Going back to some of the entries on the KRP-M01’s long list of jacks, the Ethernet port allows the box to hook up to and (since it’s DLNA-certified) access multimedia files on a PC; the USB input permits you to play JPEG stills from USB storage devices straight into the screen; while the satellite connector actually allows you to connect a dish to the receiver and watch free to air satellite broadcasts.
The 500A’s tuner can actually handle MPEG-4 HD, meaning that you can, say, receive and watch BBC HD on it. However, it doesn’t support the dual-stream Freesat service, or the encryption systems of Sky, and won’t even be able to handle Freeview HD when that eventually launches, thanks to that service’s likely use of a new DVB-T2 decoding system not found in the 500A. Indeed, the latest we hear is that DVB-T2 decoders probably won’t even be made available to manufacturers until autumn 2009.
Looking for more points of difference between the 500A and the PDP-LX5090, one of the main things is a new AV Optimum mode that uses an optical light sensor to automatically adjust the screen’s picture settings according to the light conditions in the room and – get this – the colour characteristics of the ambient light around the screen. Ooh, clever.
Probably the most ‘dreamy’ feature for AV purists, though, is the 500A’s new Pure AV mode. This basically bypasses as many of the usual video processing shenanigans between the source and the screen as possible, enabling the picture to look almost precisely how it appears at source. We have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that provided it works well, this purist’s feature will sell a healthy number of 500As all by itself.
Exploring the 500A’s onscreen menus, meanwhile, immediately reveals another key difference between it and the LX5090. For the 500A uses a really rather sumptuous new onscreen menu system, complete with metallic-looking background, HD presentation, fast-key shortcuts, and best of all an onscreen guide to what each option actually does. This is a huge improvement over the slightly inscrutable onscreen menus of past Pioneer screens.
There’s a decent degree of flexibility to be found in the 500A’s menus, too. With pictures, for instance, some of the more impressive fine-tuning elements on offer include three different gamma settings, Pioneer’s excellent PureCinema processing for adjusting the progressive scanning to better suit film (rather than video) sources, an ‘Intelligent’ mode that can take on automatic picture optimisation duties if you don’t like tinkering with things yourself, dynamic range expansion, black level expansion, and that most important of things to a true AV obsessive, a colour management system.
This enables you to adjust the relative saturations of all six of the main colour components, as well as tweak the basic colour temperature and switch on or off colour transient improvement processing. I should add, too, that there are no less then four different noise reduction systems; one standard ‘3D’ one, a field one, an MPEG block one, and one aimed expressly at Mosquito noise.