As I set about trying to assess the 500A's picture performance, to some extent there's not really much I need to say. For since the technology in the 500A's monitor is essentially the same as that found in the PDP-LX5090 and LX6090 models I've already raved about, we already know the results are going to be more or less gobsmackingly good, with class leading black levels, stunningly rich colours, impeccable sharpness, and good motion handling. So really all I need to focus on is whether the external media receiver and any of the new features really affect the picture quality.
The short answer is that they do. Not by an absolute country mile, but enough to add an extra reason for AV fans to pick a 500A over the ‘integrated' Pioneer plasma models.
Without doubt the single most intriguing string to the 500A's bow is the Pure AV mode. For it really does appear that if you use this mode with a high quality HD source, the resulting picture looks subtly different - in a good way - to the results achieved using a PDP-LX5090. There seems a touch more sharpness, a touch more authenticity to the colour palette, and a touch more ‘texture'.
I should say here that when I say ‘texture' I'm to a large extent talking about grain, but since grain is an inherent - and deliberate - part of many HD film transfers, the 500A is merely doing what it's supposed to be doing in Pure mode and revealing every last thing a source has got going on.
This fact makes me feel the need to stress that I'd maybe only really recommend the Pure mode with a HIGH QUALITY HD source. For the mode's inevitable ‘warts and all' tendencies mean that if a source has any severe weaknesses caused by poor encoding (and believe me, such weaknesses aren't as rare as they should be, even on Blu-ray discs), such as a curious colour palette, lots of dot crawl and/or a tendency to over-stress edges, in Pure mode the 500A won't be able to use its clever processing to actually make things better.