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As we're only two days away from Christmas at the time that I'm writing this, I've frankly decided to give myself an early Christmas present by spending some quality time with Pioneer's latest and, indeed, greatest plasma TV: the KRP-500A.
This model number immediately hints at something strange going on, as it doesn't seem to tally with Pioneer's usual ‘PDP-something' numbering convention. And the sense that something's different grows as I count up the boxes Pioneer has supplied me with and find not one, not two, but three. Inside one lies the screen, inside another lies a desktop stand, while inside the third lies the real key to the 500A: a separate AV receiver unit.
In other words, with the 500A Pioneer has ripped the tuner, processing and connectivity usually found in a TV out of the screen, and stuck them into an external box. And there are at least three very good reasons why it might have wanted to do this.
First of all, it's widely accepted among the AV cognoscenti that it's possible to deliver much more successful video processing if you remove the processing chipset from the confines of a flat TV chassis. Second, using an external tuner/connections box allows you to only have a single connection cable running into the screen - a much better solution if you're wall-hanging the TV than having loads of cables spooling out down your wall.
Finally, removing the tuners from the 500A's screen makes it possible for Pioneer to trim down the screen's depth; so much so that the 500A's screen comes in at just 64mm deep - barely half the depth of Pioneer's standard plasma TVs.
The extra slenderness of the 500A's screen makes it an even more desirable item than Pioneer's PDP-LX5090, which was itself a vision of high-gloss elegance. But putting even more icing on the design cake is the separate media receiver, which sports a gorgeous glossy, near-reflective finish that makes it perfectly matched to the screen.
It's worth noting, too, that the design prowess on show here extends to the remote control, which is a gloriously heavy, tactile thing made from aluminium rather than the usual plastic.
The potential flexibility advantage of going for an external media receiver immediately becomes apparent with the 500A's connectivity. For the KRP-M01 receiver is stuffed with connections to cater for pretty much every scenario. There are four HDMIs, for instance (three on the rear, one on the front), a USB input, a front-mounted D-Sub PC port, two common interface slots, three SCARTs, an optical digital audio output, a component video input, an Ethernet port, and a satellite connector alongside the normal antenna connection.