Pioneer KURO PDP-5080HD 50" Plasma Display Page 2
The Low Down
All of the measurements and viewing comments here, unless otherwise noted, were made in the optimized settings in the Movie mode and after calibrating the grayscale (see "Measurements").
The only word I can think of to describe the Pioneer's picture is "spectacular." Much of the credit for this must go to the set's ability to reproduce strikingly deep blacks.
Project KURO has really paid off. The Pioneer's black level is darker than any other flat panel display we've reviewed to date, and by a factor of two or more.
Don't underestimate the importance of these deep blacks. They're obvious, of course, in the darkest scenes. But even in brighter scenes they form the foundation that gives the image added punch and depth.
Shadow detail is just as important as the absolute black level. Without it, you might simply get a mass of black, with dark grays crushed into black. This can look impressive at first, but the more you watch the more you notice the lack of differentiation in the darkest grays.
One of the best tests I've ever seen for blacks and shadow detail came to me recently by way of a new Pioneer test disc. OK, I know Pioneer wouldn't have put this on the disc without knowing how good it could look on their new sets. But it's impressive nevertheless. It shows a photographer working in his studio. Virtually everything in the studio is in varying shades of dark gray or black, including the photographer's black clothing. But even in this dark, nearly monochromatic image, the PDP-5800HD shows loads of detail. Other sets either miss this detail or capture it only by lightening the scene too much, rendering everything in mid-gray shades, rather than a believable black and dark gray.
No display I've seen has yet earned a perfect score for both the deepest black and shadow detail, but if there's another available set that can approach the Pioneer's overall performance in both black level and shadow detail, short of the a few exceptional video projectors and the best of the rapidly disappearing CRTs, I have yet to see it.
The Pioneer exceeds expectations in other areas as well, though none of them are as quite as dramatic. Motion lag is nearly non-existent, and off-axis viewing is pristine as far to the side as you can go. But these are characteristics in which most plasmas excel other digital technologies.
White field uniformity is excellent, and—classic movie fans note—black and white images have no uneven color tints. The brightness uniformity across the screen is also superb.
The Pioneer's color, while not technically perfect, is also first rate. Flesh tones are superb, and while greens—the nemesis if digital displays—sometimes look just a bit overblown, they are never distractingly "wrong." The 1365x768 PDP-5080HD may not be quite as crisp and sharp as a good 1080p display, but it was hard to fault, despite some slightly less than sterling resolution results (see "Measurements"). Not once during my viewing did I ever think, "I wonder what this would look like in 1080p." The set's detail and sharpness were fully satisfying on all sorts of program material, but it was hardly a surprise that the set looked its best with high-definition sources.
While Pioneer makes much of its new video processing, the improvements appeared most evident in 1080i, particularly in converting 1080i sources to the panel's native 768p resolution. It passed all my HD deinterlacing tests with flying colors, including recognition of 3/2 pulldown. It also added to its list of torture test conquests a number of interesting scenes on that new Pioneer test and demo disc.
Its video processing performance with 480i sources, however, was more mixed. On the HQV Benchmark test DVD it earned only a fair grade on the second jaggies test and showed visible deinterlacing artifacts on both the waving flag test and the 2:2 (video) cadence test—in any setting of the PureCinema control. But it passed the first jaggies test, captured 3/2 pulldown, did well with mixed content (a video scroll over a film background), and sailed through the Gladiator Coliseum flyover test (chapter 12).
Pioneer is clearly rolling the dice here, emphasizing even more than before that it will not slug it out in the marketplace of commodity pricing—and the quality compromises such battles often produce.
But if you can get past the price tag, it's highly unlikely you'll find a better 50-inch display than this one—flat panel or otherwise. Even if you include comparably-priced 1080p designs on your short list
On the other hand, however, there are Pioneer's own Elite models to be considered, which are more expensive still but offer 1080p resolution. But that's a story for another day.
This KURO plasma has exceptional blacks, the best contrast ratio we've yet measured on a flat panel display, and the picture looks as good or better than the measurements suggest. There are less expensive 50" plasmas around, but not with a picture like this!