Having long lived up to its name, Pioneer was the first plasma manufacturer to equip its TVs with cutting-edge HDMI inputs and native high-resolution screens, both of which made them the very first to be HD-ready. Recently, however, the brand has seen some serious challengers to its plasma crown - so can the PDP-435XDE hold its ground?
Staying at the top isn't easy, but there's still plenty of class to this 43in plasma. For starters, it looks sumptuous, with a high-gloss black body and contrasting silver stand.
What's more, a media box holds all the inputs and outputs, meaning there's just one cable to hide and making the screen ideal for wall-mounting. Equipped with an HDMI input for Sky's upcoming HDTV box (as well as for pure digital connection of a DVD deck with an HDMI output) and a plethora of other hookups, this is still one of the best connected TVs around.
There's also a built-in digital Freeview tuner and a plastic 'Direct Colour Filter' screen, instead of glass, designed to boost contrast and reduce ambient reflections.
Features include a more flexible version of Pioneer's respected PureCinema processing system, for '2:2 and 3:2 pull down' to improve motion with different sources; an MPEG noise reducer for blitzing digital blocking noise on digital broadcasts, a contrast booster, colour transient improvement and an EPG for digital TV.
With test high-definition and progressive scan DVD footage, pictures are nothing short of magnificent, with beautifully rich and pure colours, acute fine detail and Premier League solidity and stability. The amount of detail on show in such footage is quite amazing, and the Direct Colour Filter does a fine job of removing on-screen reflections, even during the sunniest of afternoons. In terms of DVD playback, this screen is hugely impressive.
Adapt or die
So how does it adapt for TV pictures? Well, with the more mundane 'chore' of broadcast TV viewing - and this includes much of the programming from a Sky Digital receiver or the TV's own digital tuner - a twin assault of so-so contrast and noticeable noise levels sometimes brings the quality down a touch. However, the bright studio footage typical of Sky Sports is still very watchable.
Contrast has never been Pioneer's strongest point, but previously the exceptional subtlety the company's screens have shown when picking out minute colour and greyscale gradations has carried the day. The main problem now is that many rivals have upped their contrast game, making Pioneer's shortage harder to take. Using the 'high' setting on the 'DRE' contrast boost facility helps - but not quite enough.
There are also problems with analogue TV sources, with grain, dot crawl and low-level 'plasma fizzing' evident - but this is typical of analogue footage on a plasma of this size.
The speakers possess a rich, smooth tone redolent of Pioneer's renowned hi-fi talents. A bit more raw power is always welcome and would have been the icing on the cake, but if you're after a smooth, soothing tone rather than one that simply blows your socks off, this set is just the job.
While the PDP-435XDE continues to blaze a trail in terms of DVD and high-def, it's not the ideal replacement for a CRT TV. However, footie fans will enjoy the big-screen action, and after the final whistle its skill with DVDs still allows this to be a plasma title challenger.