On Sunday at CES, a couple of CNET staffers and I attended a demonstration of Pioneer's newest plasma technology, and judging from the brief demo, the company has made some significant advancements. Pioneer had lined up five 50-something-inch displays, four plasmas, and an LCD; one of the plasmas utilized the new technology, which is designed to increase black level and reject ambient light reflections. After watching a variety of high-def feeds, I was convinced that the new plasma evinced some of the deepest blacks I'd seen yet in a flat-panel technology. I don't want to say more on the basis of one controlled demo of a preproduction technology, but suffice it to say I'm pretty excited to get my hands on a review sample of Pioneer's new plasmas. The company also is demonstrating the technology in a side-by-side comparison at its booth (pictured).
Pioneer has yet to dub the technology with a special name, but its press release claims that it delivers "immeasurable" black levels. When I asked Pioneer's rep about that particular adjective, he explained that light meters available today are incapable of accurately measuring the light output of the darkest areas produced by the new plasmas. The deep blacks have the added benefit of making colors appear richer in dark scenes. Pioneer also is employing a new filter that reduces ambient light reflections on the screen, an effect that was evident in the demo. We also were treated to a look at the company's new de-interlacing technology, which did appear to improve upon the video processing of comparable displays at the demo.
Update: I'd originally written here that the rep had told me the new Pioneer plasmas used a 60 Hz refresh rate, as opposed to the 72 Hz by models like the the PRO-FHD1 and the Editors' Choice PDP-5070HD, which can introduce additional judder on certain material. To clarify, those current panels support both 60 Hz and 72 Hz, and selecting 72 Hz when watching 1080i/60 or 1080p/30 material can indeed cause more judder, but the selecting the standard 60 Hz rate does not. As for the refresh rate used in the new generation of anels, were trying to confirm that the company has indeed dropped 72 Hz support, and will update this section when we hear one way or the other.
Pioneer will release the new plasmas this summer. I asked whether they would cost the same as the company's current models, whether there would be more than two plasma lines, and what exact sizes would be available, but the company's spokesman didn't specify. I suspect they'll release 42-inch, 50-inch, and 60-inch versions, since those were on display at the private demo and on the show floor; of the preproduction models I saw, only the 60-inch had 1080p resolution. The company's rep didn't think Pioneer would incorporate the new technology into its 1080p 50-inch model this year.