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Pioneer Electronics PDP-503CMX

Mar 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Jeff Sauer


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SPECIFICATIONS

Effective screen size 43¼" × 24¼" (1,098.2 × 620.5 mm) (50-inch diagonal)

Aspect ratio 16:9

Pixels 1,280 (H) × 768 (V)

Pixel pitch 0.858 mm (H/RGB trio) × 0.808 mm (V)

Viewing angle More than 160 degrees (H), more than 160 degrees (V)

Dimensions (W × H × D) 47¼" × 28¼" × 3¼" (1,218 × 714 × 98 mm)

Weight 85.75 lb. (38.9 kg)

Power consumption 380W (1W at standby)

Power requirements AC 100-120V ±10%, 50/60 Hz (3.8-3.1A)

Safety regulations UL 1950, FCC 15B class B, C-UL

Options PDK-50HW2 interactive touch-screen device
PDA-5002 video board allows video, high-definition, and digital RGB inputs
PDP-S05-LR sidemount speakers
PDK-TS01 tabletop stand
PDWB-5003 flat wallmount
PWM-503 tilted wallmount

A mid an increasingly crowded field of plasma monitors and makers, Pioneer Electronics is angling to stay above the fray by making panels designed for flexibility. That can mean anything from custom I/O modules or built-in applications to the touch-screen frame option that I reviewed with the Pioneer's third generation, 50-inch plasma monitor, the PDP-503CMX.

From boardrooms to public displays in a retail environment, this 50-inch plasma is a pretty picture in a number of ways. A native wide XGA resolution of 1,280 by 768 delivers good sharpness, I/O possibilities are theoretically unlimited, integrated expansion hardware can make the monitor an all-in-one kiosk or computer, and the touch screen (part No. PDK-50HW2) make it all user-friendly. However, Pioneer is proud of all this potential and charges a proverbial pretty penny for the plasma alone, before you even talk options.

ARE WE CONNECTING?

The I/O panel on the back bottom of the 503CMX base unit may look a bit sparsely populated at first glance. It has a single 15-pin analog RGB input and a pass through out; five BNCs, which can be programmed through the onscreen menu to accept RGBHV or component video; stereo-mini audio in and out; speaker terminals; and control ports. But there's not much more.

However, an open card slot amid the jacks can be filled with any number of present and future optional I/O modules. My test unit, for example, included Pioneer's PDA-5002 video card, which adds basic composite, S-video, and a second set of audio jacks. Other modules could include SDI, Cat-5, DVI, DV via FireWire, or even some future format.

The trick is that these intriguing other modules are, at this time, only future and theoretical, and that makes Pioneer's approach to I/O flexibility work both ways. Certainly, there are bright possibilities and a degree of futureproofing, but basic S-video and composite I/O that come standard on just about any other monitor cost an extra $500 in this case. That might be fine if Pioneer's base price reflected a bare bones spec, but it doesn't. Competitive models often have two or three computer inputs and a variety of included video options without anteing up extra.

On the other hand, the open card slot does allow customers or third-party developers a way to build custom modules for specific applications, and that clearly raises the value for those with unique goals. For example, several plasmas might be linked together into a multi-panel video wall. Adding a processor to an expansion card could give the monitor the smarts to automate and vary public display or messages. Add Pioneer's touch screen, and the 50-inch monitor makes an effective kiosk or arcade game. The monitor's bezel is also removable to allow for custom designs or installation needs.

The touch-screen option is a lightweight plastic frame that fits right over the bezel of the plasma, barely increasing the overall wall space of the monitor. Attaching the frame to a Windows computer through a serial cable adds mouse functionality to an included pen/cursor tracked by infrared sensors and receivers on all four sides (actually sensors on two sides and receivers on two sides). Pen movements on the display are smooth and responsive, even for drawing. A special handwriting mode sharpens lines to assist the creation of onscreen text.

The soft tip of the pen doubles as a left mouse button (right and middle mouse buttons are on the pen's shaft), allowing you to easily highlight, drag, and open and close documents while standing at the panel presenting. For kiosks, the sensors do an equally fine job tracking a finger. The touch-screen option adds another $4,000 to the price of the panel.

I actually had a minor problem with Pioneer's touch panel that affected an inch-wide area of the screen where one of the sensors was presumably damaged, likely because of a shipping mishap, according to technical support. However, I think the touch screen worked fine when I received it and, thus, was probably damaged in our lab while switching the frame from one monitor to another. The plastic construction of the frame adds little weight to a wallmounted plasma, but it also makes it susceptible to damage if the frame is bent or, as may have been in this case, if too much of the plasma's 86 pounds rest on it in the wrong way during installation. This highlights the delicate nature of the device. Fortunately, the particular problem didn't render the entire panel unusable, and it is field serviceable.

The reason I tested two PDP-503CMXs and needed to switch the touch panel is an industry-wide issue more than a Pioneer-specific one. The first unit I received — an obvious trade show demo unit that clearly was released for outside, noncompany use through fulfillment error — suffered from a serious burn-in problem. The phrase experience = profit was permanently visible across the screen whenever the monitor was turned on. That's a problem for anyone considering plasma, Pioneer or not.

Plasmas have some nice advantages — such as brightness that is for the most part unaffected by ambient light, a wide viewing angle, and thinness that makes them far easier to wallmount than just about any other large-screen display device — but burn-in does happen, and if the same content is shown for long periods of time, any plasma is susceptible. Indeed, the best solution is to ensure that the entire screen burns as evenly as possible. Thankfully, video's constant motion helps.

Happenstance aside, the picture in the PDP-503CMX is good, and that helps bring the high sticker price onto somewhat more realistic ground, though at least a couple other manufacturers make, at least, equally fine-looking panels without the price premium. Pioneer's high resolution makes images sharp, and saturated colors are accurate and well balanced. Skin tones are also quite good, though that, too, is not exclusive to this display.

Contrast is less than ideal, and weaker blacks don't help the overall depth of the picture. Images can appear washed out at times, as can subtler colors. A High Contrast video mode setting does little more than heighten brightness, and that doesn't help the deeper gray-scale tones.

THE BIG PICTURE

Overall, it's easy to like Pioneer's 50-inch PDP-503CMX. Image quality is good and among the best in the industry, save for contrast and gray-scale weakness. What's more, if you have a unique installation or application for a large-format display device, Pioneer has a lot to offer. But if Pioneer's expansion possibilities don't inherently bring value to your situation, you'll do well to look for a dealer discount.


Jeff Sauer is a video producer, an industry consultant, and the director of the Desktop Video Group, a video and computer products testing lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Contact him at jeff@dtvgroup.com.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Company: Pioneer Electronics, www.pioneerelectronics.com

Product: PDP-503CMX

Pros: Bright, sharp image; extremely customizable with optional accessories.

Cons: Limited onboard I/O.

Applications: Retail displays, kiosks, and high-end home theaters.

Price: $15,500



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