Pioneer KURO PDP-5080HD 50" Plasma Display

Kuro is Japanese for deep, black, and penetrating, and Pioneer's new plasma sets take that word to heart. The company's Project KURO has spawned eight new models ranging in size from 42" to 60" and priced between $2,700 and $7,500. Four of the sets are Elite models and four are in the standard Pioneer line. Four of the designs are 1365x768 (Pioneer refers to them as XGA) and the others are full 1080p sets (1920x1080).

According to Pioneer all of these new sets are radically different from last year's models. The panels are completely redesigned, the color filters are new, and there's a new ASIC said to improve the video processing and scaling, not only for high-definition but for standard definition programming as well.

The 1365x768 KURO PDP-5080HD ($3,500) sits at the lower end of this new Pioneer plasma line, and at 50" takes dead aim at what is an extremely popular size for flat panel displays.

The PDP-5080HD has four HDMI inputs—a reflection of current market realities. There is the usual assortment of analog video inputs for those who need them, but their number is more limited than in the past (see "Specifications"). Two RF inputs serve the set's built-in ATSC/NTSC and NTSC-only tuners. There's also a PC input (VGA) and a feature that has become increasingly rare: a CableCARD slot.

The Pioneer comes with a two-channel speaker that may be fastened to the bottom of the set or left off if you don't need it. A fully intgrated, two-channel digital amp drives the speakers.

The set's remote is a good design that can control three other components in addition to the TV. The buttons are well organized, and it provides direct selection of inputs. Its only real shortcoming is that it's not backlit. The buttons are fluorescent and glow a bit in the dark, but that's not really an effective substitute.

Setup and Control
Everything you'll need to adjust and operate the PDP-5080HD is in the on-screen menus. And they're loaded with the usual jungle of features.

There are six major operating modes: Optimum, Standard, Dynamic, Game, Movie, and User. Optimum is the most intriguing; it includes a dedicated light sensor and is said to dynamically adjust the picture in response to the viewing environment and the type of content. It did offer a few benefits, particularly in adding "pop" to very dark scenes with few bright highlights. But is also tended to over-enhance bright scenes.

I gravitated quickly to the Movie mode. With a few alterations of the main video controls, that's the one I used for most of my viewing. For me, it produced by far the most consistently natural looking images on a wide range of program material—and not just movies.

The main video controls, including the usual Contrast, Brightness, Color, Tint, and Sharpness (fewer for a PC source), may be changed by the user for all of these modes except for Dynamic, which is set permanently in showroom "torch mode." Any adjustments you choose to make for any of the other modes, except for User, will apply universally to any input for which you select that mode. The User mode is the only one that can be set up separately for each source input.

As with most of today's sets, there is an extensive range of other, special controls. I preferred most of these in their factory default settings, but a few deserve a brief discussion.

PureCinema automatically detects film-based sources and offers three options. One of them, ADV, takes 24fps sources (such as Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD), triples that, and displays it on screen at a refresh rate of 72fps (or, in computer-ese, 72Hz). This eliminates 3/2 pulldown and the motion judder it produces for smoother motion.

ADV can also take standard film-based program material with 3/2 pulldown, strip off the added 3/2 pulldown fields or frames, and display the resulting 24fps source at a refresh rate of 72fps for the same, smoother-motion result.

Color Temp, also in the Pro Adjust menu offers three fixed settings: Low, Mid, and High. Of these, Low was the most accurate (see "Measurements") but was improved noticeably by a full calibration. There are no user-accessible color temperature calibration adjustments. These are only available in a code-protected service menu.

I did find the Gamma adjustment useful. Normally I left it in the #2 position, but #1, which slightly darkened the mid-brightness range, was preferable on some program material.

The Pioneer can change its aspect ratio automatically with HDMI sources, but only if those sources carry the digital flags needed to trigger the change. There are menu adjustments for the sidebars that appear with native 4:3 images on a 16:9 screen, which may be changed from a constant gray to a gray that varies in brightness with the brightness of the image—to minimize any chance for screen burn-in.