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Will any 2011 TV best the 2008 Pioneer Kuro?

With the 2011 crop of HDTVs just around the corner, CNET examines whether any will beat the best TV of all time.

Pioneer Kuros are still the best TVs ever made. Sarah Tew/CNET

In my opinion, the most amazing thing about the TV industry is this: in more than two and a half years, no TV has delivered better picture quality than the Pioneer Kuro line of plasma TVs.

Think about that for a second in the context of consumer technology's typically meteoric better/faster/stronger advancement. In the second half of 2008, when the last generation of Kuros appeared in stores, the now-obsolete iPhone 3G was the biggest deal in the world and the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, was a chunky also-ran. Netflix unlimited streaming (January) and (March) had just launched, while Windows 7 was still a year away. In the TV space LED backlights were still exotic, THX certification was only available on one TV, and the most-capable Internet-connected TVs touted streaming USA Today headlines.

Although Pioneer ceased manufacturing televisions in April 2009, the company's Kuro TVs are still the best today. The Elite PRO-111FD is still the only television I've awarded a perfect 10 in picture quality. None of the myriad sets I reviewed in 2009 or 2010 could compete. I still use the PRO-111FD as my reference 2D television, and anticipate doing so until something better comes along.

The question, at least among big spenders looking for the best TV money can buy this year, is whether something better than the Kuro will actually ship in 2011.

My guess, just as in 2009, is still "no."

Why the heck not?
After my CES 2011 report on the consensus best bet to outdo, or at least match, the Kuro's picture quality--Panasonic's upcoming VT30 series--a reader sent me an e-mail linking to info on the Kuro I'd never heard before.

Enthusiast site and information (over-) lode, where the Kuro is rightly enshrined in reverence by umpteen posters, has a great primer on zero black-level PDP research created late last year by poster "xrox." For the uninitiated, "black level" refers to the darkest shade of black a display can produce, zero is technically ideal, and PDP stands for plasma display panel.

The short story is that Pioneer's Kuro plasmas achieved their still-unsurpassed black-level performance with the help of two technologies: "MgO crystals on top of or embedded into the phosphor layer" and "spatial discharge to initialize the panel (also to produce low light emission in first subfield)," according to xrox's summary. Neither of these technologies has been implemented in 2010 plasmas, including those of Panasonic.

Based on conversations I've had with representatives of Samsung and Panasonic, I don't expect them to appear in 2011, either. Samsung claimed that the black levels for its best 2011 plasmas would match those of Panasonic's 2010 plasmas, which themselves fell short of Kuro blacks. When Panasonic's product manager was asked point-blank in my presence whether the VT30 employed any of the Kuro tech, namely MgO crystals, he said he didn't know (Panasonic bought the rights to many of Pioneer's patents).

Of course there's no way to know for sure until we can pit a PND8000 or VT30 (or a rumored ZT30) against a Kuro, but if I had to bet right now, my money would be on that old Pioneer.

I do still believe that current and soon-to-be-released high-definition TVs are and will be pretty dang good, will offer more features and extras than ever (like 3D), and will almost all cost less than Kuros did. I'm still psyched to review them.

For those reviews I will continue comparing flagship models against the best-performing TV ever, even if that TV seems a little long in the tooth. Maybe I should just move on, but every time I turn on that reference Kuro and see its picture in person, it's too tough to turn it off.