Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-111FD Plasma HDTV Page 2
Pioneer also designed a number of features to minimize the risk of image retention or burn-in, such as its Orbiter mode. In my experience, Pioneer sets resist visible image retention more than other plasmas I’ve tested. Still, you should exercise a reasonable degree of caution. In particular, you should always avoid extended display of still images. This is a good practice with any phosphor-based set (plasmas and CRTs).
The Mid-Low color-temperature option produced a very respectable, out-of-the-box gray scale. But I did most of my testing and viewing in the Custom setting, after a full calibration. I also worked primarily in the Pure mode, which produced the most accurate color gamut (with the Color Space set to 2, as noted above).
The Pioneer’s 480i-to-1080p video processing (tested with a 480i component input) produced a fair result, at best. It displayed more jaggies than usual on my standard slate of torture-test patterns. While it did recognize 3:2 pulldown, it was a little pokey in doing so. But on real-world tests, including Gladiator, Star Trek: Insurrection, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, the PRO-111FD performed well. The results on 1080i-to-1080p tests were only fair, as well. The set deinterlaced well, but it didn’t recognize 3:2 pulldown. It produced moiré on many of my tests, including the Vatican wall and steps on Mission: Impossible III.
The PRO-111FD reproduced above white and below black, but just barely. There was enough of each to properly set the Brightness and Contrast controls, but little more than that. Many sets (including Pioneer’s own gen-8 PRO-110FD and PRO-150FD) push deeper into below black and above white. Fortunately, this had little or no visible impact on most program material. But if the source includes significant information above 100-percent white (it shouldn’t, but some programming does), it will be crushed out.
These concerns were not distracting in normal viewing. Moreover, the Pioneer’s exceptional color, resolution, and contrast completely overshadowed my concerns. The colors were accurate, not just fleshtones and greens (the latter, in particular, were more natural-looking than on most digital displays), but in every other respect as well. It’s true that we can’t always tell if a specific color is “right.” This is particularly the case if it’s on an unknown object or something we don’t see every day in the real world. But nothing in the Pioneer’s color looked wrong. Its nearly flawless technical performance (see the Measurements) confirms that I wasn’t just seeing pretty but false representations of the real thing.
Casanova (Blu-ray) may have its flaws, but picture quality is not one of them. Its eye-candy alone is worth the price of admission, and the PRO-111FD showed its brilliant production design. The images pop with color, but it never looks overdone. The resolution is exceptional, as well. The Pioneer precisely rendered the details in the powdered wigs, the smallest stitch in the elaborate costumes, and every texture in the sets. While the Panasonic TH-50PZ85U (reviewed in the October 2008 issue of Home Theater) looked very slightly crisper when viewed side by side, no one will likely be disappointed by the Pioneer’s natural reproduction of color and detail.
And certainly no one will complain about the Pioneer’s reproduction of blacks and shadow detail. It’s truly mind-blowing to see the star fields in Stargate: Continuum, the belowdecks scenes at the beginning of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and the darkest scenes in Batman Begins as they were meant to be seen. No gray haze. No washed-out areas. No uneven, muddy appearance. And, most importantly, nothing takes you out of a film. Some users might comment that the Pioneer’s blacks are unrealistic because you’ll never see blacks this rich and deep in a movie theater, but I suspect that most filmmakers wish you could.
The Pioneer’s great blacks also give its images a genuine feeling of depth. This sort of depth hints at reality in a way that the plastic depth you get from a 3-D movie in a theater doesn’t. The latter is fun for a couple of hours but would be tiring as a steady diet.
So how does the KURO PRO-111FD compare with last year’s PRO-110FD? While my measurements showed that the newer set’s blacks were at least 75 percent deeper than the blacks on the older model, we’re talking about very subtle differences—in the range of 0.003 foot-lamberts. These blacks approach the accuracy threshold of the professional-grade instruments we use to measure them. While it doesn’t seem possible that they would be visible to the eye, the PRO-111FD’s blacks look clearly darker on scenes that have a large area of black, such as a star field or the fade-out between scenes. The new set is also sharper and has more richly saturated colors, even on bright scenes. (The depth of a set’s blacks forms a foundation for nearly all program material; it just looks more obvious on the darkest.)
All of these differences were relatively subtle. They were mainly visible in a side-by-side comparison. They were real enough, but the two sets looked remarkably alike on most program material. If you just bought a gen-8 PRO-110FD or a PRO-150FD, you haven’t missed the gravy train.
When we were pondering our RAVE Award winners for this year, editor Shane Buettner asked me to comment on the Pioneer as a strong candidate for major kudos. My review was still in progress, and all I could think was, “What if I find something bad at the last minute, after the awards are set in stone?”
But there was no reason to be concerned. The Pioneer Elite may be expensive (though more affordable than last year’s models), but as they say in the movie biz, the money is all on the screen.