Pioneer Kuro hits Australia: our examination

pioneer-kuro-508XDA.jpg Pioneer has launched the Kuro range of plasmas into the Australian market, and these screens are definitely blacker than any plasma or LCD you've seen before. But the keys to the kingdom are a new panel and a new video processing engine, for blacker blacks but also offers a smooth new video processor that delivers better picture across the board. Read on for our take on the Pioneer demo of the new screens, as well as local release timing and price.So why is a Kuro Project screen blacker? Kuro is the catch all for the new generation panels from Pioneer (not just their 1080p LX models, but the XGA options too) that use a new plasma technology and video processor built that's been redesigned from the ground up.

The panel uses a new crystal emissive layer that speeds up the electrical discharge rate of the plasma cells, so you get a more genuine 'off' state in black areas. It also makes the screen more power efficient. The claimed contrast ratio is 16,000:1 for the general HD models and 20,000:1 for the Full HD (LX series) panels - they were keen to point out their distaste for contrast claims related to 'dynamic' ratios, so these ratios are the real deal thanks to the black luminance dropping to about a fifth of previous generations.

They've also changed the screen with a new Direct Colour Filter, which reduces reflected light for better viewing in bright ambient lighting. Essentially this has reduced the layers the light has to pass through to reach the eye, which in turn reduces the layers in the screen for external light to reflect off.

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The other new tech is a single integrated video processor, replacing three separate systems in their earlier generations. Called ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuitry), Pioneer demonstrated a number of their improvements over earlier panels. This demo took place in a room with a Panasonic top-end plasma, an Sony X-Series Bravia, and a 7th gen Pioneer plasma (note the Panasonic and Sony screens were not the latest generation screens just announced in recent weeks, which makes it a tougher comparison to run with).

The demo showed that across issues like deinterlacing, MPEG block noise, PAL 3D Y/C separation, and Smooth motion, the Kuro panels surpass all these other screens. It was nice to see their own previous gen in the comparative mix, proving this 8th gen panel has made some great leaps forward.

On the whole, all these demo areas showed us a screen that is highly accomplished across the traditional areas of image trouble and it kicks ass on pure image reproduction. For the hardcore, there is even an advanced calibration mode that adheres to ISF C3 certified calibration standards so a certified calibration expert can optimise performance.

Speaking of which, we heard from an independent calibration expert at the launch on the logarithmic nature of eyesight. Apparently this means that we're much better at discerning black levels than white levels. Given the choice of twice the brightness of the white light, or twice the depth of the black light, we better perceive that difference in blacks, so what Pioneer has done here is much more important than just making a screen that gives hotter whites. Make sense? Sounds good, though, doesn't it?

More stuff that rocks about these panels is the 3:3 HD video playback, running 24p sources at 72Hz for perfect cinema reproduction. On the general side, you get 3 x HDMI (1.3) terminals directly supporting 1080p/50Hz, 1080p/60Hz and 1080p/24Hz, as well as Deep Colour (36-bit RGB / YCC) and 16-bit, 20-bit, and 24-bit colour.

Another winner is the Pioneer sales support, with every screen sold coming with free delivery, installation and demonstration, as well as either a table top stand or wall bracket (though both would be best in this regard). Free installation is surely a big winner if you're mounting to a wall. All screens come with a five year warranty.

What didn't we like about what we saw? Piano black bezels, for one. I've previously pointed out is a big turn off for me. Tres insta-filthy, though in the demo it did provide a good counterpoint to show that the blacks really do blend away into the bezel very nicely on these new panels, which is a remarkable shift from the dark grey you see from other screens.

The other was one of the Pioneer product guys proclaiming the virtues of $300 HDMI cables. His claim was that deep colour support needs more bandwidth, and only expensive cables give that. Gizmodo would beg to differ.

Overall, these are definitely worth a bit of gush for the technical achievement. If you are the sort of video phile that demands a perfect image reproduction (Pioneer likes to call their target crowd 'Conisumers'... gag...) then these new Pioneer options are the shiz.

Prices are 42-inch 1,024x768 ($4,699); 50-inch 1,365x768 ($5,699); 50-inch 1080p ($7,499); 60-inch 1080p ($11,999). The entire range of screens will be available in October. [Pioneer Australia]

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