Pioneer's latest 43-inch plasma, dubbed the PDP-435XDE, has a very strong heritage. The company's ability to push the envelope has seen it have great success with critics and buyers alike, despite the ever-growing popularity of LCD technology. With a native resolution of 1,024x768, no other plasma in this size range has more pixels, despite the fact that it is very similar to its predecessor, the PDP-434XDE. The major improvement is the screen -- being plastic, it makes the television much lighter and also raises the perceived contrast.
In reality, its image quality is actually nearly identical, although it didn't score quite as high overall because the competition has improved: Panasonic is snapping at the heels of what was once the clear leader of this market. That said, if you don't like the Panasonic's minimalist styling and feature set, this swanky, full-featured plasma is a good alternative.
The design of the PDP-435XDE is simplistic yet elegant. A high-gloss black finish surrounds the screen, and the supplied swivel stand is silver. Other than the Pioneer logo, and the green power light on the left side of the screen, there is nothing much else to see on the front of the panel.
Pioneer includes a pair of matching black speakers with the PDP-435XDE that can be mounted vertically on the sides of the panel or left detached. The unit also comes with an outboard A/V controller, which is finished in silver with a mirrored faceplate. The controller houses all of the 435XDE's connectivity, and connects to the panel itself via a single 3m umbilical. However, the television comes without a stand on this model, so unless you plan to wall-mount it then you'll have to add another £200 to the cost of investment. This is a rather worrying precedent to be setting -- will we soon have to purchase a remote control seperately as well?
The remote itself is very well designed and laid out. It is long, slender and easy-to-use all while mimicing the high-end style of the TV itself. There are direct access keys for all inputs, which makes switching sources a snap. The internal menu system is also simple and intuitive to navigate.
As we mentioned at the outset, the PDP-435XDE's native resolution of 1,024x768, qualifies it for HD status. Naturally, the set can display high-def and just about anything else you throw at it, including computer sources up to 1,280x768; it just converts the incoming signal to match its native resolution.
Despite its place in Pioneer's lineup as the least-expensive consumer 2005 plasma, the PDP-435XDE has a fully loaded feature package. It includes both a digital and analogue tuner, offering dual-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture) along with split-screen and independent input memories. Several different preset picture modes are also available, and selectable colour temperatures include Low, Mid, and High, with Low being the most accurate setting for most uses.
The 435XDE has a number of other picture-enhancing features worth mentioning. Video noise reduction, CTI (a mode said to provide clearer colour contours) and DRE (an autocontrast circuit) are all on hand for dedicated picture tweakers. None of this seems to help the level of noise inherent on FreeView broadcasts, but you're bound to get some artefacts from this low-quality source when it's blown up to such a large size. When high-definition services from Sky launch later in the year, you'll be able to take better advantage of this stunning HD performer.
Connectivity is another strong point for the 435XDE. Two RGB-enabled Scarts can handle your lower-quality sources, such as Sky and a games console, while component can take your DVD player. This should be enough for most folks, especially those who use an A/V receiver for switching, and there's always another Scart or S-video input for when relatives bring the holiday videos over. But rather annoyingly, the VGA input is located on the front of the screen itself, meaning that any Media Center PC users out there will be forced to look at a cable.
Pioneer's early adoption of the HDMI format means that it is now well versed in the all-digital connection. You can use the media box to process the digital video and audio from your source, outputting the video to the display (which looks sublime) and the audio via optical out to your receiver.
Overall, we were happy with the PDP-435XDE's performance, although its image quality isn't up to that of Panasonic's latest models. An inability to produce deep blacks, along with the presence of visible low-level noise, are the Pioneer's biggest weaknesses.
Colour, on the other hand, is this plasma's strongest suit. Nearly perfect colour decoding, combined with good grayscale tracking, gives the panel extremely accurate colour reproduction if set up properly. Even without any professional calibration, the colour performance of the PDP-435XDE straight out of the box is quite good compared to most other plasmas we've reviewed. The grayscale in the Low colour temperature setting was actually somewhat minus blue rather than way too blue, which is the norm from most plasma panels (see Geek box for more).