature adjustment features and the Energy Saver function. However, the box marketing info (and the Costco Web site documentation begs a question: are the Pioneer ACE II (one billion, instead of a 16.7 million color palette, to minimize banding), DNR, MPEG Noise Reduction and Natural Enhance features also built in, and just edited out of the 4312 packaging, or they missing? (The documentation for 50-inch model does indicate that ACE II is supported, and so it probably is on the 43-inch model as well.)
Screen management features may be limited on the PDP-4312 as well ? though this isn't clear. Pioneer plasmas utilize several different burn-in controls, such as an Inverse mode that show images as a negative in off-peak hours to help achieve even wear of the phosphors. An Orbiter mode also can be activated to allow the plasma to constantly move a displayed image one pixel at a time at fixed intervals to help prevent burn-in, and this does appear to be supported, according to Costco documentation for the 50-inch model. But it isn't clear whether other Pioneer anti-burn patterns are available with these models, including RGB separate full mask and side mask brightness, and the Inverse mode, which is used to compensate for severe screen burn-in, according to the Pioneer support technician.
As recently as March 18, 2005, the PDP-4312 (Costco item 704312) was available through the discounter's Web site, but the link (and product info) was removed a few days ago. Perhaps it will be returned. A 50-inch Pioneer plasma (1280x768p) also is available (at least in some stores), and still is listed on the Costco Web site.
On Nov. 19, 2004, Pioneer Electronics (USA) posted a notice on the company Web site that some "second- and third-generation plasma" displays have been prone to power supply failures, and that consumers are entitled to a free in-home power supply replacement if this happens. The PDP-4304 is listed as one of the displays that could be affected by this problem. Power supply failures are preceded by a loud popping noise. This information raises a question: is the PDP-4304 really fourth generation plasma technology, or an older technology?
The PDP-4312 box dimensions measure (approximately) 59l x 39h x 19w and it must be transported upright. This means it won't fit into the back of a typical SUV cabin. My Explorer and a neighbor's larger Chevy Suburban each have about 36 inches of vertical clearance through the rear gate. Bring a truck.
Another AVS Forum member reminds that some membership discounters provide 2% cash back at the end of each year and that large purchases such as this effectively reduce the price of the product by this same amount.
Also, yet another AVS member notes that Costco has a liberal warranty and return policy, as long as you keep the receipt, and I think perhaps, the original packaging. In addition, purchases charged to at least some American Express cards (and perhaps other brands) extend the terms of the original manufacturers warranty by an additional one year (for products with warranties that are less than five years). The PDP-4312 warranty is for one year, in-home service and the credit card purchase would double this. Costco accepts any American Express card, and the American Express 'Blue' card does include this benefit, which is called the Buyers Assurance program.
SPECIFICATIONS ? PIONEER PDP-4304, 43" PUREVISION? PLASMA PANEL MONITOR
Some specifications from Costco box, some from PDP-434CMX spec sheet
pioneerelectronics.com ? 800-746-6337
? 1- PDP-4304 plasma display
? 1- PDK-TS07 table top stand
? 2- PDP-S27-LR attachable speakers; 7W/channel, 60-20K
? 1- remote control
Aspect ratio: 16x9
Pixels: 1024 x 768
Dot Pitch: 0.93 x 0.70mm
Contrast Ratio: Data Not Available
Brightness: 1100 cd/m2
View Angle: 160 degrees
Video Input: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i
Colors: Data Not Available (ACE I: 16.7 million or ACE II: 1 billion?)
Plasma screen rated hours: 60,000 (30,000 half life)
Inputs (5 video; audio)
1- Mini D-Sub DB15 (RGB PC analog video)
1- HDMI with HDCP (Instead of DVI-D 24-Pin on the PDP-434CMX)
1- Component video (rear)
1- S-video (rear)
1- Composite video (rear)
1- AV (rear)
Dimensions: 42.1" Width, 24.8" Height, 3.9" Depth
Weight: 72 lbs
Power: 298W (0.8W in stand by)
Warranty: Standard 1-year manufacturer warranty