Sky's high-definition television broadcasts may still be a good six months away at least, but those of you with an appetite for sport and movies (and a bit of extra cash) would be wise to check out the latest fruit from one of our favourite manufacturers.

Pioneer has been producing HD-ready screens for a few years now and was, until relatively recently, almost alone in doing so. This 50in model is not only big enough to really get the best out of HD footage, but it also has a few more tricks up its sleeve than its illustrious forebears.

With an ability to resolve an amazing seven billion colours, image fidelity should be seriously vivid. The set also has a fancy-sounding Direct Colour Filter - actually a plastic plate that attaches directly to the front of the panel, instead of the usual glass frontage. One benefit is that it reduces ambient light reflections and improves contrast. The filter also cuts the overall weight of the set.

The PDP-505XDE's separate media receiver makes wall-hanging a doddle, while also offering great connectivity. The box sports three Scart inputs (two of which are RGB enabled), one set of component inputs and, crucially, an HDMI input for accepting high-definition video and multichannel audio.

A pull-down front fascia flap also reveals a phono/S-video input, presumably for games systems. Other niceties include an optical digital audio output and a common interface slot for for those wanting to buy into Freeview add-on deals such as Top Up TV.

Picture controls

Setting up the screen reveals a host of picture controls, including Digital Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction and various colour management tweaks.

Digital Colour Transient Improvement keeps hues tight, while a Dynamic Range Expander improves greyscale tracking. There are also five presets for colour temperature adjustment, alongside one manual setting.

This is the first 50in Pioneer screen with a Freeview tuner, housed in the media box. It offers good-quality images, coping well with the low bitrates of such broadcasts. Yet it's with a higher-quality source that we really started to enjoy this set's performance...

DVD playback hinges on the player that the screen is hooked up to. If you're lucky enough to use an HDMI or DVI-enabled machine (and maybe one that can also upscale its images to 720p), you'll be thrilled by the subtle image detail and clarity.

Our Dot the I test disc sparkled via HDMI, even in dimly-lit scenes, and there was a great amount of texture to the image. Even the hand-held, grainy nature of some of this movie looked good.

What's more, Dot the I's red-imbued scenes, where Carmen dances the Flamenco in a back-street club in Bethnal Green, showed the PDP-505XDE's pin-point accuracy with colour. The detail visible in the faces of the crowd was extraordinary, while impressive black levels managed to make shadowed and unlit parts of the smoky club look just as good.

To really push this screen, you need to feed it high-def material. We did, and were blown away by the quality; it's like looking through a window. DVD is amazing, but the Pioneer is also real-world savvy.

Built for the high-definition age, the PDP-505XDE is about as future-proof as a plasma can get. However, that peace of mind comes at a high price, and there are other, slightly more affordable plasmas that do high-definition in style. Still at the top of its game it might be, but others are catching up on this Pioneer.