Update on 11/25/09: This post orginally mentioned the sale that Best Buy was having on the Pioneer KURO 50″ Plasma HDTV. Those sets are now gone from Best Buy. Accordingly, I’ve left the general review info on the KURO models and updated the links to the last model Best Buy has — the Pioneer KURO 60″. I had said that these TV’s are going away. They are… If you want one, get yours now. Still at a good discount.
There is probably more pent-up demand for TV’s and other high-end entertainment components right now than there has been for awhile, due to folks taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding their finances before making bigger purchases. But it seems things might be easing up a bit and we are also coming into the gift-giving (and getting) season, so now is starting to look like a good time to buy. Some retailers are recognizing that and are beginning to offer some pretty good deals. And this is one of the best.
In fact, many say this is the best televsion in the world, and you can get the Pioneer KURO 60″ Class PDP-6020FD Plasma HDTV right now at Best Buy. And when I say “right now,” I mean that this deal might not last too much longer because these sets are going away.
The Pioneer KURO line of HDTV’s has been recognized as top-of-the-line for several years. The current, 9th-generation models are still blowing away the competition with respect to picture quality. There has never been anything better.
“KURO” means “black” in Japanese and the black levels of these screens have become legendary in the world of AV technology in the years since they came to market. If you haven’t shopped for a television for awhile and you want the best, then check out the reviews of the Pioneer KURO’s at, among others:
You can also go to the various AV forums (e.g. AVForums.com) to see favorable discussions regarding the Pioneer KURO models.
Reviews on consumer sites are glowing as well. On Amazon, for example, there are 65 reviews of the Pioneer KURO PDP-6020FD 60″ 1080p 60 Hz Plasma HDTV. Forty-nine of the 65 are 5-star reviews and 7 of the remainder are 4-star (and, as usual on Amazon, the lesser ratings have little or nothing to do with the performance of the TV). On Best Buy, 96% of owners (49 of 51) would recommend this TV to a friend. Owners tend to rave about these sets. Such as: “This review is coming from somebody who has owned every top-of-the-line plasma/LCD HDTV in the past 6 years, including the LED backlit $14,000 Sony Qualia 005. I have owned the PDP-5020FD for exactly 1 week now and I am in video heaven. I haven’t done any major calibrations yet (want to wait at least 100 hours before doing that), but the out-of-the-box video quality is unbelievable…”. And another: “I decided to return the [other set] and replace it with a Pioneer KURO 50″ Plasma. It was on sale, which helped my decision, but it turned out to be the best television purchase I have ever made. What a fabulous viewing experience! Deep, rich, natural colors. Bright and clear, day or night. So much depth it is almost 3D. Pioneer is/was known as the top-of-shelf in Plasma or any other HDTV, now I know why. My advice…get one while you still can, you won’t be sorry. Superb viewing.”
I can understand. Being a photographer, I am particularly visually-oriented and watching a Pioneer Plasma HDTV borders on a religious experience, particularly if you have not viewed a good HDTV before.
Is the Pioneer better than the new generation of Samsung LED HDTV’s that have been getting good reviews? I asked that question of one of the most knowledgable AV sales guys at my local Best Buy, who had recently purchased a 50-inch Pioneer KURO himself. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, when a television size is followed by the world “Class”, such as a “60-inch Class HDTV,” it means that the screen size is not exactly that dimension and might be slightly larger or smaller, so the TV size fits into that “class.”) This guy did not have any of the Pioneer models currently in stock but he did have the Samsungs (so, in other words, he could have tried to sell me one), yet he said that, as far as he was concerned, the Pioneer still blew everything out of the water when it came to picture quality. I asked him why he thought the Pioneer was better than, say, a Samsung or Sony LED and he gave three reasons:
- Motion: There is no contest when it comes to portraying motion on the Pioneer as compared to any LED HDTV. Hands down, motion that blurs on the LED unit (even the 240 Hz models) is not blurred on the Pioneer. There is also the issue of viewing angle. With an LED TV, the image generally does not look as good when viewed from the sides. This is not an issue with the Pioneer.
- Picture Noise: Here the guy got fairly technical and I learned about display problems such as “mosquitoes,” “dancing ants,” and the “rainbow” effect caused when something that is striped (such as a person’s striped shirt or a flag) appears on the screen. The Pioneer outperforms all other sets with respect to minimizing or eliminating these visual limitations. (Interesting factoid: television and movie directors are aware of the rainbow problem and almost never have their actors wear striped clothing. The rainbow effect can be observed in the space between the stripes.)
- Screen brightness optimization: He really liked the “Optimum Mode” feature of the Pioneer KURO, which adjusts and optimizes the brightness of the screen based on the ambient lighting of the room.
Still not quite convinced? Here is an excerpt from the review of an earlier-generation Pioneer KURO model from UltimateAVmag:
“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.
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 impresive nevertheless. It shows a photographer working in his studio. virtually everything in the studio is in varying shades of dark gray or balck, 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 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.”
The set includes a number of cool features: 4 HDMI inputs, a USB port, 3 composite inputs, an input for your PC, an 18-watt stereo digital amplifier with 2-way stereo speakers, a headphone jack. It comes preinstalled with Home Media Gallery, allowing you to connect to your home network through an ethernet port or a thumbdrive to play back digital photos, video, and music. It’s Energy Star qualified. Smooth Film mode eliminates motion jitter in 3:2 Pulldown (60 Hz), providing natural, even playback of film content. It has 7 viewing preference options, including Dynamic, Movie, Sports, and Game. (Imagine what “Uncharted 2” will look like on this screen.) And it has a remote control! (Which glows in the dark).
Now for the bittersweet news: Pioneer is exiting the plasma TV business and will no longer be selling these HDTV’s after March, 2010. It’s a little sweet because you can still get this model for thousands of dollars less than it was selling for just a few weeks ago. It’s bitter because that means another best-in-class technology has bitten the dust, victim of a slow marketplace. The technology might not be gone forever, however, since some of the KURO engineers at Pioneer are going to work for Panasonic. But who knows how long it will be before their knowledge makes its way into Panasonic products?
In the meantime you can buy the best television in the world for less than $4,000. The time for wait-and-see is over. This deal will not last.
Here’s a video review of the Pioneer KURO 50″ Class 1080p 60 Hz Plasma HDTV, model PDP-5020FD, from CNET: