Pioneer Elite Signature KURO PRO-141FD 60″ 1080P Plasma HD Monitor
Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-151FD 60″ 1080P Plasma HDTV
Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD Blu-ray Player
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.
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.
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