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  KURO Plasmas & Blu-ray from Pioneer

      Date posted: February 18, 2009

Pioneer Elite Kuro PlasmaPioneer Elite Signature KURO PRO-141FD 60″ 1080P Plasma HD Monitor
Sugg. Retail:  $6999.99CAD

Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-151FD 60″ 1080P Plasma HDTV
Sugg. Retail: $7499.99CAD

Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD Blu-ray Player
Sugg. Retail: $799.99CAD

Manufacturer: www.pioneerelectronics.ca

Late last year, I spent an afternoon in the Pioneer Canadian showroom watching and testing these Elite products with a variety of Blu-Ray discs and DVD test material, including Digital Video Essentials, and a new Blu-ray disc that’s very revealing of such things as motion artifacts, called FPD Benchmark Software, which comes from Japan. With both TV/monitors hooked up via HDMI to another Elite product, the SC-09TX  receiver, I was able to get a good look at just about the finest plasma performance I’ve ever seen. More on that below, but first a brief description of the two HTDVs and the Blu-ray player.

There’s quite a large price gap between the BDP-05FD and the $2100 BDP-09FD, which could be related to build quality as well as superior performance. There wasn’t an available working sample of the new top Blu-ray model at the time. But I have to say that I was mightily impressed with the performance of the BDP-05FD. With 12-bit Deep Color, 3 3D video noise reduction systems, and Pure Cinema de-interlacer, the 05FD  has plenty of powerful processing for video. The NR systems include a special Mosquito Noise circuit, quite important, I’ve discovered, for broadcast HD. A Picture Control Suite provides 13 separate video fine-tuning adjustments beyond the normal ones usually offered. The 05FD uses Wolfson audio DACs with a claimed S/N ratio of 117 dB, which means they are definitely 192/24. There is also jitter reduction and re-clocking, with an additional frequency control circuit to reduce audio distortion. According to the Pioneer site, the BDP-09FD also supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Bit-stream Out audio formats, with a dedicated analog power supply, custom made capacitors, and “8 Wolfson DACs running in Dual mode…providing uncompromised transparency with the source.” This may help explain the higher price.

The Elite KURO PRO-151FD  is a complete HDTV set, 60″ diagonally, with detachable speakers on each side. It supports almost all video and audio formats, in the latter case FLAC losslessly compressed digital audio being an exception. The screen’s exceptional resolution, contrast and brightness are the result of a new technology called, “Deep Encased Cell Structure/Crystal Emissive Layer” construction exclusive to Pioneer. The TV is ISF calibration ready, in that it can be quickly brought to the proper colour temperature and otherwise adjusted easily. It also has an Energy Save Mode that minimizes current draw when not in operation.

The standard 3-2 pulldown for film viewing is augmented by “Advanced Pure Cinema 3-3 Pulldown (72 Hz)”, with a setting called “Smooth Film Mode”, and 3D and Field Noise Reduction are offered, with 4 settings for each. These include a special Black NR, Mosquito NR, and Tuner NR settable separately for each broadcast station station, a nice feature. There are 4 HDMI inputs, all 1.3 with Deep Color, 1 component, 3 composite, 1 S-Video, USB, PC, and LAN for internet input. This broad complement makes an outboard video switcher unnecessary for most users, though some might desire another component input or two.
Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD Blu-ray Player
About the Elite KURO Signature PRO-141FD  monitor, the Pioneer web site notes, “Once installed, the Signature Series monitor can be fine-tuned to utter perfection. And to continuously maintain the pristine picture that has been calibrated for your theater, IP network Protocol and Connectivity further allows your professional installer to monitor, re-calibrate and re-adjust your picture without even entering your home.”

I wondered who Big Brother really was, and now I know! I can just see The Great Installer sitting in his room full of KUROs, giggling at what I like to watch on TV! But, seriously, folks…

Input options are similar to those of the 151FD: 4 HDMI 1.3, 1 DVI (since it’s a monitor), 1 component, 1 composite, PC, and LAN for IP via ethernet. Again, more component inputs for people like me who still own an LD player might be in order. In terms of processing, the 141FD has everything found on the 151FD, with even more sophisticated settings for colour detail and temperature management. And all the NR systems are also at least as sophisticated. There’s even a room light sensor, which can be set to automatically correct picture characteristics to match the ambient light conditions. And there are 3 menu systems, User, Home, and Integrator (to IP). Pioneer  has really covered all the bases on this top model.

How did these two displays differ in practice? Well, I will say that they were very close, and it took time, and quite a few different Blu-ray and DVD discs to ferret out the distinctive qualities of each. And one of the reasons it has taken me so long to get down to writing this review is the need to have further comparative experience with other displays and Blu-ray players to develop a reasonably accurate perspective. Specifically, I needed more time with the new tests discs in order to identify artifacts in the video reproduction process, and determine their possible origins.

And this leads to an observation. We’ve all become used to seeing motion blur: it’s part of film, like the wagon wheels going backward effect, and video in its variety also has artifacts such as Mosquito Noise (just picture Jose Calderon streaking down the basketball court with a flock of mosquitoes around his head), and other odd and unnatural effects. 1080P is supposed to cure all these, and in most cases does. I suppose the perfect situation would be the utter lack of any video noise or artifacts, but we’re not quite there yet.

That said, I can now safely say that I saw some of the best video reproduction I’ve ever seen anywhere, any time, or since that early Winter afternoon. The extensive video processing tends to work best with DVDs, though it still can’t offer the resolution of Blu-ray discs. The player/display combinations produced virtually perfect greyscale gradations, deep blacks to match the finish on both displays, and vivid colours that were at the same time very natural and subtle in hue. Picture resolution was outstanding, while at the same time I could watch from very close to the set without seeing any line or pixel structure in Blu-ray pictures.

One of the DVDs I took with me was a copy of Casablanca that I bought for $6.99 in St. John’s last year when doing an organ recording there with Ian Sadler (and staying with contributing editor Bob Oxley and his wife Mora). Why use a black-and-white film for evaluation? Well, again, it’s all about greyscales: the subtle gradations seen in film (including grain, of course), and the lack of hue. This was a pretty good transfer, made without benefit (or corruption) of sepia tint or other after-the-fact processing, so if it looked true black and true white, the display device was showing its true colours, so to speak. And that was definitely the case here. The PRO-141FD  seemed a little better at dealing with the film artifacts than the 151FD, and was also a little sharper, with a little greater sense of depth. But they were surprisingly close, especially when compared to a non-Elite 60″ model that was also operating in the Pioneer showroom.

Another DVD I like to use for comparisons is the re-make of The Thomas Crown Affair, in particular, the catamaran sailing and glider flying sequences, which have lots of motion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these scenes look better! Gone was the glare of many past plasmas, replaced by a vivid but very realistic picture, corrected for motion artifacts as much as I think could be possible. I think, after three solid hours of viewing, it was the most relaxing time I’ve ever spent with plasma displays. These ones just get it right.

With test material, things were also outstanding. The new FPD Benchmark  Blu-ray has resolution patterns and still pictures, which show in static mode for 30 seconds or so, and then start to pan left and right. On most displays I’ve used since that afternoon, the detail is reduced immediately upon the start of the slow pan as motion “judder” invades the picture, especially in fixed-pixel devices. My own Elite PRO-710HD CRT rear-projector is largely free of such artifacts, with no pixel barriers to cross, but other displays, including some front projectors, have not shown great success in these tests. The KURO  displays were remarkably free of these effects, especially the 141FD  monitor. The pixel-to-pixel transition was handled with great clarity and smoothness, and almost no loss in detail.

Considering that a decade or so ago, one of my writers paid about $11,000 for an early plasma set (which is still working fine, by the way), these displays are outstanding values at their respective prices, delivering video that is substantially better than that seen on most studio monitors. And some of the ones you see in the background on news broadcasts these days may well be Pioneer KUROs. And, by inference, the BDP-05FD   Blu-ray player also has to claim honours for its video performance: the only thing not Elite about it is the price. And with these 60″ displays, Pioneer again shows its primacy in plasma HDTV technology.

Andrew Marshall

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4 Responses to “KURO Plasmas & Blu-ray from Pioneer”

  1. Michael Graves c-us Says:

    This pity of it is that Pioneer has recently decided to exit the display business entirely. See the following:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123442023382276577.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    My brother-in-law has one of the 60″ Kuros and it is outstanding. Perhaps there’ll be some bargains as they wind down sales.

  2. Ron W. c-unknown Says:

    There is no question that when it comes to plasmas, the “Kuros” are the “best of the best”. The trouble is when it comes to the large screen sets in plasma and even LCD, the larger screen monitors are still proportionately way too expensive. Combine that with the downturn in the economy, it comes as no surprise, no matter how good the reviews have been, Pioneer just cannot sell enough of them.

    In recent years , I have owned two “Elite” DVD players and have been impressed with them both in performance AND looks. The trouble is Pioneer seems not to be learning from their TV experience as their new flagship “Elite” Blu-Ray player is listing at $2200! Considering the marketplace AND the competition, I wonder how many of these are they going to sell?

  3. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    Hi Michael & Ron,

    Well, there might be some bargains out there soon. You’ll note that I did emphasize what a bargain the BDP-05FD Blu-ray player was relative to the 09FD, with simply outstanding performance. The Pioneer Elite products have also been notable for longevity. My 12-year-old PRO-710HD rear-projection set still maintains its 1080i performance after its original ISF calibration, and rivals many current LCD and plasma sets with its 64″ HD picture. One of my writers has an almost-as-old Elite plasma set that still provides an excellent picture.

    I fear Pioneer will have a hard time surviving on mobile audio and A/V receivers without such technologically superior flagship products like the KURO line.

  4. Ron W c-unknown Says:

    Andrew:

    You are dead on about the former “Elite” RP CRT’s which were also regarded to be the best. Once again, though, as much as I wanted to buy the exact model you have in 2001, $8000 was just a little too rich for my blood. I settled for the “top-of-the-line” 65″ Toshiba RP CRT that I also had ISF calibrated and it is still working beautifully to this day. It will remain where it is until it dies. You talked about bargains, however, one can’t help but think assuming Pioneer is going totally out of the TV business, even if you buy one, who is going to service it should that be required at some point down the road? As you stated, Pioneer’s survivability certainly would be in question with what they will have left to sell.

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