During the course of my research for a 60" (or bigger :)) 1080p plasma display to replace my aging, three year old Hitachi 55HDT52 55" 720p plasma, I did not run across anything that really "grabbed" my attention or really made me dissatisfied with what I had. Sure, I saw TV's that had better picture quality in one or two performance aspects (e.g. black levels, fine detail, etc.), but overall, the Hitachi has been hard to beat when all things are considered (picture quality, sound quality, price, features, cablecard capability, inputs, aesthetics, reliability and form factor). During the Hitachi's ownership, I periodically dropped in on TV retailers, some local and some while on business trips, to see what was new. I always came away largely unimpressed. My eyes never "popped"...until recently...until I met that Kuro.:D
The first Kuro I met was set up in a small room off the main display area of a major retailer. This retailer carries Kuros, but I never saw any in the main display area. I called the store and asked why they never had any Kuros on display. I was told that they have a Kuro 50" set up in a smaller room off the main TV display area. I was told that Kuros are not set up in the main display area because they look better in a dark room. I have been to this store many times, but I never noticed that room. When I went to the store, i realized that the door to that room had always been closed. I assumed it was a storage room. On the day that I went to view the Kuro, the door was open and It was a nicely appointed viewing room with three TV's set up: A Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD 50" plasma (MSRP $2400), a Sony Bravia KDL-52S5100 52" LCD (MSRP $1800) and a Panasonic Viera TC-P54S1 54" plasma (MSRP $2000).
The Kuro was in the center, Panasonic on the left and Sony on the right. The source was a Sony BDP-S500 Blu-ray disc player connected to the TV's by component video cables. Therefore, the picture I was seeing was only 720p resolution. A Blu-ray demo disc was playing which included clips from the following movies:
Pirates of the Caribbean,
The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift,
Field of Dreams,
X-Men 3: Last Stand.
To summarize, the Kuro was more like looking through a window with three dimensional perspective and detail. The Sony and Panasonic were like looking at a regular TV with flatter perspective and "nice" detail. The Kuro had deeper, more natural blacks, more natural colors, more detail and far, far more three dimensional depth. The depth rendering of the Sony and Panasonic was noticeably "flat" compared to the Kuro, even to to the point of being annoying. Although, if the Kuro hadn't been right beside the Sony and Panasonic, I probably would not have found their depth rendering irksome.
To use an audio analogy, the visual depth rendering of the Kuro was like speakers that project aural images far in front of and far behind the speakers. The depth rendering of the Panasonic and the Sony was like speakers with aural images stuck firmly in the front speaker plane and with about a foot of depth.
The Sony LCD was a far second in overall picture quality from the Kuro and the Panasonic plasma was a close second to the Sony in overall picture quality. The Kuro rendered both of them unwatchable. Indeed, even if the Kuro had not been in the room, neither the Panasonic's nor Sony's picture quality would have provided acquisition incentive over my current home theater plasma.
The Kuro, on the other hand, was mesmerizing.
I asked a sales person if the TV's I was watching had had any adjustment or calibration done. He said no, and that the picture I was seeing was straight out of the box. This store didn't carry the Elite line and didn't stock the 60" regular Kuro, but it was available by special order. The largest TV, of any brand, they stocked was 55". The sales person said 60" TV's weren't selling that well.
Pioneer's marketing literature states that the Kuro's "Deepest blacks and vivid colors deliver a breathtaking picture." This, to my jaded eyes, is not marketing hype.
The "U-571" clip was a scene where one of the actors was wearing a large, loose fitting, black leather jacket. The grain pattern of the leather jacket was more clearly defined with the Kuro, yet the deep black color with natural leather sheen and different shades of black (shadow detail) was preserved. A lot of the black jacket's detail on the Sony and Panasonic was "crushed" (all mixed together in a dark visual mush).
The "King Kong" clip was a battle between King Kong and two dinosaurs in a jungle. The Kuro's rendering of perspective with regard to trees far behind the combatants was spectacular. The Kuro's colors were also more natural and pleasing to my eyes.
The "X-Men 3: Last Stand" clip was the scene where Magneto uproots the Golden Gate Bridge and moves it to connect Alcatraz Island with the mainland. This scene had way more natural color and perspective with the Kuro. Both the Sony and the Panasonic rendered the bridge's color as a yellowish orange rather than the actual reddish orange it was supposed to be. The Kuro displayed an accurate reddish orange.
The "Sea Biscuit" clip was a horse race scene where one of the horses wore a body covering and headdress with deep red and bright white colors. The Kuro showed a deep rich red and crisp, bright white. The Panasonic and Sony rendered the red as orange and the white with a grayish dinge.
The "Field of Dreams" clip was the scene where Kevin Costner is standing in a field surrounded by tall, green corn stalks. With the Kuro, on far shots of this scene, it appeared as if Costner was physically located at a point beyond the wall immediately behind the TV. This apparent visual depth was absent from the Sony and the Panasonic. Their depth rendering was like that of a good forced perspective drawing rather than looking through a window.
Additionally, the upper and lower black "letterbox" bars on the Kuro were jet black. The letterbox bars on the Panasonic and Sony were a dark shade of gray. The Sony had better black levels than the Panasonic.
I met the second Kuro, a top of the line Pioneer Elite PRO-151FD (MSRP $6500), in the brightly lit showroom of an audio/video salon. The Kuro was set up next to a 46" Samsung UN46B600 LED TV (MSRP $2700) on the left and a 63" Samsung PN63A650 plasma (MSRP $4800) on the right. The program source was an HDTV broadcast (1080i resolution) of a Food Network program. The sales person said they set up all their televisions straight out of the box with no adjustments or calibration. The demo TV was the last Kuro they had and they weren't getting any more.
Three things that particularly struck me when watching this program on the Kuro were:
1. How far behind the host a granite counter top appeared to be and the grain detain in that counter top. It almost seemed like I could reach inside the TV and reach behind the host. If you have watched a 3-D movie wearing 3-D glasses or looked at a 3-D photograph wearing 3-D glasses, the Kuro's depth rendering was almost that holographic.
To use an audio analogy, the Kuro's visual images within a scene conveyed a sense of weight and thickness. There was also more of an illusion of space between images.
2. The level of detail and subtleties of sheen in the female host's hair.
3. The rendering of depth between the wall of a clear glass canister and the lemons inside the canister and the way light curved around the glass and the bodies of the lemons.
Again, I was mesmerized by the Kuro...but this time on a larger scale...because the picture was bigger. The "regular" Kuros and the Elite Kuros use the same glass panels. The Elites have more picture fine tuning options and speakers placed at the sides of the screen rather than under it. I can't wait to see what a properly tweaked 1080p picture will look like on a Kuro.
I think it is criminal that these televisions are being discontinued. Pioneer will probably license their imaging technology to another manufacturer, but it will probably be a watered down version of the current Kuro's. That's Tragic.
The Samsung LED had a cartoonish presentation with over saturated colors. The Samsung plasma had a very pleasing picture...as long as I looked directly at it. If I looked at the Kuro and the Samsung at the same time, the Samsung's flatter depth rendering, slightly over saturated colors, and lower level of detail became annoying. In other words, the Kuro crushed it in every respect.
All the ravings I've read about Kuros being in a class by themselves seems to be more than justified. I am going to look around a bit more, but I think I want a Kuro.