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Pioneer PRO-150FD

February 15, 2008 By David Birch-Jones

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Pioneer Elite plasma TVs have long been favorites of critical viewers and specialist home theater retailers. Their latest offerings, under a new Elite Kuro moniker and available in 50” and 60” sizes feature full 1080p resolution and a slew of upscale features, including home A/V networking connectivity and the promise of better visual quality by way of better deep black picture performance.

The 60” review model features refreshingly restrained cosmetics, with a smooth black fascia devoid of the usual string of technology logos, and adorned only with the Pioneer Elite monikers in subtle gold script that is all but invisible. Setup is straightforward and uneventful, as the matching gloss black stand is easily and securely bolted to the chassis. Side-mounted stereo speakers are supplied and their slim profile adds little to the overall width, nor do they impede access to the side-mounted controls and auxiliary A/V inputs. Given the size and rather hefty weight of the set, installation is definitely a two-person job, whether the owner chooses tabletop mounting or opts for wall-mounting instead.

Around back, the jack panel is peppered with a full complement of analog and digital connections, including four HDMI inputs with the latest 1.3 specification. A CableCard slot is included, and the on-screen channel information display mimics exactly that of a typical cable box. The supplied remote control includes both learning capability as well as backlighting, the backlight color chosen here is red (amber would be the best choice, but at least Pioneer opted for something other than blue, which is by far the worst color for remote control backlighting).

Picture quality with the out-of-the-box factory settings is typically overly vivid, bordering on the garish. However, the set is equipped with a tremendous range of picture adjustment setting options, and I spend an hour or so plowing through the menu to find the optimum settings for each, as well as adjusting the basic picture controls. Within the menu, I find two color palette options, with the default providing quite excessive color that can’t be adjusted correctly. The second option is by far the more pleasing, toned down significantly from the default setting, and from this point I can begin the analysis and then perform a subsequent calibration.

A call to Pioneer reveals that of all the picture modes offered, the Pure setting is the one that most closely mimics the characteristics of a top-grade professional studio HD monitor, and indeed, along with careful adjustment of the main picture controls that mode produces an absolutely top notch picture. While I always have a good selection of test and demo DVDs and high definition discs on hand, I only need to spend a few minutes perusing demo scenes on Pioneer’s own dealer demo Blu-ray disc to evaluate the Kuro’s picture quality. My favorite scene on the disc involves a model being photographed in a studio with the photographer decked out in black clothes and leather jacket. Close-up details of camera equipment and the intentionally chosen blacks and dark grays of the studio’s environs highlights the Kuro’s outstanding contrast. Said to be 80% better at attaining very deep black levels than their previous sets, I try the disc on a late model 50” Pioneer plasma I have in my den, and find the Kuro to be demonstrably superior.

Like earlier Elite plasma models, the Kuro features integrated ISF calibration functions, which in conjunction with ColorFacts calibration software, allows the installer to hook their computer directly up to the set’s serial port, and access all of the picture adjustments directly. Once calibrated, the familiar ISF “Day” and “Night” presets are provided as picture setting choices, with critical adjustment settings locked to prevent inadvertent misadjustment. The after calibration results show the Kuro to be a top class performer from a technical standpoint.

Pioneer touts their own video processing and scaling in the new Kuro sets, employing a single proprietary chip that handles the deinterlacing and other critical picture manipulation functions. With standard definition interlaced sources, I find the performance to be quite good, with the Kuro passing most tests with at least a good grade. Using Blu-ray as a source, I check to see how the set handles the upconversion from interlaced 1080i high definition to the set’s native progressively scanned 1080p resolution, and here I find top notch performance with lightning quick detection and correction, on par with the “boutique” high performance scalar chips touted by other set makers.

While the Kuro’s included speakers won’t win any awards for sound quality, as they are both noticeably colored in the important vocal midrange and bereft of any semblance of low bass, they are removable, and the set’s speaker jacks and subwoofer output allow for connection of external speakers, which will improve fidelity significantly for installations where a full-on surround system isn’t possible or practical. I also note the presence of three cooling fans at the top of the back panel, but over many hours of viewing they never once turned on, even when I intentionally turned the AC off on a particularly warm late summer day and allowed the room temperature to rise to 90° for two hours. No doubt the fans are there for keeping things cool when the set is installed in an enclosed cabinet space.

While I can easily do without many of the Kuro’s tertiary features and its multitude of picture “enhancement” modes, I find that with a little bit of twiddling and experimentation with any of the available video test discs, the set’s picture quality is elevated from the merely good to that of best-in-class, producing vibrant, detailed and most importantly, natural-looking images that once again prove the innate superiority of plasma technology over LCD.

DESCRIPTION: 60” (diagonal) high definition 1080p plasma television; comes with side-mounted loudspeakers (removable) and fixed tabletop stand. Can be wall-mounted with optional wall bracket.

RESOLUTION:1920 by 1080 pixels

CONNECTIONS: Two component video inputs, one S-video input, three composite video inputs, four HDMI inputs, one RF/antenna input, one RF/cable input, one VGA input, seven stereo analog inputs, one slot for CableCard, one USB port; one pair stereo speaker outputs, one subwoofer output, one IR output, one optical digital audio output, one Ethernet port, one stereo headphone output; one RS-232C serial port for service and calibration

DIMENSIONS: 37.7 x 66.3 x 4.8 inches (HxWxD) (on stand with speakers attached)

PRICE/CONTACT: $7,500.00


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