Sugg. Retail: $11,000
Distributor: Pioneer Electronics of Canada,
300 Allstate Parkway, Markham,
Ontario, Canada, L3R 0P2
(905) 479-4411 FAX 946-7427
Reprinted From the Fall 2001 Issue
My wife didn’t buy it, but for the last year or more I’ve felt handicapped in reviewing the latest video gear because I didn’t have a high resolution digital television. That meant no component inputs, no progressive scan capability, and limited resolution in image display. OK, work with me on this…I needed a newer, bigger, better video centrepiece.
I looked at plasma, but even as they come down in price, couldn’t justify the size/price ratio. And, frankly, I don’t care if it hangs on a wall and is way cool, the picture just wasn’t good enough. Friends of mine have gone digital recently, one with a Toshiba 42″ RPTV, the other with a similar-sized Hitachi. But I’ve been looking at a 51″ set for five years, and even if I got the same size, its 16 X 9 screen would be smaller for any 4:3 off-air pictures.
But I saw the magic number in the newest Pioneer Elite catalogue, and it was 64″, the top of the line RPTV, the PRO- 710 HD. Getting out the measuring tape, I calculated that this TV would provide a similar size of standard picture, while also offering the big widescreen experience for DVDs.
Getting this monster into the house proved quite the task for the three guys carting it around to the lower level side door. I had removed the closer on the screen door to accomodate its almost 28″ depth, and once they got it inside, it rolled nicely on its casters, its 368 pound weight more manoeuverable than you might think.
Once it was in place in the home theatre room, I had to install the protector for the lenticular screen, which proved to be a bit of a job. Carefully removing the mylar protective sheets on both sides of the clear plastic cover, I tried to minimize fingerprints while installing it and screwing in the mouldings that hold it in place. Ironically, it is all too easy to scratch the lenticular surface with its protector, so I had to be very careful fitting it just in front of the screen. Once this was done, we were ready to watch this very imposing video display.
Well, almost…there was also some setting up to do in terms of, first, convergence, and then picture values. But before getting into that, a little more about the PRO-710’s characteristics and specifications.
We’ve already articulated the size (sibling sets are the 58″ PRO-610 HD and 53″ PRO-510 HD), but the next significant number is 1400, the lines of horizontal resolution of which it is capable. This means that it will display 1080i, but not 720p: the direct component progressive scan input will handle 720p, though probably not display it to full resolution (the manual and brochures are vague on this, making reference only to 1080i).
The 710 is a progressive scan device, converting through its PureCinema circuit all analog TV and video signals to 480p. For US buyers, a digital TV tuner is an option for off-air reception. It has double NTSC tuners with separate A and B inputs. There are 4 inputs (in addition to the tuners), one on the front panel with S and composite jacks. A pair of component inputs are at rear, along with 3 S and composite, with an additional 15-pin RGB input. You should be able to plug just about everything but a toaster into this monitor.
It also has plenty of videophile features, including 5 colour temperature settings, including one (unidentified) that is 6500K; I guess we’ll just have to guess. There are Black Level Expansion and Linear White circuits, Dynamic Picture Optimizer (to adapt to different ambient light conditions in the room), and an Auto Flesh Tone feature; luckily, these last two are defeatable, and will remain so.
The audio system offers 20 watts per channel, and can also be used as a centre channel. It also has Super Bass. Whoopee. There are fixed and variable line outputs. Other features include Closed Caption, V-Chip Parental lockout, Auto Memory for picture settings on each input (a very useful thing), Split Screen dual picture, and Picture-Out-Of-Picture capability on this wide screen.
One feature I made judgement on pretty quickly were the display modes. It seems that for TV makers of widescreen TVs, filling the screen is all. The modes are 4:3 Normal, with silver bands on either side (I’d prefer black, but it’s not an option), Natural Wide, which unnaturally fattens everything, Cinema Wide, which crops more on top and sides and still fattens everything, Zoom, which crops even more but does not widen the image, and Full, which crops and fattens even more but properly displays anamorphic DVDs and broadcast HD images. In fact, the latter sources are locked into Full mode by codes in the broadcast or DVD.
I don’t know why they bother with the fattening modes, since they’re only of use to partially correct for distortion of anamorphic sources. The only ones I use are 4:3 Normal and Zoom, since only they avoid picture distortion. Full could also be used with anamorphic DVDs that are not expanded by your DVD player but it would probably crop the picture at the sides, too. Zoom is better for non-anamorphic widescreen DVDs or, especially, with laserdiscs, which always compromise resolution for aspect ratio.
As I’ve worked my way through the process of replacing my TV, I’ve become preoccupied with scan lines. At a recent Sony dealer show I was struck by their visibility on all the Wega and XBR tube sets. I found this very distracting, moreso than on my previous Pioneer 5193. Then I turned around and looked at the Sony 65″ HD-ready set, and noted the virtual absence of scan lines, and thought, “That’s what I want!”
The PRO710 HD comes close to this window-like quality with DVDs through the component inputs, and thereby hangs a further tale. I tried at various audio/video stores to get 25-foot component cables to suit my system, but they seemed to stop at 12 feet. A salesman at Future Shop told me that they didn’t sell longer component cables because the signal losses through them were too great; I wonder if he has cable TV at home?
So I decided to make up my own, buying a 75-foot RG-5 antenna cable, cutting it into 3 equal lengths, and soldering RCA jacks onto them. Though the soldering process was murder, with the solid-core copper and wispy outer coax insulation presenting oppsite problems in getting good bonds, I finally got them done using my handy-dandy butane-fired iron. In the former case it took a longer time to bond the conductors for a good joint, and in the latter a gentle touch to avoid destroying the fine mesh of the ground screens.
But once it was done, the picture from the 710 was worth it. The vivid colour and increased detail made the S connection look flat and two-dimensional by comparison. And I had thought the S picture looked pretty good at first! This was clearly the only way to watch DVDs, using the PureCinema conversion to progressive scan in the Pioneer DV-38A rather than the similar circuit in the TV. The brochure was right: doing the conversion while still in the digital domain in the player made for a much better picture.
After this both DVD and off-air pictures looked pretty impressive, given perfect reception like that from CBLT, channel 5, while the images from Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice were sharp enough to reveal their digital compression artifacts, these also visible on DVDs in some cases. But before getting into picture quality with various sources any further, I should backtrack, and talk about one key to rear projection picture quality: convergence.
Isn’t that what technology’s all about, anyway? Well, we’re not talking about that kind of convergence here, which was deftly skewered in a recent Dilbert cartoon where the pointy-haired boss says, “I found the ultimate tool for the mobile professional. It’s a combination PDA, phone, pager, digital camera, FAX, E-mail, laptop and shredder. It clips right to my belt!” Everyone should have one of those to use while driving. Especially in southern Ontario. I think some people already do.
But, no, we’re talking about making the red, green, and blue colour guns fire at the same targets on the screen. The earth’s magnetism, or jarring in shipping, or the gnomes of Zurich, can affect the big screen picture’s convergence, particularly at screen edges. With the PRO710 HD you first set it at a centre crosshair, and then at 72 points around the screen. Luckily, our review sample was pretty good, except down the left side of the screen, where the blue was a little off laterally (I guess the three guys didn’t manage to drop it while I wasn’t looking). This was easily fixed using the cursor buttons on the remote to align the geometric patterns in red and blue with the white.
Returning to picture quality and resolution (which was what we were improving by playing with the convergence), I saw the next step as getting an HD box from one of the Canadian satellite providers, in this case, Bell ExpressVu, since they seem to carry more HD programming than Star Choice.
This Model 6000 HDTV receiver made for a pair of component output devices, initially requiring that I rout both it and the DV-38A through the Sunfire Cinema Grand II, which has a pair of component inputs. Though I could have used the second component input on the TV, I was not about to blow another afternoon wiring up cables.
Though the continuous HD demo was quite spectacular, with its shots of Toronto, other Canadian cities, the Rockies, space shuttle launches, car racing, and other sports, it did get a bit boring after a while. And much of the other HD programming was just upsampled NTSC from the US networks, so the growth of digital TV may be becoming stalled by a dearth of true HD material.
However, CBS seems to be leading the way with their 1080i offerings, such as Jag, and CSI on Thursday nights. Both shows are quite interesting, being about military and forensic investigation, and their picture is remarkably vivid and very film-like. I suspect that Jag, at least, is shot to 35mm. I also recently compared the film Gladiator in its DVD and HD broadcast by ExpressVu, and was quite stunned at how much the HDTV version surpassed the disc in resolution and involvement of the viewer. It also cropped the sides of the picture to fill the screen, but I’d take the greater sharpness over politically correct aspect ratio any time. I also enjoyed, with some puzzlement, the film Frequency, in which Dennis Quaid as a fireman and his cop son 30-or-so years later communicate on the same ham radio, and keep changing the future in the son’s time. Make sense? Not really, but it’s kind of like Back To The Future without the wry sense of humour (Remember the Calvin Klein joke?). Again, the picture quality was extraordinary.
I’ve still got 50-or-more laserdiscs, and looked at a few, including The Dream Is Alive, which was generally impressive in its IMAX 4:3 aspect ratio, though resolution could not match that of DVDs. But colour was excellent, and scan lines were not all that obvious when the picture was not Zoom-ed. In general, however, a TV like this spoils one, and VHS, even Super VHS, even Super Beta, are pretty hard to watch. I found myself once again mildly distracted by scan lines even on DVDs progressively scanned after watching an HD broadcast.
Even satellite TV suffers by comparison, the digital compression artifacts quite obvious, these not seen in good off-air pictures. And network feeds, especially those of NBC (whose video distribution equipment must be very antiquated), looked terrible, a prime example being the US Open golf tournament in mid-June. But when the inferior pictures must be watched, I just take my glasses off to soften the picture and its artifacts. That’s the down side of HDTV.
I’ve seen some great front projection systems recently, but these are often very expensive, and further require expenditures on the room to eliminate ambient light and provide the proper screen and setting that may be more than the projector cost. To set up a really good front projector can cost anywhere from $100,000 to a quarter-of-a-million dollars.
My approach has therefore been to go for the biggest and best rear projection system I can find, and that just happens to be the Pioneer Elite PRO-710 HD.