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  Pioneer Elite PRO-910 HD Plasma Display and Media Receiver

      Date posted: February 16, 2004

Pioneer Elite Pro 910 Plasma Display

Sugg. Retail: $10,999 (CAN)
Table Stand: $500.00 (CAN)
Matching Speakers: $400.00 (CAN)

Distributor: Pioneer Electronics of Canada,
300 Allstate Parkway, Markham,
Ontario, Canada, L3R 0P2
(905) 479-4411 FAX 946-7427

Reprinted From the Winter/Spring 2004 Issue

      The PRO-910HD is the first Pioneer plasma in our experience to come with an outboard controller/tuner box, with ATSC digital tuner, as well as VHF/UHF reception. It also handles cable or satellite digital services. Connection to the display is via a single output that Pioneer calls their iLink (an IEEE 1394 “Firewire”) cable. However, the RO4U media receiver/processor has numerous inputs on both front and rear panels. The rear of the control box has composite, S-video, and component inputs, these duplicated under a front flip-down panel. It also has an iLink for DVD players or digital VCRs, and a compatible universal DVD player, the Elite DV-59AVI ($1799) was provided as part of the review package.

      The RO4U has coaxial inputs for both off-air analog and digital broadcasting, a pair for the former (Antenna A & B). Since in my house they both feed from the same VHF/UHF antenna, I used a powered coaxial splitter/amplifier to get signal to each. I�ll say more about overall reception of both below.

      The PRO-910HD plasma display has a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, which is XGA resolution, actually below the real threshold of High Definition which is considered to be a million active pixels; here we have 786,432, still enough to give this plasma its wow factor for most consumers. More jaded reviewers like me, with true 1080i, look at the screen a little more critically. The PRO-910HD has a wonderful absence of scan lines, this partly due to the processing of the PRO-RO4U, processing which is not described, or even discussed in the owner’s manual.

      There’s obviously line doubling and other enhancements going on to make the picture as good as it can be off air and from DVD. But looking at the component and S outputs of the DVD player, we see more pastel colour and more motion artifacts of the sort associated with earlier plasma. With the iLink connections these are absent, and colours and blacks are very saturated and pure.

      I did find a bit too much red, even after Pioneer technician Paul Belanger did a quick ISF calibration, but this was a small concern. Because this is a fixed pixel device, issues like convergence and grey scale calibration were not a factor, and the setup took only about 20 minutes. Blacks and grey scale were at least as good as I�ve seen on a plasma set, and colour was vibrant and a little overreal. I think I�m not the only one to notice that women in particular love the plasma look, and one of my writers, Hy Sarick, has already succumbed to his wife Judy’s desire for a plasma set, the predecessor to this one in the Elite lineup, which I helped them install last spring. After watching the PRO-910HD for a couple of weeks with off-air and progressive and non-progressive component DVD signals (more on the latter below), I took a look at the test signals on the new Digital Video Essentials. These include those with pure blacks and whites, and I was happy to see no blooming or picture distortion in these, but grey scale tests were less good, with a lack of subtlety in the bottom half of the progression toward pure black (7 or 8 lower gradations); it appears to be the tradeoff of good full black at the expense of near-black greys.

      Overscan of picture was about 5% at top and bottom, a little more at the sides of the the 16:9 picture. Overall geometry was perfect, a particular virtue of fixed pixel displays, with straight lines and grids right to every corner.

      Red, green, and blue screens were very pure and accurate in colour, the red a little more vivid, with other combined colours also very pure and noise free. The various picture resolution tests were well handled, the sharpness and detail seeming to defy the display’s pixelar limit, and the Snell & Wilcox Zone Plate, with its bouncing ball, had relatively low flicker as the ball bounced around its box on the screen.

      The actual picture demos, the space shuttle taking off at start of the disc, and the montage at the end, were some of the best looking video I�ve seen from DVD, and they were bright and vivid here, if lacking a little subtlety in darker scenes.

      In general, the picture of the PRO-910HD is very arresting and likeable, with a lot of technical excellence behind it, as the tests show. I have seen higher resolution displays in the same size range using other technologies, such as LCD and DLP rear projection. However they do not always have the excellent contrast ratio and blacks of this plasma set.

      Getting back to off-air reception, I was somewhat dubious about bringing in good digital signals from Buffalo, which is, as the crow flies, almost exactly 80 miles nearly due south of King City. This path also goes right through the CN Tower, which is good news for me, meaning I don�t have to diddle with the rotor for Buffalo or Toronto signals. And, as with terrestrial digital radio (which I have in the car), you either get the signal or you don’t. There�s only one digital signal off the CN Tower, CITY-TV, but more will follow; CTV and CBC are already sending feeds to satellite and cable, the latter’s intermittent and special program related. And until quite recently, Discovery and TSN had Hi-Def feeds on Bell ExpressVu (though seldom carrying true HD programming), but both mysteriously disappeared a couple of weeks ago (actually, I discovered last night that these two have returned on a Pay tier I do not have access to). So the current off-air digital TV selection in the southern Ontario area is a total of 6 channels: from Buffalo, WIVB (CBS), WGR (NBC), and WNED (PSB), which has 3 channels, the main HD, a digital SD (with regular programming), and a yet-to-start pure educational channel called Think that currently displays a blue billboard. CITY rounds out the sextet.

      It may be that WNED dissipates their overall power by having 3 channels, because the picture, though perfect a lot of the time, pixelizes, and sound and picture disappear frequently, especially during the day. The other two Buffalo channels (WGR/NBC is off during the day) are more reliable, though I’ve seen variances here too; maybe it’s air traffic that causes picture and sound dropouts in some cases. But from what I�ve read about digital signal propagation, it seems almost a miracle to get them at an 80-mile distance. Having a tower and being up on the Oak Ridges Moraine helps I guess.

      Off-air analog reception was excellent, though I felt that, overall, it didn�t quite match that of the other TV. With about 80 feet less coaxial cable than to our Elite PRO-710HD RPTV (the feed goes through my listening room, where I can interrupt it for testing TVs in this space), the reception not quite as good on more distant stations, particularly UHF ones. But the pleasant surprise was, of course, real digital TV reception, which bodes well for the future, especially off the CN Tower when more channels are available.

      One concern when watching digital channels, whether HD or not, is that the various screen options are locked out, even with a 4:3 picture, so you can�t zoom or widen the picture to fill the screen. An ancillary (and opposite) problem is that non-anamorphic DVDs are, in fact, stretched to fill the screen when going through the iLink to the display; using component input to the RO4U from the DVD player allows the various screen options, but the picture is surprisingly washed out and lacking in colour. I’ve never seen a component video picture look so bad. Hmmmm…

      If you’re pining for plasma, this is a good place to start looking, now that you hopefully understand a little better what they can and can’t do. Pioneer has done a wonderful job in improving the motion problems of earlier sets in the new generation, and the PRO-910HD/PRO-RO4U combination provide a remarkable viewing experience.

Andrew Marshall

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