Editor's note: The score for this television was adjusted downwards from 9.3 to 9.0 on 21 November 2006 to correctly position the PDP 436SXE in this rapidly improving market.
As the name suggests, Pioneer has been leading the way in plasma development for years. But, surprisingly, this is the company's first screen to integrate all features within a single 'one-body' unit, without an accompanying media box. All connections, processing, TV tuners and speakers are conveniently accommodated within the screen. It's by no means a new concept but with the 436SXE, Pioneer seem to have perfected it.
The beautifully constructed design features a future-proof specification, including integrated Freeview and high-definition compatibility. This is one of the best performing plasma screens we've reviewed -- Pioneer has used a range of state-of-the-art technologies to create images with amazing depth, detail and colour intensity across any source.
Our single gripe is that connections could be more extensive, with only one HDMI input and no VGA PC terminals. But, if performance is a priority, look no further.
Despite carrying similar design characteristics typically featured in most modern plasma displays, it's obvious the instant you unpack Pioneer's latest 436SXE that more care has been taken in the construction.
The heavily glossed black frame is flawlessly finished -- rounded at the edges with a slimline speaker system integrated across the base. Even the rear panel is encased in a metal chassis.
Although all connection bases are covered you might expect a screen of this distinction to include more numerous options. The spacious rear panel does support three Scarts, two of which are RGB-enabled for the highest level of performance. We were surprised to find only a single set of component inputs though, and just one HDMI digital video input.
HDMI has been described as 'the digital Scart' and appears destined to be the preferred AV input for the future. It allows the direct transfer of both digital video and multi-channel sound signals in a single cable, and without unnecessary conversion between analogue stages there's no signal degradation so performance is improved.
Sky's HDTV receivers will use HDMI to receive high-definition broadcasts and you can also watch upscaled images from a digitally compatible DVD player. Herein lies the problem -- if you own both a set top box and DVD player with HDMI you'll be forced to switch between a single input. The latest flat screens are arriving with dual HDMI inputs so its exclusion is surprising, as is the absence of a VGA PC input. Media centre owners and high-definition gamers will have to use an adaptor cable -- another expense.
Still, there is an optical digital audio output that can be used to send sound signals to an external home cinema receiver. And the front panel conceals a set of standard AV inputs that can be easily accessed to make temporary connections for devices like a camcorder or games console.
The accompanying remote is suitably stylish but oversized for the number of controls it accommodates.
Pioneer has an outstanding plasma pedigree and the 436SXE represents the sixth generation of its screens, although it's the first to arrive fully integrated within a single unit.
Previously, screens were accompanied by a separate media box that made wall-mounting options simpler. But now all connectivity, video processing, TV tuners and speaker systems have been installed into the screen itself for convenience. The high-resolution panel is compatible with all high-definition content from sources including Sky's HD set top boxes and compatible DVD players. And there are separate analogue and digital TV tuners as well as a CI slot providing limited subscription channels from TopUp TV.