Down the line: 2008 Pioneer Kuro plasma HDTVs

Pioneer's Kuro plasma HDTVs are previewed and broken down by CNET's editors.

Pioneer PDP-5020FD
Pioneer PDP-5020FD Pioneer

Pioneer's long-awaited announcement regarding its 2008 Kuro-branded plasmas, the successors to our favorite TV of 2007, the PDP-5080HD, includes a total of six new models. The company is claiming that the 2008 HDTVs produce "five times deeper" black levels than the 2007s, and during a side-by-side demo that included both 2007 and 2008 models, the new display certainly appeared a bit darker in the blackest areas--although it couldn't muster the essentially absolute black we saw demonstrated at CES and during our review of Sony's OLED TV. We have recently reviewed the 50-inch model , and while it did impress us with its extremely deep black levels, find out why it still didn't make the cut for our editor's choice award this year. Here's a rundown of the company's new line.

In case you're keeping track, this is the final generation of Kuro panels that Pioneer will manufacture itself. In 2009 and beyond, Panasonic will manufacture the actual panels. There's no way to determine how this change in panel manufacturing will affect the actual picture quality of those future Kuro models, but we suspect that by the time those 2009 Panasonic-sourced Kuro HDTVs are rolled out, they will perform just as well, if not better, than the current Pioneer-sourced ones. Pioneer, for what it's worth, naturally claims its future Kuro HDTVs will still lead the industry in performance. Only time will tell.

Pioneer Kuro PDP-20FD series

Pioneer's entry-level 2008 plasmas are still priced higher than comparable models from Panasonic and Samsung , but that's normal for the company. These two non-Elite sets--"Elite" is Pioneer's designation for its step-up models, detailed below--also cost significantly more than their 2007 counterparts, so if you're looking for a "bargain" on a Kuro, it's probably time to snap up a 2007 model before they sell out.

The 2008 line includes 1080p resolution on both the 50- and 60-inch models, which helps contribute to their higher prices, although as we've said repeatedly, the extra detail afforded by 1080p is all-but-invisible at 50 inches. Other differences include a slimmer chassis (3.7 inches deep as opposed to 4.5), a new remote and menu graphics, a new "optimum" picture mode that changes the picture automatically according to room and content conditions (we generally prefer to leave these kinds of modes turned off for critical viewing), and a "Home Media Gallery for playback of digital assets such as HD movie, music, and photos from a PC or via USB," according to the press release. Both the 50-inch and the 60-inch versions will ship in June.

Models (suggested retail prices)

  • Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD ($4,000)
  • Pioneer Kuro PDP-6020FD ($5,000)

Key features of the Pioneer Kuro PDP-20FD series

  • 1080p native resolution
  • Home media gallery digital media playback
  • Optimum picture mode
  • 3.7-inch depth

Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-1FD series

Pioneer Elite PRO-151FD
Pioneer Elite PRO-151FD Pioneer

Simultaneous with the release of the basic Kuro panels, Pioneer will ship its two Elite models, again in both 50- and 60-inch versions. The main differences between non-Elite and Elite panels have to do with picture calibration options--according to the company, all of the lines share the same black-level performance. On these Elite models, however, professional calibrators and other knowledgeable adjusters can access color temperature and other controls from the user menu, making it easier to dial in the best picture. Whether that's worth an extra $1,000 or $1,500 depends on your point of view.

Models (suggested retail prices)

  • Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD ($5,000)
  • Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-151FD ($6,500)

Step-up features of the Elite Kuro PRO-1FD series

  • User-menu calibration controls

Pioneer Elite Kuro Signature Series Monitor PRO-1FD series

Pioneer Elite PRO-141FD
Pioneer Elite PRO-141FD Pioneer

New for 2008 Pioneer is adding an even more expensive pair of models to the Kuro lineup, a sort of Elite Elite dubbed the "Signature Series Monitors." Your extra cash--just how much extra is TBD--over the standard Elite models loses you a tuner but nets you an even thinner chassis (2.5 inches, still a far cry from the model demoed at CES) and even more custom-installer-friendly calibration options, including the ability to somehow calibrate the TV remotely (that's right--without being able to see the picture). The 50- and 60-inch Sig Series TVs will ship in October and August, respectively (for some reason, the 50 comes out later than the 60).

Models (suggested retail prices)

  • Pioneer Elite PRO-101FD ($TBD)
  • Pioneer Elite PRO-141FD ($TBD)

Step-up features of the Elite Kuro Signature Series Monitors

  • 2.5-inch thick chassis
  • Custom-installer calibration controls

 

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