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Pioneer Kuro PDP-20FD review:

Pioneer Kuro PDP-20FD

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Connectivity on the PDP-5020FD is as comprehensive as we expect from such an expensive HDTV. There are a total of four HDMI inputs, with three on the rear and one on the side. The back panel includes one component-video input, one AV input with S-Video and composite video, one AV input with only composite video, a PC input (1,280x1,024-pixel maximum resolution), an RF input for cable and antenna, an analog audio output, and an optical digital audio output, along with a LAN port. The side panel adds another AV input, a headphone jack, and a USB port that works with the Home Media Gallery.

Pioneer PDP-5020FD
An HDMI input and a USB port highlight the easy-access side panel connections.

If you read the introduction of this review, then you know the sound bite: the Pioneer PDP-5020FD produces the deepest level of black we've ever seen among TVs larger than 11 inches. These deep blacks help the image pop and add realism and life to colors. Speaking of color, the Pioneer isn't as accurate as we'd like to see, and its Smooth picture mode introduces numerous artifacts, but in most other areas it's a superb performer.

Much like the THX mode of the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U, the Movie mode of the Pioneer didn't require much tweaking get it to produce its best home theater picture. Light output was almost exactly 40 footlamberts, our nominal post-calibration standard, and we only had to tweak brightness and color a tiny bit. We measured a color temperature that was a bit reddish, and primary colors were definitely off, so we would have preferred the capability to adjust both. That's not an option on the non-Elite models, however, so our list of ideal picture settings is short and sweet.

Pioneer makes a big deal about its auto-adjusting Optimum mode, but for critical viewing we preferred Movie. In our dark room, Optimum crushed detail in blacks, oversaturated colors, and made the image a bit brighter than we'd like to see. When we turned up the lights Optimum increased brightness a lot less than we expected, but the more saturated look was still there. Some viewers might appreciate the convenience of leaving the TV in one mode that adjusts the picture automatically, however.

For our dose of critical viewing we set the PDP-5020FD up next to its predecessor, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD; its main competition among high-end plasmas, the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U plasma (we chose that model instead of the flagship TH-50PZ850U since the 800U performed better in our tests); and the most-impressive LCD we've reviewed this year, Samsung's LN52A650. We chose an old favorite reference Blu-ray Disc, I Am Legend, played via an old favorite Blu-ray player, the Sony PlayStation 3.

Black level: The superiority of the 5020FD's depth of black was visible everywhere, but was most obvious in dark scenes, such as when Will Smith runs over the zombies on the end of the pier. The black areas like the silhouette of his decoy, the shadows under the bridge, and the paint of his SUV appeared darker than any on the other sets in the room. Last year's Pioneer took second place in the darkness stakes, followed by the Panasonic plasma and finally the Samsung LCD. Of course, the Samsung and especially the Panasonic are capable of producing black levels deep enough to satisfy most contrast-hungry videophiles, and the Pioneer's extra depth was most obvious in a side-by-side comparison. Still, when the PDP-5020FD's black frame appeared just a couple hairs lighter than the black screen itself, we found our eyes gravitating toward its picture in preference to the others.

Shadow detail on the 5020FD was every bit as good as the Panasonic, so we saw the all of the stubble on Smith's face and detail in the vents of his dashboard as he crashed through the zombies. As expected after seeing such good shadow detail, gamma was also superb, according to our measurements, averaging just fewer than 2.2, so we didn't miss having a gamma control to change it.

Watching test patterns, we saw the level of black fluctuate a tiny bit when we changed from very bright to very dark patterns, but this issue, unlike a similar effect we saw on the Sony KDL-46W4100 LCD, was not visible in program material as far as we could tell. At the end of Chapter 3, for example, when Smith shuts up his apartment for the evening, black stayed stable under the fading light.

Color accuracy: As you can see from the Geek Box, the Pioneer didn't score particularly well at primary color accuracy. Like those of many displays, its primary and secondary color points, particularly red and green, didn't conform closely to the HD standard. The green of the trees lining the Greenwich Village streets appeared a bit greener and bluer than the reference Panasonic and the Samsung, for example, and the red outfit of a dummy in the record store was likewise off a bit. Smith's skin tone also looked a bit ruddier than those two displays, which we blame on a combination of the somewhat reddish color temperature and that primary color of red. These issues certainly didn't spoil our enjoyment of the film, however, and the combination of deep blacks and accurate color decoding allowed the Pioneer to beat the rest of the displays at producing rich, saturated colors.

Video processing: The Smooth setting on the PDP-5020FD is the same as last year's version, and it's designed to smooth out the judder characteristic of film-based sources. Many viewers, ourselves included, prefer to keep that judder intact for a more film-like, as opposed to video-like, look. As with other such dejudder modes we've tested, Smooth on the Pioneer made Legend feel more like video. Some people like the smoothness, however, so we suppose it's a nice option to have, but it did introduce more artifacts than a similar dejudder mode on the Samsung LCD.

The worst effect was breakup during movement. For example, as the red Mustang speeds around a corner onto 34th Street, its white stripe appeared to separate from the car and trail behind briefly, before catching up again. Similar breakup occurred around Smith's head as he moved through a record store. Neither of these effects was visible on the Samsung.

Another option that Pioneer didn't change since last year's model is the 72Hz refresh rate imparted by selecting Advanced from the PureCinema menu. Since 72 is a multiple of 24, the TV can theoretically preserve the film's rate of judder and not have to engage 2:3 pull-down detection as a typical 60Hz display must. After setting our PS3 to 1080p/24 mode we checked out one of our favorite scenes for evaluating smoothness versus judder, the long helicopter shot in Chapter 7 that eventually finds Smith hitting golf balls off the wing of a spy plane parked on the USS Intrepid. Indeed, the Pioneer's advanced mode made the movement appear a bit smoother, without that hitch associated with 2:3 pull-down, although to our eyes the difference was subtle. Still, for videophiles who want to utilize their Blu-ray players' 1080p/24 mode, Advanced is worthwhile.

Unlike many HDTVs we've tested, the PDP-5020FD successfully deinterlaced film-based material. Naturally it displayed every line of 1080i and 1080p sources, although compared with the non-1080p PDP-5080HD right next to it, we found it nearly impossible to see any difference in detail from our seating distance of eight feet.

Bright lighting: The PDP-5020FD has the same antireflective screen as the PDP-5080HD, and it performed admirably when we opened up the blinds and tuned on the lights, attenuating reflections better than either the Panasonic or the glossy-screened Samsung LCD. Compared with the Panasonic, the Pioneer sets also did a better job of preserving black levels in bright environments.

Standard definition: According to our standard-definition tests, the PDP-5020FD scored a bit above average. It passed every line of DVD resolution and details looked relatively good--better than the Panasonic and about the same as the Samsung--on the grass and stone bridge. When fed images of a waving American flag and rotating diagonal lines, it did a solid job of eliminating jaggies. The set lacks a noise reduction control, but the Optimum and Performance picture modes were quite effective at squelching motes of noise in shots of skies and sunsets--the other modes didn't do as well. Finally, the set engaged 2:3 pull-down effectively, although it took a half-second longer than the other displays to lock into film mode.

PC: With a digital connection the Pioneer performed as well as we expect any 1080p flat-panel, delivering every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel PC signal with sharp text. We saw some edge enhancement in the standard settings but selecting Movie mode, or cranking down Sharpness eliminated it completely. As usual, the analog connection was a disappointment, only accepting resolutions up to 1,280x1,024-pixels. Naturally the image looked softer and stretched to fill the screen, so we'd recommend PC users go digital.

Before color temp (20/80) 6288/6322 Good
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation 206K Good
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.668/0.325 Poor
Color of green 0.27/0.653 Poor
Color of blue 0.146/0.057 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Pioneer PDP-5020FD Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 293.33 272.67 269.2
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.27 0.26 0.25
Standby (watts) 0.42 0.42 0.42
Cost per year $91.05 $84.66 $83.58
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Poor
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

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