|Pioneer KURO PDP-5010FD 50-inch Plasma HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Saturday, 01 December 2007|
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Television And Movies
Black-and-white information provides the foundation of any image; the higher (grayer) a TV’s blacks are, the less saturated the picture looks, especially in a darkened room. In theory, each plasma pixel creates light when needed, so the black level should be zero when the pixel is off. However, the pixel is never really off; in order to respond rapidly, the pixel is primed and ready, emitting some light in the process. The amount of light it creates while idling, or its idle luminance, determines its black level. Previous Pioneer plasmas had solid black levels but were not the lowest amongst plasma manufacturers. They are now. According to the company, the idle luminance in these new KURO models has been reduced by over 80 percent. When I saw the original demo at CEATEC, you couldn’t even tell the TV was on when an all-black signal was displayed in a dark room. With the real-world PDP-5010FD, the black level isn’t quite that deep, but is still outstanding. At the same time, the KURO uses a new filter to reduce ambient light reflection off the glass, yet still allows for a good amount of light output. This combination of a substantially reduced black level and good light output results in the best true contrast ratio you’re going to find in a flat panel, period.
A great contrast ratio equals great image depth, dimension and saturation. Add in the PDP-5010FD’s accurate natural colors, and you’ve got the makings of some truly gorgeous high-definition content. I began with chapters two through four of the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Blu-ray disc (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), and I was extremely impressed with the TV’s ability to render the precise details in dark, complexly-lit scenes, yet still pop in the bright daytime sequences. When comparing this plasma with my reference Epson projector, its overall black level wasn’t quite as deep, but it did a much better job rendering fine shadow details and areas of fine contrast, bringing out subtle textures and giving the picture a more three-dimensional quality. The overall level of detail was exceptional, too. As I moved through my arsenal of Blu-ray discs, from Black Hawk Down (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) to Mission: Impossible II (Paramount Home Entertainment) to The Prestige (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), I was simply dazzled by the contrast, color and detail of the PDP-5010FD.
The PDP-5010FD’s HDMI inputs accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24. If your high-def player can output 1080p/24, you can feed this TV the native signal off a high-def disc and use the PureCinema Advance mode to convert 24 fps to 72 fps, for a smoother, less juddery film presentation. Using the slow pan across the buildings in chapter two of the Pirates disc, I experimented with all three film modes and could see a difference. The Advance mode was a little smoother than the Standard mode, while the Smooth Film mode looked similar to the 120-Hz LCDs I’ve seen. The interpolated frames create a super-smooth motion that makes film look more like video – an effect many purists don’t like. The Smooth Film mode’s performance was somewhat inconsistent and its overall effect wasn’t as pronounced as it was with 120-Hz LCDs. Ultimately, I preferred the Advance mode, but I liked having the choice. On a related note, my processing test discs showed that the TV correctly deinterlaces 1080i and picks up the 3:2 sequence in film-based 1080i sources, through both the HDMI and component video inputs. So you could mate this TV with a 1080i-only high-def player and still enjoy a clean, detailed image with minimal artifacts.
As good as the PDP-5010FD performed with high-def DVD content, I was even more impressed with its handling of standard-def DVDs. Again, black-level demo scenes from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Home Video, chapter one) and Signs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, chapters 18 and 19) revealed nice, deep blacks and excellent shadow detail. I popped in the Gladiator DVD (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) to evaluate the TV’s upconversion and deinterlacing of 480i, both of which were solid. There was nice fine detail in close-ups of Russell Crowe’s face, and I saw minimal jaggies and shimmer during the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12, no matter which PureCinema film mode I selected. Usually, I play this demo scene and quickly move to the next disc; however, I was so drawn in by the PDP-5010FD’s richness and detail with this SD disc that I just let the film play on and enjoyed the ride. I noticed some digital noise in background colors and light-to-dark transitions in my favorite test scenes from Ladder 49 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, chapter 10) and Chicago (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, chapter five). In this case, though, the noise-reduction controls provide a big improvement. The Mid setting for both Field NR and 3DNR did a wonderful job reducing noise without overly softening the image, as many NR controls can. With the noise reduction engaged, you can actually sit very close to this TV and still enjoy an attractive picture, even with lesser-quality sources.
Next I moved to television signals, using my DirecTV set-top box. High-def shows like The Office and House were clean and wonderfully detailed. Even shows that can look noisy, like Heroes and The Black Donnellys, were excellent in appearance. Brighter HD sporting events revealed that this TV isn’t just about creating deep blacks with darker DVD content. Its excellent contrast ratio helps color and detail spring to life, creating a very engaging image. NFL broadcasts on CBS and NBC boasted rich, vivid colors that didn’t look exaggerated or cartoonish, and I could easily make out individual blades of glass on the field. Also, details aren’t diminished in faster-moving scenes. The PDP-5010FD has ample light output to render a richly saturated image during the day, even when I turned on all my room’s overhead lights and opened the blinds. The new filter successfully cuts down on reflections off the glass, but doesn’t eliminate them entirely. The TV’s high-quality processing circuitry also benefits SDTV signals; both upconversion and deinterlacing were good. I felt the HDMI image had slightly better detail than component video with SD sources. In terms of overall image quality, component video was consistently good, but HDMI kicked everything up a notch, rendering a more engaging picture with all sources. There’s a reason why the TV has four HDMI inputs.
One final performance note: Pioneer also put a lot of energy into redesigning the speakers to create a higher-quality audio experience than you’ll get from most flat panels. I therefore spent more time listening to audio through the speaker bar than I normally would. Admittedly, the sound is fuller and more robust than the norm, but male vocals still don’t sound entirely natural through those small speakers. If you’re going to invest this kind of money to get a high-end viewing experience, don’t even think of selling the audio element short; mate this TV with a good-quality speaker system and enjoy the complete A/V experience.