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When the Kuro range arrived last year, TV reviewers and techies alike made some rather impressed noises. Everyone who saw the remarkable blacks couldn't help but be amazed by how much Pioneer had done to improve plasma technology. It was also around the time that 1080p plasmas screens arrived and we saw a massive reduction in picture artefacts.
All of these improvements have enhanced plasma televisions, proved that LCDs have a credible competitor and shown there's plenty of choice out there for people with specific TV-related needs. So what does the £2,280 Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX5090 have to offer?
When we reviewed the LX6090 a few months ago we were sent the side-mounted speaker configuration. The LX5090 was sent to us with the under-screen mounted version, which in turn comes with a slightly different table stand that raises the TV slightly higher to accommodate the speaker bar. We like this configuration more because it takes up less space and will mean good things for people with limited space.
The TV itself is the same basic design as the other Kuro TVs. Black is a theme here, clearly designed to remind you at every moment that this TV is all about the absence of light. When you get it on a stand in the corner of your room you'll almost certainly spend at least an hour looking at it before you even turn it on. That's partially because it looks great turned off, but mostly because the master power switch is a pain to find -- it's on the back of the TV, at the bottom and expertly concealed.
At the back of the TV are the usual three HDMI sockets. These are complemented by three Scart inputs, a component RCA socket and a VGA connector. You'll also find RCA audio inputs, a subwoofer output and optical and coaxial digital outputs.
On the side there's a composite input, headphone output and a USB socket from which you can view photos at the touch of a button, handy if you want a £2,000-plus photo frame.
The remote control is also a construction of beauty. Fashioned out of sturdy materials like metal and decent quality plastic you can't help but wield it like a sword -- some sort of magical TV-channel-changing sword. It also has all the buttons where you would expect them, and they're easily activated. We would point out that for some reason, the IR sensor is on the other side of the power light, which means that sometimes the TV won't respond to your button-mashing. If that happens, point it to the right of the screen, and we'll wager all will work again.
Pioneer has an unusual approach to inputs on its TVs. The remote controller that comes with the 5090 has a series of buttons at the top, labelled 1-5 and PC. By default, the TV doesn't map each of its Scart, component, composite or even HDMI sockets to specific input -- instead you have to select what you want to be assigned to each of the numbered buttons. This works well once you figure it out, and means you are in control of what inputs you actually use. It also means that if you want to use all the sockets, you'll be in the menu system swapping things around from time to time.
The LX5090 is a 1080/24p TV, so it can accept Blu-ray movies in their native format. The TV displays these in such a way as to reduce motion judder, which some people find quite upsetting on movies.
The Pioneer has a few extra tricks that it can produce when required. Picture-in-picture mode is present and correct, and is actually quite useful on a screen this large. We were able to watch TV in the main window, while configuring our Popcorn Hour media streamer in a little PiP window. If you need it, there is also picture-by-picture, which provides two similar video windows next to one another, handy for keeping an eye on news and sport.
It's fair to say that the picture quality on the LX5090 blew us away. The Pioneer might cost a big lump of cash, but you'd have to have a pretty bad case of rabies not to love this TV from the very minute you set it up.
Freeview picture quality was nothing short of amazing. We generally expect a total mess on 50-inch TVs because Freeview is really targeted at smaller, mainly CRT TVs where an interlaced, highly compressed picture is no problem. On the 5090, Freeview looked sharp and detailed, even when we sat quite close, and all but the most hideous of channels were perfectly watchable. Some channels suffered from over-compression, such as More 4, which looks soft and blocky much of the time, but that's not the fault of the TV.
Freesat from a high-definition Grundig set-top box looked great on BBC HD and ITV's occasional high-definition offerings. The GB victory in wheelchair basketball over Brazil was especially brilliant, and not just because of the score -- the 1080i picture was beautifully deinterlaced, leaving the TV with a wonderfully detailed picture. There was a hint of jagged lines around some on-screen text, but nothing major and certainly not enough to ruin the experience of seeing BBC programmes in HD.
Next we fired up a Toshiba HD-EP35 HD DVD player. Sure, the format might be redundant now, but one of the best HD movies for picture quality is Transformers, and we simply had to see it on the LX5090. We weren't disappointed either, as there was so much detail in the picture that at certain points it felt like a Decepticon might exit the movie via the screen and join us on the sofa.
Blu-ray looked just as good. Our much-used Casino Royale disc got yet another outing, and we were thrilled to see that the quality was as high as ever, with loads of moody grain in the opening scene, which is in stark contrast with the bright and bold animated title sequence.
As we mentioned earlier, we opted for the single, under-screen speaker unit. This performed well in all of our tests, although we would hope that anyone spending well over £2,000 on a TV would be using an external speaker system. That said, when you want to watch EastEnders or you're in bed and a thumping subwoofer isn't realistic, they do a fine job. Vocal audibility is good, and there's even a respectable amount of bass to accompany your action movies.
Like its bigger brother the LX6090, the 50-inch Pioneer has so much to offer. It's substantially cheaper than the 60-incher, though we'll avoid describing it as cheap. The thing is, this TV is about as good as home entertainment gets without spending many thousands of pounds more on projection, which doesn't suit many living rooms.
So if you want one of the best TVs on the market, the LX5090 is for you. We still feel that the Panasonic plasma range offers very impressive performance for less money. So if you're looking for a strong rival, check out the Panasonic Viera TH-46PZ85 or, for added Freesat, the Panasonic Viera TH-46PZ81.
Edited by Marian Smith