Pioneer has completely re-engineered the PDP-428XDA plasma to produce a high performance TV -- prepare to be blown away by the deep blacks, rich colours and natural looking picture.
It's no secret that Pioneer has a long history of excellent televisions. We've looked at a good few of them over the years, and they have never failed to impress us. If the new Kuro screens don't live up to their hype, Pioneer has plenty to lose.
What is all this Kuro business anyway, and why does it matter? Simply put, Kuro translates from Japanese to 'black'. So Pioneer is essentially claiming that these screens are capable of producing the deepest blacks around. Indeed, they actually put a number on this in their press material, claiming 80 per cent better blacks. Is it true? To find out, we looked at the PDP-428XDA, the 720p Kuro screen.
Firstly, the 8XDA range is nothing short of beautiful. Where Pioneer has got it spot on is the simplicity and understated finish. This isn't an ostentatious TV -- it's simple and clean looking and will fit into any home.
The remote control continues this fabulous styling. It seems to say, 'we know you pay more for Pioneer TVs but there is a reason'. For a start, it's made out of metal, so it has a reassuring weight and balance. The buttons on the remote are excellent, too. They have a nice feel, and they don't squelch around like some do.
The logical styling continues to the back of the TV. There, you will find all the inputs you need, including a trio of HDMI sockets, VGA and component video inputs that all serve high-definition material. The rear panel is home to a set of audio outputs. There are RCA stereo out, optical digital out and a subwoofer out. The rear inputs are also sensibly located within a recess designed to make wall mounting easier.
On the right hand side of the screen, there is another input panel, where you'll find S-Video and composite video in, as well as a USB connection, which we'll go into shortly.
Features and Performance
Pioneer has built a number of features into this television designed to maximise its performance. First, there are the multitudes of processing systems, all of which have indecipherable names, the best of which is: 'true matrix imaging with deep waffle rib structure'. Despite the somewhat ludicrous name, this feature is key to producing a brighter image with less blur. It does this by separating the pixels in deeper channels, giving them more room away from their neighbours. There are some good explanations of the technology on the Kuro website.
The 428XD also improves its picture quality by adjusting the brightness of the screen depending on the ambient light levels and the content you're watching. There is a light sensor in the corner of the screen that monitors your surroundings and removes the need to mess about with settings manually. This isn't a new trick but if you watch TV during the day, you'll want to have the brightness higher than in a dark room at night.
Pioneer includes a USB socket on this TV which enables you to view your photos on screen, although it requires that you plug in a USB host compatible device. We tested this feature with some small images we downloaded off the Internet, and some shots from a dSLR. The Web images worked fine but the larger-sized images appeared to freeze the TV, and we had to reset it before it would respond again.
We were also rather taken with the Pioneer menu system, which is extremely well designed, and aesthetically pleasing. Simple functions are easy to find, with more complex ones just far enough out of reach to prevent novices messing up their picture.
This TV certainly does live up to its promise on black levels. The high contrasting space scenes in the Serenity HD DVD, for example, require an expert hand in order to reproduce the combination of strong black and well-lit spacecraft, and we were amazed at how 'black' deep space was. So, if really deep blacks are your thing, this TV won't disappoint.
We were also struck by how good the movie mode was on this TV. Watching Serenity, we noticed very fluid motion at the start, with very little film judder. The Pioneer manages to keep this smoothing to an appropriate level, so it doesn't generally feel unnatural.
We were really impressed by the PDP-428XDA's picture quality overall, although there were times when we thought the image looked a little soft on HD material. That said, the TV does ship with most of the picture enhancement settings turned on. This sounds good in theory but in practice, a good HD signal shouldn't need much image processing, so these settings can mess up the picture. As always, we'd recommend turning off most, if not all, image processing for HD sources, and perhaps try calibrating it as well -- see our story here.
One of the most impressive things we found with this television was the quality it managed to pull off regular DVDs. We used a Toshiba HD-E1, their low-end HD DVD player, set to upscale to 720p and stuck the Blade II DVD in the tray. Moments later, our jaws were on the floor... We've very rarely seen such amazing picture quality from a high definition TV displaying a DVD. If you've got a large collection of movies on DVD, you'll be thrilled with what this TV can do. We tried a number of DVD players with HDMI out, and every time the TV produced a great picture.
We noticed that this screen has very little dot crawl, something that we often see on plasma screens. We could see some sparkling pixels but these were far less noticeable than other PDPs we've seen before.
Sound on the Pioneer is good. In fact, this TV reproduces some of the best sound we've heard from a flat panel in quite some time. There is enough bass to add punch to soundtracks when needed, but dialogue is clear, too. We also like the dedicated subwoofer output. We hooked up a Jamo SUB 200, and loved the extra impact it gave us.
On the promise of deep blacks, the Pioneer PDP-428XDA delivers utterly and completely. However, we do feel that this Kuro's not the last word in detail -- some of the other TVs we've seen recently beat it here. Some of the new 1080p LCDs and plasmas, for example, do add more detail to the picture.
Available online for around AU$5,000, you may be able to find cheaper screens which boast 1080p. However, no screen can offer anywhere near the black level of this TV, though improvements in LCD backlighting could improve the situation in the not-too-distant future.