Pioneer’s new Kuro plasma range proves there’s more to a great television than just pixel count.
With a thin black bezel and jet-black finish, the Kuro plasmas are big and beautiful but they don’t dominate the room. They come in two resolutions: 1,366 x 768 and 1,920 x 1,080.
At the Kuro launch, Pioneer pitted its 50in Kuro PDP508XDA plasma against Sony’s highly respected 46in Bravia LCD. Not surprisingly, plasma clearly outclassed LCD with blacker blacks, greater contrast and less motion blur. A vendor always screens content that favours its televisions, so we tried the same tests in our lounge room with the same televisions. Watching the AFL football in high definition, the two televisions were inseparable in terms of motion blur — which says a lot for LCD, because we expected plasma to come out ahead.
Even side by side with the Sony LCD, it’s very hard to spot the Pioneer plasma as the lower resolution screen. While the plasma’s colours are slightly more vivid, the trade-off is slightly less detail than the LCD. Professional calibration would probably rectify this.
Switching to a high-definition movie, the plasma’s strengths shine through. Blu-ray playback is exquisite. The blacker blacks and greater contrast mean you see tiny details in the shadows that are lost on the LCD, while in terms of sharpness and detail, the Pioneer is neck and neck with the higher-resolution Sony LCD.
Unfortunately, giant televisions also magnify any imperfections in the picture, but this is where Pioneer’s amazing onboard video processing came into play — with DVD and standard-def digital television noticeably sharper and more vivid on the plasma than the LCD. When it came to deinterlacing 576i and 1080i content, the plasma also came out slightly ahead.
The Kuro range comes with built-in high-definition television tuners, but the speakers are a separate unit which attach to the bottom of the screen. The rear also sports component (YPbPr), composite, S-Video, VGA and two HDMI inputs, plus stereo audio inputs for each video source.
There are also coax and optical digital outputs for running to a surround sound amplifier. Down the left-hand side are more video inputs along with a USB port for running music and photo slideshows from a memory stick.
One key advantage Pioneer’s plasmas have over most televisions is they will play content filmed at 24 frames per second (24Hz — the native frame rate of Blu-ray and HD DVD) without converting it. Most televisions either convert 24fps content to 50 or 60fps, or refuse to play it at all. The conversion process can create motion shudder as 24 doesn’t divide exactly into 50 or 60. The sad truth is most Blu-ray and HD DVD players convert the signal to 50 or 60fps before it even leaves the player, but there are a few 24fps players out there.
So what does all this mean? For starters, it means Pioneer are still making some of the world’s best televisions. It also means if you’ve got the money to consider a high-end 42- or 50in 1,920 x 1,080 LCD, you’d be crazy not to add a 1,366 x 768 Kuro plasma to your shortlist. Buying an HD television isn’t a numbers game — trust your eyes.