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Pioneer PDP4280XD Image Quality

by Vincent Teoh
15 July 2007
TLC Broadcast

HD DVD

Not one with much time on my hands, I initially baulked at the thought of sitting through a two-hour-and-a-half long movie which – by the nature of its subject – couldn't possibly offer many cheerful moments. But watch The Pianist on HD DVD I eventually did, and I didn't regret it a single bit. It gives a gritty account of the Holocaust through the eyes of a gifted Polish pianist scraping for survival in the ruins of Warsaw.

Adrien Brody

The Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
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faithfully portrayed the unflinching camera shots of director Roman Polanski, and the sublime Oscar-winning performance (a master class in non-verbal acting) of Adrien Brody. As I watched Władysław Szpilman (Brody) slowly stripped of everything he cherished: family, food, shelter, and above all, music, I was dragged through the abyss of despair and desperation; before finally buoyed by the moving finale which celebrates every last drop of indomitable persistence, tenacity and fortitude ingrained in the human spirit.

Even from the beginning, PDP4280XD's strengths were obvious. The opening scene where Szpilman's graceful fingers gently coaxed Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor out of the piano amidst deafening explosions presented me with the most realistic skin tone I've ever seen on a digital display. Contrasted against the deep lustrous blacks of the piano, this was a sight to behold, setting the tone perfectly as impending catastrophe gathered steam.

The Pianist

Unfortunately director Roman Polanski subdued the colours progressively throughout the film in an effort to paint an atmosphere of downward spiral... only towards the end when Szpilman breathed and played piano as a free man did the director restore the suitably saturated colours I have come to associate with high definition. While I understand and respect his decision, this meant that the glorious colour palette on PDP4280XD was not fully utilised for large parts of the movie.

Still, there was always the formidable blacks to savour. Engulfing, black-hole-esque, I'm running out of words to describe the black level on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
, but what it did was to layer the picture with convincing depth and realism, sucking me right into the movie. I winced as Szpilman stumbled, limped and crawled through the devastated Warsaw; rejoiced at his first taste of jam; and ducked when he was fired upon by Soviet soldiers who mistook him for a German officer.

Perhaps because of the extremely low black luminance, together with the skewed gamma between 0% and 20% stimulus, shadow detail could be left wanting. The defining scene in which Szpilman metamorphosed from a frightened fugitive back to the brilliant pianist he used to be in front of the German officer – channelling all those years of untold anguish and repressed passion for music into a soaring performance of Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor – was shot in dim light. My resident Panasonic TH42PH9 just edged the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
in shadow detail retrieval, rendering the distinction between Szpilman's unkempt beard and his battered coat with a dash more clarity. In the sequence where Szpilman showed the German officer his attic hideout, I also had to strain my eyes a tad more on the PDP4280XD to pick out objects in the dark.

To be fair though, not every person will have the luxury of comparing these two exceptional plasma panels in their calibrated form side-by-side in a dim setting, fed with the same source through a distrubition amplifier. On its own I would say that the shadow detail on Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
was more than acceptable. Make no mistake, we're not talking about a big wide gaping hole of total obliteration here... shadow detail is still visible on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
, just not as revealing as that on a Panasonic TH42PH9 in a side-by-side comparison.

Tip: to boost shadow detail at the expense of image contrast, try setting [DRE Picture] to "Mid" and [Gamma] to "3".

Blu-Ray

I received Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (exclusive on Blu-ray) through the mail just a few days before the postal strike. I didn't find it as endearing as the first, but I guess it does send out the right message – global warming is the toughest challenge our generation and the next will face.

As the film is an animation that's digitally generated by computer, I couldn't really comment on the accuracy of the colours. What I will say though is that it looked stunningly vibrant on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
: the inky blacks and D65 greyscale seemed to lay down the ideal canvas for the colours to assume an incredible degree of pop. There were times I actually wished I could reach into the screen and stroke the lush furs on the animals.

Scrat Ice Age 2

The Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
processed 1080p/24 signal from the Sony PS3 without any fuss. Ice Age 2 showcased numerous slow-panning shots of the vast Arctic landscape, which the PDP4280XD handled with an exquisite sense of buttery smoothness. It was only when the camera tilted vertically to focus on a fast-approaching herd of stampeding mammoths near the end of the movie that I detected a hint of jerkiness, which I put down to 24fps judder.

The mixture of white ice, blue sky and slow pans – found so frequently in Ice Age 2 – is usually a death knell for televisions with screen uniformity issues. I specifically looked out for the "dirty screen effect" on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
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during such scenes... there were none.

Freeview Digital TV

I'll be honest here: I didn't actually spend much time viewing standard definition content on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
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. My days with this review unit were numbered, so forgive me if I preferred to rewatch my HD collection on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
, knowing that it will deliver a different (and superior) experience to what I had seen in the past because of its near-CRT blacks, and saturated colours free of hue and decoding errors.

But from what little I saw, Freeview picture on the Pioneer PDP4280XDBuy this for £465.49 at Dixons
Use code '5TV' for £24.50 discount
ranked among the very best for this class size from a sitting distance of 8 feet. Compression quality and bit-rate do vary from programme to programme, but the PDP4280XD's relatively low panel resolution and accomplished video processing kept pixelation and jaggies to a minimum. Also impressive was the absence of posterization/ false contouring in scenes containing subtle tonal gradations that would have absolutely murdered Panasonic plasmas.


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