|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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If you follow the HDTV world at all, you’ve probably already heard about Pioneer’s new KURO line of plasma displays. Or maybe you’ve seen those disturbing new KURO ads on TV and wondered what the heck they’re talking about. You’re not alone. The buzz actually began at last year’s CEATEC trade show in Japan, where journalists got a glimpse of Pioneer’s redesigned line of plasmas, capable of rendering an astonishingly deep black. KURO, by the way, means “black” in Japanese. The buzz gained momentum when that same demo hit the states at CES 2007 and reached full stride at Pioneer’s line show back in May, when the company announced eight new KURO plasmas, priced from $2,700 to $7,500. The first models to hit the shelves were 42- and 50-inch 768p displays; not surprising to those of us who had seen the early demos, these TVs drew great reviews. Now that the 1080p models have arrived, we had to get our hands on one and see for ourselves if the real-world product lives up to the hype.
Like all Pioneer A/V products, the KURO line is divided into two brands: the standard Pioneer brand and the higher-end Elite brand. The basic guts of each brand are similar, but the Elite lineup uses a different filter and adds some advanced features and picture adjustments. Pioneer sent me the non-Elite, 50-inch 1080p panel, the $5,000 PDP-5010FD. As I move through the review, I’ll highlight what you get if you step up to the same-sized Elite model, the $6,000 PRO-110FD.
Features and Set-Up
As other flat-panel manufacturers furiously drop prices to compete in the general marketplace, Pioneer has made a conscious decision to position their plasmas, Elite or not, at the high end of the chain. As such, even this standard Pioneer-branded model is loaded with worthwhile features. The PDP-5010FD offers Pioneer’s characteristically attractive piano-black frame, while its supplied stand is rather boxy and doesn’t swivel. The TV also comes with a detachable speaker bar that runs along the bottom cabinet; in contrast, the Elite model offers two side-mounting detachable speakers. The bar contains two 17-watt speakers, each with a 4.8cm cone woofer and 2.5cm semi-dome tweeter, and connects to the panel via spring-loaded binding clips. The speaker bar is detached upon arrival and is fairly easy to connect – easier than the manual makes it look. The TV’s back panel includes a subwoofer output, should you wish to direct lower frequencies to an outboard sub, as well as both optical digital and stereo analog outputs to send all audio signals to an external sound system. Sound-adjustment options include treble, bass and balance controls, plus SRS WOW, Focus and TruBass processing.
The supplied remote has a generally intuitive layout, with glow-in-the-dark functionality and dedicated input buttons. It’s preprogrammed to control other Pioneer devices, but lacks the learning ability found on the step-up Elite model. This TV does include the HDMI-CEC control spec that allows for more intuitive control of devices connected via the HDMI inputs. CableCARD slots seem to be appearing on fewer and fewer TVs, but you will find one on the PDP-5010FD’s back panel, along with two RF inputs to access the internal NTSC, ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. The TV Guide on Screen program guide is included, as is picture-in-picture functionality, with window and split-screen viewing options.
The PDP-5010FD has a generous input panel for connecting external sources, including four HDMI (v1.3), two component video (one on the side panel), one 15-pin RGB for PC signals, one S-video and three composite video. There’s also a side-panel USB port through which you can view photos via the Home Gallery feature. Just plug in a standard USB device, and the TV automatically jumps to the Home Gallery onscreen menu, where you can view individual photos or set up a slideshow. The Elite model includes the more advanced Home Media Gallery, which allows for playback of both music and photos via a USB device, and adds an Ethernet port to access music, movies (including HD), and photos from your PC via an existing home network. Other panel connections include a headphone jack and an SR+ control port for use with a Pioneer A/V receiver. Elite models add RS-232 and IR repeater functions for advanced control.
In terms of aspect ratios, the standard choices are here for tailoring HD and SD content, including a Dot by Dot mode for 1080i and 1080p. You can precisely move the image horizontally and vertically, the Auto Size function offers automatic aspect-ratio detection for HDMI sources, and a Side Mask feature adds gray sidebars to 4:3-shaped HD content. That last one can help reduce the chance of image retention, as can the Orbiter function, which moves the picture slightly to prevent a static image from being left on the screen for an extended period of time. Should image retention occur, Pioneer has supplied a Video pattern that you can run to help counteract the effect. Other advanced set-up features include a sleep timer, automatic shut-off when no source is detected, an energy-saving mode to reduce power consumption and brightness, and a built-in room light sensor to automatically adjust screen brightness based on the room’s lighting conditions and the type of content you’re watching.
The biggest differences between the Pioneer and Elite models can be found in the Picture set-up menu. The PDP-5010FD offers a very nice assortment of picture adjustments, beginning with six picture modes: Optimum, Standard, Dynamic, Movie, Game and User (the Elite model adds Pioneer’s Pure mode). The Optimum mode utilizes the room light sensor to automatically adjust image parameters. In this mode, you can further tweak the basic picture parameters of color, tint, contrast, brightness and sharpness, but you cannot access the TV’s Pro Adjust menu, which includes some rather important choices: color temperature, noise reduction, gamma selection and film-mode options, among others. I found the Optimum mode’s color temperature to be too cool (or blue) for my taste and went with the tried-and-true Movie mode, which defaults to the Low color temperature and required only minimal tweaks to look accurate. Unfortunately, you can’t adjust each picture mode differently for each input, so the User mode comes in handy. I went with the Movie mode for component video and then precisely tailored the User mode for HDMI sources; using my Video Essentials (DVD International) test patterns, I was able to set up the User and Movie modes to look quite similar. The PDP-5010FD’s Low color-temperature setting looks mostly accurate across the board, creating natural skin tones and a generally neutral color palette. The TV’s red, green and blue color points are close to SMPTE standards; green looks a little oversaturated, but none of the three is so far off the mark as to upset the overall color balance. As good as these color parameters were, the Elite TV offers the chance to make them even better, with the addition of the ISFccc calibration feature that allows a professional calibrator to fine-tune white balance and individual gamma steps for both daytime and nighttime viewing. The Elite model also has five preset color-temperature choices (instead of three) and two color-space options.
A TV’s processing is one of its most important features, and I was glad to see that Pioneer uses the same advanced ASIC deinterlacing and scaling circuitry in both the Elite and standard Pioneer brands. The PDP-5010FD’s PureCinema menu lets you choose how the TV handles the conversion of film-based sources. The Standard mode offers the usual 3:2 pulldown that converts 24-frames-per-second film for output at 60 hertz. The Advance mode is Pioneer’s 72-Hertz option: it converts 24 fps to 72 fps using 3:3 pulldown, which provides smoother movement than the normal 3:2 process. Finally, there’s a new Smooth Film mode. While I couldn’t get an exact description of what this mode does, it appears to interpolate frames to reduce motion judder. Finally, the TV includes several noise-reduction options: Tuner Noise Reduction, 3DNR (three-dimensional noise reduction) and Field NR to reduce what Pioneer calls “smoky noise” in DVD images, as well as non-adjustable Block and Mosquito Noise Reduction. The 3DNR and Field NR controls would prove to be worthwhile features, especially for component video sources. The Elite model adds the option to switch Block and Mosquito Noise Reduction settings on or off.
One final perk in the set-up department is the ability to do quick before and after comparisons when making video adjustments. Just hit the remote’s Blue “A” button, and you can switch between before and after settings to see how the adjustments affect picture quality.