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Pioneer PRO-940HD
Performance

Features

Ease of Use

Value


Pioneer PRO-940HD Plasma Monitor
  Size: 42" Plasma Monitor
  Resolution: 1024x768
  MSRP: $3,300
Pioneer Elite 42" PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV Review
Dick De Jong
October 29, 2006
HDTV Solutions

Breath taking. Watching the Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD 42" plasma HDTV often elicited that transcendent state of wonderment. At that moment of witnessing an image so startling in its clarity or fidelity, your breath isn't really snatched from your lungs; you simply forget to exhale. So forgive me if I seem a little breathless in this review. To my eyes and respiratory system, this Pioneer plasma inspires plenty of panting.

And once you recover from marveling at the quality of HD images this 42" TV produces, the real kick in the pants is that the PRO-940HD's resolution is 1024 x 768. For those more-is-better videophiles out there who won't even consider anything less than 1080p, this Pioneer Elite proves that size isn't everything.

In addition to components like integrated NTSC/ATSC tuners (with CableCARD Interface), dual HDMI inputs (capable of accepting 1080p/24Hz signal), and USB and Ethernet connectors; the unit contains video processing and panel technologies exclusive to the Elite brand. Interestingly, Pioneer does not list contrast ratios or brightness ratings; but from my viewing, I have rarely seen better contrast handling. Of course, with all these high-end features and performance comes a corresponding price tag of $3500. Did I mention what a joy it is to watch this TV?.

Out of the Box
The term "box" is inadequate to represent the mobile McMansion in which this plasma rolled up to our door. Give this red and silver case a windshield and headlights and it could be confused for a MINI Cooper. Pop open the outside sheath and you discover the monitor is ensconced in its personal padded and velvet lined case. You have a feeling that you are unwrapping a Fabergé egg. (Of course, such a regal container is not the common method of packing and shipping this unit.)

Once extracted from its cocoon you realize that this butterfly is flying free from its stand. Attaching the stand is a little like the baffling job of putting together the kids swing set on Christmas Eve - some assembly required. Though with only four bolts to screw in, the task proved easier than it first appeared. The unit with stand weighs about 70 pounds. With the handgrips molded into the back of the chassis, two people can maneuver the TV around fairly easily.

Pioneer PRO-940HD
Pioneer PRO-940HD 42" Plasma HDTV

The jet black bezel and matching stand present an elegant package. Since the control panel buttons are indented on the right side behind the screen, the facade is almost completely unadorned except for the silver Elite logo in the center and Power indicator lights on the bottom left.

I like the look of the glass on plasmas though some people feel that it is too shiny when the TV is turned off. Pioneer has implemented a Surface PRO Color Filter on their Elites that enhances color and contrast while reducing the light reflection on screen, which results in a more muted appearance to the switched off monitor.

Of course, if you or your significant other are adverse to the sight of a 41" wide (4.5" deep without the 11" wide stand) black, unblinking, right-angled Cyclops hulking in your room, Pioneer does include a Home Media Gallery feature that can turn your TV into a canvas for your favorite photos. (For more suggestions on how to integrate your HDTV into your home, see our HD Design column.)

If I hadn't made it clear already, this Elite, at almost every step along the way, offers what you would expect in an HDTV - then adds its own flair. For example, if you look at the back of the unit, the standard AV connectors are included, in duplicate: HDMI, Component, Composite, and S-Video. Then for good measure (and easier access), extra sets of Component and Composite inputs are mounted on the left side of the monitor.

PRO-940HD AV Connectors
Pioneer PRO-940HD AV Connectors

The HDMI inputs along with a CableCARD slot, an Ethernet port, an RS-232C input, a 15-pin D-Sub PC input, and antenna terminals, are all positioned facing up in a hard-to-reach and even harder-to-see location. Thankfully, the abundance of AV connections face outward, making them much more accessible. I also applaud Pioneer for the added touch of including speed clamps and plastic ties to assist in controlling cable clutter.

PRO-940HD HD Connectors
Pioneer PRO-940HD HDMI and other Connectors

For those connecting DVD players or set top boxes that have DVI Outs (and therefore have to transmit audio to the TV through the stereo Outs to the analog audio Ins on the TV), the PRO-940HD offers separate analog audio inputs for the two HDMI inputs. Often manufacturers will only provide one set of audio Ins that is either shared by the HDMIs or one of them goes without.

Even though Pioneer has beefed up their pair of integrated (non-detachable) 13W speakers with "SRS(WOW) technology, which includes SRS Surround, TruBass and Focus for superior audio quality," I assume most of you will bypass the TV and route your audio through a more stalwart sound system. If the TV is hooked up to an external antenna, you can export the audio from the TV through either a digital optical or an analog stereo output. There's even a Subwoofer output.

The NTSC/ATSC tuner is truly integrated to the extent that you hook up your antenna and the tuner scans the digital and analog signals together and builds a comprehensive list of both digital and analog channels. And following the two-is-better-than-one theme, the PRO-940HD provides dual tuners. In addition, the TV Guide On Screen interactive program guide is included.

Of course, this Pioneer has the V chip and companion parental controls. And for those multitaskers, you can split the screen or play with PIP (picture in picture).

And the list of features marches on. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the Home Media Gallery, which is a built-in program that allows you to hook into your home network either through the TV's Ethernet port or USB connector.

PRO-940HD Home Media Gallery
Displaying Photos in the Home Media Gallery

Even if you are not ready to string a Cat 5 cable across your living room floor, if you own one of those nifty USB portable flash drives, you can load it up with your favorite family photos and plug it into the USB port on the side of the TV. The Home Media Gallery software will read the drive and display your snazzy snapshots in luxurious color on your big screen Elite. You also can create a slideshow that will change images at an interval you set.

PRO-940HD Remote

As you may imagine with a TV with this many options, the remote control can become a bit overpopulated with buttons. Pioneer designers squash pushbutton proliferation by only putting the essentials on the remote. And they are spread out over more real estate than is normal.

PRO-940HD Remote Flip Out
PRO-940HD Remote Flip Out Section

Also, many of the controls for external components like set top boxes are secluded behind a flip-out door at the bottom. The backlight casts this eerie red glow, which makes the stenciled lettering easier to read while at the same time setting a great Halloween mood.

Setup
This is the first TV I have reviewed that I felt didn't need any adjustment. I almost hesitated to play with the Picture controls because it looked so good right out of the box. And when I did pull out the Digital Video Essentials DVD and went through the normal calibration routine, I made a minor tweak to the brightness and that was that.

I was glad I stepped through the process because it made me appreciate all the fine-tuning controls that were available. Not only are there the normal basic picture adjustments for Contrast, Brightness, Color and Tint; but click on the Pro Adjust selection and you are greeted with a variety of advanced picture controls that could calm the twitchiest of tweakers.

Tools like CTI (Color Transient Improvement), Intelligent Color, and Dynamic Range Expander may frighten the meek. Indeed, if you feel you are over your head, follow your gut and stay away. For those adventurous adjusters out there, Pioneer does an adequate job of giving on-screen guides to controls and the manual is well written.

To begin, you might want to scroll through the different AV Selections of presets, Standard, Dynamic, Movie, Game and Pure. Notice the difference in the pictures and then examine how the individual settings have changed. For example, Movie desaturates the image by dropping the Color setting to -5, softens the image a bit by lowering Sharpness to -8, and adds a little warmth by pushing the Color Temp to Low.

Play around. If you find yourself floundering in the deep end, you can always hit the Reset button to return the settings back to the shallow waters of the default. The reason I suggest you futz with a perfectly good image is so you can see how responsive the PRO-940HD is to these adjustments. And you also might discover that you actually prefer a slightly cooler or warmer image or one that is not so razor sharp.

Now, if you really wish to tweak your Testarossa of a television, the Pioneer Elites can be professionally ISF calibrated to your most demanding standards for both day and night viewing.

Performance
What can I say without resorting to hyperbole? This HDTV rocks.

Whether revealing the nasty nooks and creaky crannies of Count Olaf's gothic house in Lemony Snicket or illuminating Rembrandt's mastery of light and shadow in the Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, the PRO-940HD excelled with flying colors. The black and white rendition of the Philadelphia Story was luscious. Notwithstanding the genius of Antonio Gaudi, the 1984 Japanese documentary on the Spaniard's architecture was mesmerizing.

In fact, I found that I was spellbound quite often when watching programs on this TV. It might be a little detail like how the light reflects off the rich red metallic finish of Joe Satriani's Ibanez JS series guitar. Whatever it may be, a sense of the sublime is incited. And you think, this is the way high definition should look. But I wax poetic.

Usually, if I need a pail of cold water thrown on my HD reverie, I simply turn on an SD channel. And even with this Elite, watching standard definition - I'm ready to dub it "substandard def" - is a slap in the face. Though the PRO-940HD handles SD programs about as well as any of the HDTVs I have seen.

I did run into two situations while viewing HD content. First, on an occasional program, I would see noticeable judder in camera pans. Since this wasn't a consistent problem, I would tend to blame the source material and not the TV. Also, some programs would veer too much towards the vivid for my tastes. I seem to be especially sensitive to ruddy skin tones. I found that the default for the Picture control named Color Space is set to 1, which the manual describes as, "Optimized for vivid, vibrant color reproduction." Switching to 2, (Standard color reproduction), reined in the red to my satisfaction.

Finally, I hooked up a Dell laptop to the TV through the 15-pin D-Sub input. (There is a separate mini plug connection for the audio.) In the manual, the computer compatibility chart lists resolutions from 640 x 480 to 1360 x 768; but it does not recommend one. The Picture controls are limited to Contrast, Brightness, Red, Green, and Blue. In the Options menu, you can opt for an Automatic Setup that adjusts Horizontal and Vertical Positioning. Or you can manually adjust them as well as Clock and Phase.

The PC images are sharp and clean, but I don't think that my poor peepers would want me to do word processing on this monitor for an extended period of time. But because of this 42" beauty's color rendition, I could Photoshop all day to my eyes' content.

Conclusion
The Pioneer PRO-940HD provides top-notch HD performance and a bevy of features. This HDTV is a videophile's dream and does Pioneer's Elite brand proud. It serves as a great reference monitor. I'll be sorry to see it go.

Star Ratings
First, realize, that ratings are relative to when the review was written. The obvious example is Value, what you could purchase for $2000 two years ago or even two months ago would seem like a bad value for that price now.

Second, I have yet to give a 5 Star rating, which I am reserving for truly outstanding accomplishment. And as you can see below, the Pioneer PRO-940HD has achieved that standard of excellence.

Performance: 5
Is this Elite HDTV perfect? No. But its color fidelity and contrast handling does definitely elevate PRO-940HD above the crowd.

Features: 5
With dual HDMI inputs and twin tuners only serving as the appetizers to a smorgasbord of features, the biggest problem is overeating. But all the bells and whistles are just noise if the HDTV doesn't perform. The PRO-940HD delivers.

Ease of Use: 4.5
All the features can be daunting. But you can plug and play and have a great viewing experience without ever learning about adjustments with acronyms like MPEG NR or I-P Mode.

Value: 4
I'm a tough grader on Value, and $3500 is on the high end of the scale for 42" plasmas, especially with a resolution of 1024 x 768. But this Pioneer provides a lot of bang for its big bucks. For me, on Value, 4 is a high mark.



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