Pioneer Elite PRO-110FD Plasma TV

Pioneer has single-handedly revitalized the entire plasma market with its Kuro line. Named with the Japanese word for "black," all Kuro models exhibit astonishing black levels that are far lower than all other plasmas and just about all LCD TVs (except those that use LED backlighting, which can reach black levels that are literally 0fL).

As usual with Pioneer—and many other manufacturers—the Kuros are divided into two lines: Pioneer and the more upscale Elite, which is said to have a slightly better filter in addition to a few features missing in the Pioneer line. For this review, I took a long look at the Elite PRO-110FD, a 50-inch set with 1920x1080 resolution and unrivaled picture quality.

One feature that distinguishes the Elite line of Kuro sets is called Home Media Gallery, which allows the TV to access audio and video files stored on networked servers, such as Windows and Macintosh computers, other DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) servers, and USB storage devices. To take advantage of Home Media Gallery, you connect the TV's Ethernet port to your home router; you can also connect a storage device to the USB port on the side panel.

Any Windows computer you want to supply content must be running Windows Media Player 11 (or another DLNA server program), which must be configured to allow file sharing with the TV. Macs can also join the party by running DLNA server software such as TwonkyMedia.

Another characteristic feature of the Elite models is a set of detachable speakers that can be mounted on the sides of the TV or located a short distance from the set. (Non-Elite models have permanent speakers below the screen.) The audio quality of these speakers is certainly a cut above normal TV sound, but I always recommend using a good, external surround system whenever possible, especially to match the high-quality image of this set.

All Pioneer TVs share a rare and important feature—the ability to display 1080p/24 at 72Hz, repeating each frame three times. This avoids 3:2 pulldown altogether and results in much smoother motion on film-based material.

Also available are three deinterlacing modes for 480i and 1080i signals. Standard mode reassembles the original film frames and displays them in a 3:2 cadence at 60Hz (a procedure called "inverse telecine"), while Advance mode does the same thing but displays each frame three times at a display rate of 72Hz, avoiding 3:2 pulldown. Smooth mode reassembles the original film frames and interpolates new frames between them as needed to achieve a display rate of 60Hz.

The best possible scenario for film-based Blu-ray titles is to send 1080p/24, which requires no processing by the player or display and results in the smoothest possible motion. If that's not possible, it's often better to send an interlaced signal to the TV, whose video processor is top-notch. If the source device deinterlaces the image, the TV can't eliminate any artifacts that might be introduced.

As with most TVs these days, there are various modes that automatically adjust the controls based on the image and/or ambient light. For example, Intelligent mode analyzes the content and adjusts up to 40 parameters accordingly—if there's a lot of green, it assumes you're watching sports; if there are flesh tones in the center of the screen, it assumes you're watching the news; if it detects a film cadence, it assumes you're watching a movie.

The Optimum AV mode engages Intelligent mode and turns on an ambient-light sensor to adjust the brightness and contrast according to the amount of room light. These modes are for people who want the TV to automatically present the best picture based on the image and environment, but I much prefer to disable all these modes and set up the TV myself.

Speaking of setting up the TV manually, the picture and audio controls are associated with the AV modes, not inputs, which is unfortunate. For example, if you adjust the Standard AV mode for one input and apply it to another input, the settings can't be different. The only exception is the User mode, which can be set up independently for each input.