Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-141FD Plasma HD Monitor
The Last Hurrah for Kuro?
As I was finishing up this review, word arrived that Pioneer will exit the video display business. The economic climate, Pioneer’s premium prices, and the increasing market share of LCD displays combined to create a perfect storm that the company could not overcome. Pioneer panels will continue to be available through the end of 2009, including the Elite Signature Series monitors.
Why would we bother to review this model? First of all, the review was nearly in the can when the news broke. More importantly, the Pioneer Kuros are, in my opinion, the finest one-piece high-definition displays that have yet been made available to the consumer. While it isn’t perfect (what is?), the PRO-141FD is, by a hair’s breadth, the king of the Kuros.
Twins—But Not Identical
What do you get in the Signature PRO-141FD that the similarly sized, non-Signature Elite PRO-151FD lacks? First of all, Pioneer designed the PRO-141FD to be both network- and installer-friendly. While I didn’t exercise these features for the review, they let you connect the set to your home network and provide remote access to the set’s controls. The PRO-141FD’s Ethernet connection allows for on-site access to the setup and calibration controls via computer.
The Signature Series also offers finer gradations to many of the existing controls—and it also adds a few new ones. For me, the most useful were the five gamma settings (versus three for the standard Elites) and the Blue-only mode, which makes for easier and more precise setup of the Color and Tint controls. (The blue filters normally used for this aren’t always accurate.)
The onscreen menus have also been reorganized. For example, all of the Pro Adjust menu options are arranged on a single menu. Now you can see all of the controls and their settings at once. In the non-Signature Elite sets, they’re in five different submenus, which can be tedious to work through.
Pioneer carefully selects the Signature Series panels and runs them in at the factory. This results in tighter tolerances than even those of the standard Elite models. Of course, one could ask whether tighter tolerances for a premium product result in better visible performance, or if variations in the home environment (including the quality of setup and calibration) will swamp the differences. Fair enough, but it’s reassuring to know that a Signature Series set is as good as an Elite can be.
What’s missing here that you get in the standard Elites? There’s no audio system whatsoever; it doesn’t even have an amp to use with your own speakers. It also doesn’t include a USB input to directly view your JPEG digital photos from a flash drive (however, you can view them over a LAN via the Ethernet port). And there are no onboard tuners, either SD or HD. You must use an external cable box, satellite box, or over-the-air tuner if you want to watch commercial broadcasts. This is, after all, a monitor.
Apart from the above, the PRO-141FD is equipped just like other Pioneer displays. It has several features that are designed to minimize the possibility of image burn-in. (This is an issue with plasma displays, although Pioneer’s appear to be less prone to it than other plasmas we have tested.) While I appreciate these features, I found the set’s lighter side bars on 4:3 material distracting, particularly in a darkened room. The closest they got to black was a medium gray.
The set offers eight preset video modes. Pioneer calls them A/V Selections. Apart from the Optimum and Dynamic options, you can set up and calibrate each of these modes separately. You can also use different settings for each input within a given mode and a different setup for each resolution at each input. That’s a lot of adjust-ments! The PRO-141FD could use a copy function so that you could easily copy a setup across modes, inputs, and resolutions as desired. Ideally, of course, you would calibrate each of them separately. But that isn’t always practical, possible (there are no useful test patterns on a cable or satellite source), or even necessary.
The Optimum mode uses data from a built-in room light sensor to automatically adjust the image. While that might be useful on occasion (such as for casual viewing in daytime lighting), I did all of my testing and viewing in the Pure mode. As in all Elite sets we’ve tested, Pure mode provides the most accurate color gamut (in Color Space 2).
The Pioneer has five fixed color-temperature settings, plus it has a Manual setting with high and low calibration adjustments for red, green, and blue. The ISFccc feature includes ISF A/V Selections that appear only when a trained calibrator adjusts and locks them. ISFccc provides a 10-step color-temperature adjustment rather than just high and low. However, in practice, I found the Manual Color Temp adjustment menu more than adequate to get an outstanding setup.
There’s a wide range of controls in the Pro Adjust menu. If you want the most accurate picture, most of them are best left off—with two exceptions. With Dynamic Range Expansion (DRE) off, the set clips all information above peak white (100 IRE). When you switch DRE to any active setting, the image will reveal at least some above-white information. (Some sources do go above white, although they aren’t supposed to.) I recommend that you set DRE to Low, which produces the fewest side effects (a subtly punched-up image).
In addition, I found the most accurate setting for the Enhancer Mode to be 1 (Hard). It should be labeled 1 (Precise), because when you pair it with a Sharpness setting of –15 (minimum), it produces the crispest detail without ringing or other artifacts. The other two active Enhancer Mode settings progressively soften the image.
As in other Pioneer sets, the Film Mode (under PureCinema) tells the set how to display film- and video-sourced material. It automatically detects film-based sources and offers three options (plus Off). Standard (interlaced inputs) always feeds the panel 1080p at 60 frames per second. Advanced (all sources except 1080p/60) converts film-based material to a display rate of 72 frames per second (eliminating 3:2 pulldown where present). Smooth (all sources except 1080p/60) is an intermediate option, but I didn’t find it very useful.
If the program material is already 1080p/24, as is the case with films on Blu-ray, the set automatically converts it to 1080p/72, regardless of the PureCinema/Film Mode control’s setting.
It also has a Multi-Screen (side-by-side or PiP) function. But you cannot display the images from two HDMI inputs or two analog inputs together. One of the sources must be analog, and the other must be digital.