'Should I buy a Kuro before it's too late?': Ask the Editors

Having just reviewed the chief competition to Pioneer's well-regarded, and now-extinct, Kuro plasma TVs, CNET editor David Katzmaier recommends which one to buy.

If you have cash to spare and want the best picture quality, dang right you should.

Q: "David - Do you recommend waiting for the new higher-end plasmas from Panasonic or pulling the trigger on one of Pioneer's Kuro plasmas? Money no object."
-- Mark, via e-mail.

A: Having just finished reviewing one of those higher-end Panasonic plasmas, the G10 series, I'd recommend that deep-pocketed videophiles grab a Pioneer Kuro while they're still available.

As we'll remind everyone for what's sure to not be the last time, Pioneer will stop making plasmas. That's significant for shoppers looking to buy a high-end TV for one big reason: Pioneer makes what are still, in my and many other experts' opinions, the best HDTVs on the market. The company's Elite Kuro series earned the only "10" I've ever awarded in Performance for a flat-panel TV, while the superb non-Elite PDP-5020FD series were nearly as good, minus some adjustments and color accuracy (and plus about two grand).

Pioneer's factory in Pomona, Calif., will continue to manufacture these Kuro displays through April before it closes, according to the company, but after that I expect them to disappear quickly from store shelves. Of course, as long as the company itself is still around, I expect it to stand behind any Kuros it sells.

When the last Kuro disappears, the best flat-panel HDTV on the market could well be the THX-equipped Panasonic TC-PG10 series, which I reviewed last week. The short story is that the G10, while a superb HDTV in its own right, isn't as good as the Elite Kuro. Compared to the non-Elite 5020FD models, it's a closer match: the Kuro loses in terms of overall color accuracy, but still delivers superior black-level performance compared to the G10. Choosing between the two--money-no-object--I'd give the edge to the Kuro 5020FD.

Of course, if money were to enter into the equation, the story changes significantly. At Best Buy, the 50-inch non-Elite Kuro, otherwise known as the Pioneer PDP-5020FD, costs about $500 more than the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50G10, while the Elite PRO-111FD Kuro costs more twice (!) as much. Of course, other retailers charge different prices, but you get the idea. If I had to make a decision now, and was bound by a budget, I'd choose the Panasonic G10.

That said, judging from the e-mail I receive, there are plenty of HDTV shoppers out there who aren't bothered much by budgetary concerns, and for whom an extra $500 or $2,000 doesn't make a big difference. For them, the best choice is a Kuro, at least while it still is a choice.

In the coming days, weeks, and months I'll be reviewing a whole lot of other new HDTVs, such as Panasonic's step-up V10 series, Samsung's 850 series plasmas and new "LED" TVs, and LG's own THX-equipped PS80 plasmas (check out the Spring Preview for more). Any of these models, or perhaps a dark horse from another manufacturer, could conceivably replace the G10 as king of the post-Kuro picture quality hill. But if I were a betting man, I'd wager that no 2009 HDTV will outperform that "10" from 2008.