Pioneer KURO PDP-6010FD 1080p 60" Plasma Display

Pioneer has long been a leader in plasma display technology. Over the past few generations its sets have arguably produced some of the best images in the flat panel business. Whether or not the potential competition from the (apparently) now stillborn SED technology, which promised astonishingly deep blacks, gave Pioneer an added incentive to achieve new and previously unattainable depths in that important aspect of display design we can't know for certain. But what we can know for certain is that Pioneer has set a new standard its new KURO sets.

KURO is a Japanese word meaning deep, black, and penetrating. Pioneer's Project KURO. The fruit of this labor is eight new plasmas ranging in size from 42" to 60" and in price from $2,700 to $7,500. The PDP-6010FD ($6,500) under review here is the largest 1080p set in Pioneer's standard plasma line.

Longer, Lower, Blacker
All of Pioneer's new sets, both standard and Elite, employ the same palette of improvements that KURO technology offers, though there are subtle differences. The Elite sets offer a few additional features (including ISF calibration modes) and, according to Pioneer, also use a slightly darker filter for even deeper blacks.

According to Pioneer, all of these sets are radically changed from last year's designs, not just a package of minor refinements to give the marketing department something to talk about. The panel is new, the color filters are new, and there's a new ASIC said to improve the video processing for both high-definition and standard definition sources.

Pioneer recognizes current market realities with its input complement. On the back of the PDP-6010FD are four—count 'em—four HDMI inputs. Two of these also have L/R audio inputs for HDMI sources without audio (these will include, primarily, sources with a DVI output connected to the Pioneer with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter cable).

Also located on the back is a PC input on a 15-pin VGA connector, a PC audio input on a stereo mini-jack, a control output terminal, an RS-232 connector (used primarily for factory setup), two Antenna/Cable RF jacks (one for NTSC only), L/R analog and TosLink optical digital outputs for the set's onboard ATSC/NTSC tuners, left and right speaker output terminals, and an IEC jack for the detachable AC cable.

The back of the set also has a CableCARD connector and a subwoofer output. A CableCARD slot is rare in today's newest sets, and a subwoofer output to support the set's own speakers is even less common.

On the left side of the set is an additional jack panel with a single video input (shared component and composite, with L/R audio), a USB jack for viewing your own photos, and a headphone output.

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

While I did not use the set's subwoofer output for additional bass support, the sound from this detachable speaker system was surprisingly good. Statistically, the vast majority of flat panel buyers use only the sound system in their new set. They don't know what they are missing by not hooking up a serious home theater audio system. But the Pioneer's sound won't disappoint them, even though it's no substitute for a better audio rig. The SRS audio features, including SRS TruBass (which boosts the midbass to give the illusion of deep bass), actually helped. Though I would never consider such "enhancements" with a good external sound system, the Pioneer's audio was likely designed to sound best with them all turned On. And to me, it did.

The set's controls are on the right side, but as usual you'll connect with the set primarily through the remote. Pioneer's remote is a good one, and its large, well-spaced buttons are easy to find, even in the dark. That's good, because the remote is not backlit. The buttons are fluorescent and glow somewhat in the dark, but that's a weak substitute for full backlighting.

The remote is also a universal design that may be programmed to operate up to three other devices (Cable/Sat, VCR, and DVD/DVR) in addition to the PDP-6010FD itself. It's code-programmable—no learning function here. A drop down panel on the remote hides many of the functions needed with other components, as well as the set's "multiscreen" functions for either overlaying two images (PIP) or displaying them side-by-side (Pioneer calls this 2-screen).

Setup and Control
I know from experience how heavy 60" and larger plasma sets can be. The stand (included) also must be assembled; unlike many such sets, it does not come attached to the panel. I urge you to make sure your dealer doesn't expect you to help with the unpacking and carrying. At the Pioneer's price level weight—close to 130 lbs—delivery and a full setup should be expected, though you'll have to break out your heavy negotiating skills if you expect a wall-mount as part of the deal.

Everything you'll need to adjust and operate the PDP-6010FD is in the on-screen menus. There are six different operating modes: Optimum, Standard, Dynamic, Movie, Game, and User.

The main video controls, including the usual Contrast, Brightness, Color, Tint, and Sharpness (for video sources—for a PC input you get Brightness, Contrast, Red, Green, and Blue), may be adjusted by the user for all of these modes except for Dynamic. Any adjustments you choose to make for the other modes, except for User, will apply to any input for which you select that mode. That is, you can't create a uniquely adjusted Movie mode for each input. The User mode, however, can be set up separately for each input.

I spent most of my time in the Movie mode. With only a few minor adjustments it produced a well-adjusted picture. Some program material, however—particularly sports viewed in normal room lighting—looked better in Standard mode, though the tweaks I made to that mode were a bit more extensive. But movie mode worked best for me 90% of the time, particularly in subdued room lighting and, especially, the near darkness I prefer for movie watching.