Pioneer KURO PDP-6010FD 1080p 60" Plasma Display Page 4
The Pioneer's 72Hz operation (always on with 1080p/24 program material) eliminates 3:2 pulldown where present and further smoothes motion. Yes, it does work, but the result is often subtle. At its best the result was not nearly as dramatic as the motion smoothing features at 120Hz with the Sony KDL-46XBR4.
Oddly, however, the "Smooth" setting of the PureCinema control sometimes did a better job smoothing out 480i sources than Advanced. But Smooth also produced an odd artifact. With Smooth, when the camera pans over the village at the opening of Star Trek Insurrection on DVD (a classic test for motion problems) each title card, as it came up overlaid on the panned image behind it, did a little jitter dance from side to side the first couple of seconds after it appeared, then settled down.
The Pioneer's off-axis viewing also beats any LCD or rear projection set I've seen. There is simply no drop-off in image quality or apparent brightness as you move off to the side, up to the 90-degree point where you're looking at the back of the set and the picture disappears completely!
White field uniformity is also excellent. And unlike some LCD displays, black and white images have no uneven color tinting, which will make fans of black and white classic films happy.
The brightness uniformity across the screen is also superb. Plasmas do get dimmer as the average picture brightness increases—a result of power supply limitations—but the eye adapts to this easily and it is never visible as a brightness shift or flicker.
The Pioneer's colors popped off the screen without looking garish or overblown. They may not be perfect, but are closer to it than most sets can manage, even out of the box (see "Measurements"). Flesh tones were superb. Greens were just slightly glowing, but far less distracting in this respect than most modern displays. Familiar objects never looked distractingly "wrong."
I didn't have the 1365x768 PDP-5080HD on hand to look at side-by-side with the PDP-6010FD, but the latter's superior resolution, at 1920x1080, was quite apparent. Some 1080p LCDs can look a little sharper and "quieter." This was true of the Sharp AQUOS LC-52D64U I just reviewed; look at a plasma screen from up close and you can often see the pixels "dithering," which is not characteristic of LCDs. But from a normal viewing distance there simply doesn't seem to be anything missing in the Pioneer's picture. Its response does fall off a bit at the very highest frequencies (see "Measurements"), but I suspect that most HD program material falls off even faster at the top end of the HD bandwidth. I've been living with the PDP-6010FD for two weeks, and I still find its overall sense of detail, on the right program material, breathtaking.
An all-new Pioneer designed video processing ASIC is one of the touted features of the Elite-branded KURO sets, but in the standard Pioneer line, at least, it appears that the improvements are most evident in converting 1080i sources to the panel's native resolution of 1080p. It passed all my HD deinterlacing tests with flying colors, including recognition of 3:2 pulldown.
Its performance with 480i sources, however, was disappointing. On the HQV Benchmark test DVD (SD), in any setting of the PureCinema control, over either HDMI or component, it did only fair on the second jaggies tests, failed the waving flag test with clearly visible artifacts, was slow to capture and hold onto 3:2 pulldown, and failed the 2:2 (video) cadence test. It also did poorly with mixed content (scrolling video lettering over a film background). Its deinterlacing was slightly worse than the PDP-5080HD's, and that had been marginal at best.
In fairness, however, good 480i program material, as opposed to my torture tests, rarely showed artifacts. And be honest with yourself; how many 480i sources do have that you plan to feed directly into the PDP-6010FD, without first scaling them or at least deinterlacing them at the source?
The Bottom Line
Put this all together and you have a display that, overall, equals or exceeds any other display I have tested, lacking only the sheer size impact a separate projector and screen can provide.
I never thought Sahara was a particularly great HD DVD transfer. But on the Pioneer it looked first rate. The opening Civil War scenes, in particular, showed off the Pioneer's state-of-the-art black level, contrast, and shadow detail, as the Confederate ironclad makes its way downriver, blacked out in the dark to confuse the Federal artillery. On this and other 2.35:1 films I also noticed that the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen nearly disappeared from view in a darkened room. Impressive.
If the dark scenes in Dante's Peak (HD DVD) also deserved rave reviews (as with Sahara, I can't say as much for the movie itself!), the bright scenes were eye-popping and as close to three-dimensional as I ever expect to see from a two-dimensional medium. One thing I noticed on this film, however, was a difference between the PureCinema modes. While I generally went with the Advanced mode, the Smooth setting can be, well, smoother on some material, even if that material is, as it was here, 1080p/24. In chapter seven of this film there's a vertical pan up the mountain. It's jittery in either Advanced or Standard, and almost buttery in Smooth.
The Pioneer's colors also kept me up late on more than one night. They were great on Dante's Peak, but amazing on the final, final, final, cut of Alexander. The vivid rainbow of hues, particularly purple, at the beginning of chapter 13, as the Macedonian army enters Babylon, were as spectacular as I've ever seen on a video display.
I did notice that the details on Alexander weren't quite as crisp as on a very few front projectors I've seen. That might be the result of the Pioneer's slightly reduced resolution at the very top of the HD bandwidth (see "Measurements"). But I never would have noticed if I didn't have the image of this film as seen on the InFocus IN82 or JVC DLA-RS1 rattling around in the back of my head.
Broadcast HD was also top-class, from the rich star fields early in Alien Planet on Discovery HD to the vivid, you-are-there experience as the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians slugged it out for five hours (I only caught the last hour or so!) in game two of the American League Championship Series.
And don't think that the Pioneer was effective only on HD. Old favorites like the Charlotte Gray on DVD produced an experience that was only lacking in comparison to true HD transfers (memo to Warner Brothers: where is the HD disc version of this beautifully photographed film?).
I'm not a big a fan of screen shots, as there are a multitude of variables between the screen and your computer monitor. They certainly make no sense for HD. But I've included two shots from Charlotte Gray here. At minimum you can see that they're not exactly chopped liver.
The Pioneer's noise reduction also cleaned up the DVD of The Stunt Man (a marginal and uneven DVD transfer despite its THX certification) enough to make it more than watchable—and even surprisingly good in some scenes.
Even good SD broadcasts on digital cable were more than acceptable. The only glitch I experienced was with SD cable programming transmitted as a 1.78:1 letterbox within a 4:3 frame. As upconverted to 1080i by my cable box, none of the Pioneer's aspect ratios would expand the image to fill the screen without geometric distortion.
Pioneer's sets clearly cost more to produce and therefore continue to be more expensive than the competition, which will definitely keep other flat panel manufacturers in business in a market that's keenly price sensitive.
And with 1080p LCDs now becoming available at very attractive prices, consumers with a high enough budget may well be more tempted to by a $3,500 50-52" 1080p set than the $6,500 PDP-6010FD. Yes, you'll get a bigger picture from the Pioneer, and the economies possible in, say, 52" LCDs disappear rapidly as you go to larger sizes in that technology. And the benefits of the Pioneer are not likely to be visible on the showroom floor, where its unique qualities, particularly in black level, shadow detail, and contrast will be lost in the bright lights and the Dynamic settings that are routine in big-box retailer demonstrations.
But while the most expensive product is not always the best, the best will nearly always cost more. The new Pioneer plasma sets are clearly the most impressive consumer digital display's I've yet seen, lacking only the immersive impact of the best 1080p front projectors.
• Striking blacks, great shadow detail, and the best contrast ratio we've yet measured on a flat panel display
• Vivid yet natural color
• Exceptional off-axis performance
• Expensive in today's market
• SD video processing is disappointing
• Resolution falls off at the highest HD frequencies