In the summer of 2007, Pioneer won our hearts with the introduction of its KURO generation of plasma TVs. These first generation KURO TVs produced unprecedented black levels, the highest imaginable contrast ratios and propelled the picture quality of plasma TVs by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the ultra deep blacks, these TVs achieved the most natural colours and three dimensional pictures available in any flat panel TV on the market. The KURO generation proved once and for all that if you’re looking for the absolute best picture quality, a plasma TV is indisputably the way to go. Awards poured in, one after another, from around the globe. We presented the PDP-5010FD 50-inch model with our own “CANADA HiFi Editor’s Choice” recognition – the only product to date to receive this recognition. There was just one reason that prevented these TVs from making their way into the hands of all enthusiasts that wanted one, namely the high price tag. This past summer witnessed the introduction of the second generation KURO TVs with two major advances: even deeper blacks and lower prices. Hot diggity!
Pioneer’s 2008 plasma TV line-up consists of two new Pioneer models, in 50 and 60-inch flavours, and two new Elite models, also in 50 and 60-inch sizes. We got our hands, or should I say eyes, all over the Pioneer 60-inch PDP-6020FD plasma, priced at $5999. For comparison, last year’s 60-inch model was introduced for a whopping $7999. Visually, the 2008 models carry the same minimalist and elegant design as last year’s models: A piano black acrylic bezel and a detachable, bottom-mounted speaker. The most noticeable difference is a 20 percent reduction of the depth of the set, which now measures just 3.7-inches deep. The remote control has also been completely redesigned, although not exactly for the better. I preferred last year’s remote’s larger buttons and I’m still waiting for Pioneer to put a backlight in their standard TV remotes (the Elite models have backlit remotes).
The PDP-6020FD has the full 1080p resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels and a built-in ATSC and NTSC tuner. It offers seven picture presets including: Optimum, Performance, Dynamic, Movie, Sports, Game and Standard. The Standard mode meets the Energy Star 3.0 guidelines. A new feature in this year’s model is the Home Media Gallery, previously available only in the Elite models, which allows the TV to stream music, video and pictures from computers connected to a home network or a USB drive. Its suite of video inputs includes four HDMI version 1.3, one component video, one S-video, three composite and one VGA. This is a smaller number of inputs compared to last year’s model, although presumably most owners of the set will likely be connecting all of the sources to an A/V receiver rather than the TV itself.
While exploring the PDP-6020FD’s menu system for the first time something became immediately obvious: Some of the picture controls that were offered in the first KURO generation were no longer present. Among these were colour temperature, noise reduction, gamma, picture detail and colour detail. To anyone that doesn’t plan to do much fine-tuning of the picture to their room and viewing preferences this isn’t a big deal. However, enthusiasts who love the ability to tweak their TVs may be slightly disappointed to have a smaller set of picture controls than offered by the previous KURO generation. This year, Pioneer has created a more defined distinction between the Pioneer and the Elite lines of TVs. If you’d really like the ability to fully tweak the picture, you’ll have to step up to the 60-inch Elite model, the PRO-151FD priced at $6999.
Pioneer’s PureCinema feature, accessed from the menu, detects film-based sources (encoded at 24 frames per second) and recreates each film frame in order to produce a higher quality picture. Three settings are available: Standard, Smooth and Advance. While the Standard and Smooth produced subtle improvements, they also introduced some picture artifacts at times. The Advance option, which converts images to 72 Hz produced the most desirable results (although again subtle) when watching standard DVDs. Each of the three options is explained in the manual, although the explanation will likely confuse most users.
The look of the menu system was also slightly redesigned for the second KURO generation. The new menus don’t offer any additional functionality but are just as clean and easy to navigate as the original ones. The most noticeable difference is that the menu is no longer displayed on top of the picture. Instead when the Home Menu button is pressed, the menu appears on the left side of the screen while the currently playing source is displayed to the right of the menu in a separate, smaller frame.
The PDP-6020FD was initially placed on a standard TV stand that is 25 inches tall. Things were really put into perspective the first time that I sat in front of the giant 60-inch screen. At a nine foot seating distance, the TV worked out to be too high – I had to tilt my head up slightly to look at the centre of the screen. Over extended viewing periods this turned out to be rather uncomfortable. Luckily, the TV stand that I was using is modular, giving me the ability to remove the top shelf and effectively lower the stand by 10 inches.
I ran the Silicon Optix tests and concluded that the TV did a great job of eliminating jaggies (deinterlacing) from 480i and 1080i signals. Proper deinterlacing of 480i (i.e. upconverting 480i to 1080p) is important when watching standard DVDs. Deinterlacing 1080i on the other hand is critical for getting the best picture from 1080i channels and certain 1080i Blu-ray discs, such as concerts and documentaries. The PDP-6020FD dropped in and out of film mode when trying to pick up the 3:2 sequence with 480i material, although did a much better job at picking up the 3:2 sequence with 1080i material, with only a slight moiré pattern (artifact) visible. With real world material, regardless of resolution, this TV performed very well – you would be hard pressed to find any picture artifacts. In fact, the PDP-6020FD performed most of these tests better than the Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blu-ray player that I was using, so I simply set it to output the native source resolution and let the TV handle all the processing.
Standard definition shows from my digital cable looked noticeably softer on the big 60-inch screen, compared to our reference 50-inch PDP-5010FD Pioneer plasma. This low resolution programming clearly didn’t contain enough pixels to fill a screen of this size with decent detail. Then again, standard definition programs look soft on all 50-inch and larger TVs. On the positive, the PDP-6020FD did a very commendable job of stretching the 4:3 picture to fit its 16:9 screen. To the untrained eye, the picture didn’t look stretched at all – people’s faces, the most important aspect, looked perfectly natural. Arguably, this is the best picture that you can get on such a big screen from such a low quality signal. For the remainder of my video tests, I used the Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blu-ray player as the source. I should also mention that I used the Movie picture preset for the rest of my tests – hands down, this is the best out of the box mode that produced the most natural colours, deep blacks and great contrast.
Stepping it up to the 480p resolution of standard DVDs produced a significantly more detailed and satisfying picture. When watching chapter 4 of Lord of War, many features in actors’ faces became evident and better defined, as did details in their hair. The actors’ faces had natural skin tones at the 1983 Berlin Arms Fair. In chapter six, Confronting Grievous, of Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, the dark capes of characters like General Grievous and Anakin Skywalker displayed a tremendous amount of shading and dark picture detail. The textures of the various cape materials were clearly distinguished. In one of the shots, the backs of characters’ heads revealed a great amount of dark shading. The PDP-6020FD was capable of producing such a deep level of black that the black bars on the top and bottom of the picture were virtually just as black as the glossy TV frame.
At some point throughout my tests, I used the Digital Video Essentials (DVE) disc to fine-tune the PDP-6020FD’s picture. Not surprisingly, this calibration disc instructed me to make very minor adjustments to the picture settings – the Movie preset was just that good right out of the box. By the way, this TV has a super handy “before/after” feature which allows you to compare the original picture to the picture after you make the adjustments with the click of a single button on the remote.
The PDP-6020FD sitting right next to our reference PDP-5010FD confirmed that this second generation KURO TV was in fact able to produce even deeper blacks than last year’s model. As a discerning video enthusiast, I also noticed that the PDP-6020FD’s colour accuracy was slightly off – particularly in the reds and the greens. Unfortunately, because of the reduced picture controls there is no way to tweak the colours. But don’t get me wrong, unless you were looking at a side-by-side comparison with a fine-tuned PDP-5010FD, you may be hard pressed to notice this at all.
While watching Blu-ray discs and playing games on the PlayStation 3, I used the dot-by-dot mode because it produced the best picture resolution, without any overscan.
Casino Royale on Blu-ray once again confirmed that the standard DVD was an aging format. I showed the wild chase scene from the beginning of the film to friends on a few different occasions while the PDP-6020FD was in my home theatre, which left everyone in awe every time. Most times, I didn’t have to point out the benefits of the high resolution picture – the guests gladly did it themselves. The 1080p picture from the film displayed a phenomenal amount of fine details. With real world material, the colours looked completely natural and well saturated. The PDP-6020FD’s ability to produce a real black helped create an unbelievable depth to the picture. The picture simply looked three dimensional, a feat that I’ve witnessed only on the first and second generation KURO flat panels.
Next up was action-packed Shoot ‘Em Up on Blu-ray. Most Toronto residents will recognize that this movie was shot in Toronto by observing the buildings and landmarks and if you can’t tell, the street names are clearly visible on this highly detailed Blu-ray version. Other than the sharp 1080p picture, this movie has a wealth of dark scenes which made it ideal for testing the blacks and contrast. The blacks were undeniably blacker than on any other TV that I’ve ever seen. Smith (Clive Owen) and many other characters in this movie wear black clothing and the PDP-6020FD did an exceptional job of displaying the finest of the details in these pieces of clothing – every crease, fold and imperfection was revealed. The texture of each type of fabric looked as authentic as it does in real life. In scenes where a character’s face was partly or completely covered by a shadow, the PDP-6020FD still showed a great level of shadow detail.
Naturally, while the Pioneer was at my house for review, I also indulged in some video gaming. In fact, during one of my ‘grocery runs’ I ended up sidetracking to a local video game shop and picked up Baja: Edge of Control for the Xbox 360. I invited a trio of friends over one evening and played the game in a four player split-screen mode. Once again, this 60-inch TV’s size was put into perspective. Quick math revealed that even with the screen spilt into four parts, each player got a very generous 30 inches of entertainment! Sure, the graphics and the sound in this game don’t match the best games out there, but the sheer size of everyone’s portion of the screen created an awesome gaming experience.
Motorstorm on the PlayStation 3 proved to be even more of a treat. The improved graphics and sound of this game clearly made it stand out. The computer generated environments in this game looked absolutely breath taking, with tons of details and a great sense of picture depth. When jumping in the dune buggy from a ramp or an edge of a hill, my stomach literally dropped, time and time again. There’s no denial, when it comes to a TV this large that produces such an awesome picture – I was no longer just playing the game, I was truly experiencing it. The increase of my heartbeat rate confirmed it!
All in all, there is no question that the PDP-6020FD will blow every viewer away with its awesome picture. And what exactly makes Pioneer’s KURO TVs so spectacular? Their greatest achievement is the ability to produce the deepest blacks and the highest contrast ratios out of any flat panel TVs currently available. As a result, these TVs can display a much wider range of colours and an unprecedented picture depth compared to other TVs. The $2000 price reduction over last year’s model should make this TV accessible to a larger audience. If you ask me, $5999 for the PDP-6020FD is worth every penny of it. Pioneer – your KURO plasma TVs have won our hearts and our eyes for another year!
Pioneer PDP-6020FD 1080p KURO Plasma TV
Price (MSRP): $5999 CAD
Screen size: 60 inches
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 progressive
Built-in tuner: ATSC/NTSC
Home Media Gallery Network Connectivity
Room Light Sensor for Automatic Picture Adjustment
4 x HDMI version 1.3
1 x component video
1 x S-video
3 x composite video
1 x VGA
Dimensions (panel w/detachable bottom speaker): 57-11/16” x 37-5/8” x 3-21/32” (W x H x D)
Panel depth: 3.7 inches
Weight (w/integrated bottom speaker & stand): 131 lbs. 8 oz.