"Submitted for your approval: Kuro, a Japanese word for "black", refers to the Pioneer plasma panel's unequaled black level performance. Superior black level performance translates to superior color depth, realism and three-dimensionality. The term "Kuro" is also an appropriate theme for the denouement to this videophile's descent into this particular rabbit hole...which in all actuality turned out to be a "black hole" from which neither he nor his money will escape. Next stop: The Blu-ray Zone"
Introduction - Upgraded To Elite Status
"Seeing and hearing like never before."
I assembled my first home theater system in 2001:
Toshiba CE32E15 32" CRT television.
Kenwood VR-309 5.1 Receiver (100 watts/ch).
Sony DVP-S360 DVD player.
Polk Audio CS400i center channel speaker.
Polk Audio RT55i front speakers.
Polk Audio RT35 surround speakers.
Polk Audio PSW-650 subwoofer.
Since 2001, my home theater has, through many frustrations and disappointments, evolved into something I really enjoy. Until the arrival of Blu-ray technology and high definition televisions, my home theater was mainly for the enjoyment of my guests. Viewing fatigue was always a problem that kept me from watching movies more than few hours at a time. Several times I came close to dismantling the system and just keeping a television and DVD player.
Figure 1. Easy and efficient setup...and spectacular picture quality straight out of the box. It only took 34 minutes from the time the
truck rolled up to the time the TV was turned on.
When I saw the Kuros in stores, I looked at the salesmen sideways when they said the picture had not been tweaked and the picture I was seeing was straight out of the box. I can confirm that the Kuro's picture quality was breathtaking, mesmerizing and gorgeous right out of the box. Prior to signing off on the delivery, I examined for shipping damage, dead pixels, checked out the TV's basic functions and briefly ran through an assortment of media content (HD broadcasts, Blu-rays, and DVD). I installed the latest firmware update prior to beginning the the 150 hour break-in process described here. I hated to have to wait nearly another week before I could start enjoying my Kuro, but I wanted to give it a good start in life. This routine was used:
Six sessions of running the break-in disc for 24 hours followed by a cool down break for 1 hour. During the breaks, the Blu-ray player was switched to standby and the TV was switched to a an unused video input, which caused the screen to go black.
One session of running the break-in disc for 6 hours followed by a cool down break for 1 hour, then one hour of warm up playing a movie, then final adjustments. Final adjustments were made using a combination of the Spears and Munsil "High Definition Benchmark" Blu-ray test and evaluation disc and an ISF (Imaging Sciences Foundation) professional calibrator's recommended settings for the PRO-151FD.
The subject of plasma panel break-in is somewhat controversial. Pioneer and Panasonic stopped recommending a formal break-in process after 2005 because their plasma panels manufactured afterward were more resistant to image burn-in and image retention. Now, they just recommend turning down the contrast, not watching any "black bar" content, no gaming, or display of static images for more than a few minutes during the first 100 hours of the panel's life. This is still a break-in process, although a slower, gentler one. One might ask if a formal break-in is "required" for newer plasma panels. The answer is no, just like you don't have to stretch and warm up your leg muscles before beginning a run. Walking before a run would accomplish mostly the same benefit. However, optimal leg muscle warm up would be achieved with a formal stretching and warm up exercise routine.
The terms burn-in and image retention are erroneously used interchangeably. Burn-in refers to a permanent residual image "burned" into the screen and image retention refers to a temporary residual image that gradually fades away with subsequent use of the panel. Both are due to uneven wear on the screen phosphors. The reason some type of break-in is required is that the screen phosphors burn much hotter during the first 100 to 200 hours of their life and are therefore more susceptible to burn-in and image retention during that time. A formal break-in process "hardens" all the phosphors against burn-in and image retention by quickly and evenly allowing all of them to "settle down" into a state of equilibrium. It is somewhat analogous to a couple settling in to the day-to-day routine of a marriage after an exciting honeymoon. Another analogy would be the high malleability of a metal when it is red hot and its high resistance to deformation when it cools down. Continuously cycling through a succession of full screen slides in shades of white, red, blue and green over a few days gives all the phosphors an equal opportunity to harden at the same time. Watching variable image content does not afford the opportunity for all phosphors to age at the same rate under the same signal stress.
Whatever break-in process is used, a plasma panel owner must still be mindful that break-in does not make a panel impervious to burn-in and image retention, it just makes it more resistant. Just as a hard metal is still susceptible to damage from abuse, a hardened phosphor can still be damaged by carelessness and abuse.
Figure 2. The Kuro went through a nearly week long break-in process to properly and evenly age the phosphors prior to final picture
When the Kuro was first installed, My body could feel heat coming from the screen while standing two feet away. A digital thermometer taped to the center of the screen registered 115 degrees Fahrenheit. After 80 hours of running the break-in DVD, the screen temperature settled down to 90 degrees and I could only feel heat by standing six inches or less from the screen. During the first movie after break-in ("Quantum of Solace"), the screen temperature dropped to 85 degrees and stayed there. The ambient room temperature throughout the break-in process and final picture adjustment was 73 degrees. The phosphors burn even hotter immediately after manufacture. Pioneer uses a limited break-in process but they declined to provide specifics. Of course, a more extensive break-in process would add several more days and more cost to the manufacturing process, therefore, final break-in is left to the consumer.
Figure 3. Calm down. The Kuro's screen phosphors settled to a screen temperature of 90 degrees after 80 hours of continuous
break-in. This was 25 degrees cooler than the out of the box screen temperature.
Professional calibrators have published pre and post formal break-in measurement results demonstrating that the color accuracy of plasma panels is improved with a formal break-in procedure. However, this may or may not be discernible to the non-professionally trained consumer. In addition to this, some Kuro owners who have had professional calibration performed on their sets either could not perceive a difference or improvement or they did not like the more accurate post calibration settings. The majority of the reports I have read indicate that professional calibration of Kuro sets produces only a slight improvement in accuracy and picture quality. I do not plan to have my set professionally calibrated.
Use of the break-in DVD with my Hitachi 55" and Samsung 42" plasmas resulted in a substantial improvement in black levels with resultant improved color rendering and better detail. It also did away with temporary image retention of very bright, static images. Going on memory, I only saw a small improvement between the Kuro's pre and post break-in picture, mainly in the areas of image retention resistance and picture depth. The BDP-09FD Blu-ray player's screen saver consists of the word "Pioneer" in white letters fading in and out in random places on a black background. Immediately after setting up the Kuro, a faint residual image of the white letters could be seen for a few seconds after fading out while the white letters appeared in another location on the screen. After break-in, there was no residual imaging at all with the screen saver.