Test Report: Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma HDTV Page 2

 

The TV's advanced picture-setup options are too numerous to mention all of them, but I'll cover a few that I found especially worthwhile. You get five Color Temperature presets, along with a Manual adjustment (this requires proper test equipment). Of these, Low turned out to be the most accurate setting. A Picture Detail mode will boost or cut high-frequency detail for a hard- or soft-edged look; it also has a middle option that provides a natural picture with no enhancement.

A couple of Color Space modes are available: one displays colors that adhere closely to the Rec. 709 Digital TV standard (my choice) and the other offers up a substantially more vivid palette. A Color Management menu has basic slider adjustments to tweak both primary and secondary colors. Finally, you can use the remote's Tool button to make before/after comparisons of picture adjustments - a useful feature.

PERFORMANCE

The first season of Mad Men on Blu-ray Disc provided me with ideal material for checking out the new Kuro's performance. In a scene where the bohemian girlfriend of ad exec Don Draper (Jon Hamm) drags him to a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, the TV's exceptional rendering of shadow detail brought out the folds and creases in the dark, unkempt clothing worn by the poetry-spouting beatniks, as well as the furniture and knickknacks cluttering the background. Amid this visual chaos, the unflappable Draper's pressed white shirt had a crisp look that cut through the murky surroundings.

Moving from the interiors of Mad Men to the outer space of 2001: A Space Odyssey so I could check out the Pioneer's handling of really deep blacks, I noticed that the dark star field that the Jupiter Mission ship cruises through was only the faintly lighter than the TV's black bezel. This made the image look both seamless and endlessly deep - even more so than on the PRO-110FD, which was named S&V's Product of the Year for 2007.

This Kuro's strong blacks and punchy contrast also helped boost color vibrancy. For example, in a scene from Mad Men where secretaries test out lipsticks as scotch-swilling admen ogle them from behind a two-way mirror, the makeup's red, pink, and purple hues came across vividly, as did the red dress worn by office bombshell Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks). The secretaries' skin tones retained a natural look while also displaying a range of subtle variations. The Pioneer's picture detail was excellent on most everything I viewed. A period drama like Mad Men is all about the details, and the TV did a great job of bringing out fine textures like the back of a rattan chair and the weave of the curtains in Draper's office. Video processing and upconversion were also top-notch, with standard 480i-rez DVDs looking strikingly crisp and high-def-like. Regular cable programs also benefited from the set's powerful noise-reduction settings, particularly its 3DNR adjustment.

BOTTOM LINE

After testing last year's PRO-110FD Kuro set, I didn't think a plasma TV could get any better. I was wrong. The PRO-111FD delivers even deeper blacks, and its natural-looking color, clean video processing, and powerful noise reduction contribute to a picture that's nothing short of breathtaking. At $5,000, the TV isn't cheap; you could easily score a same-size plasma from another maker that would deliver satisfying performance for half the price. But it won't be a Kuro, and discerning eyes will be able to see the difference.

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