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Pioneer's Kuro: As Good As It Gets?

and its use by Pioneer refers to the low black levels its plasmas are claimed to produce.

THERE'S ALWAYS A CATCH

At both angles, I saw and measured greater drop-off in image brightness than I have with other plasma monitors and HDTVs. That would seem to indicate a more sophisticated level of polarization somewhere in the front glass, which would cut down on reflected light and drop black levels even lower.

How much drop-off? I used a Minolta CL200 handheld luminance/color temperature meter and a tape measure to position the meter's eye 36 inches distant and about 45 degrees above and below the centerline of the plasma HDTV. I performed the same test on a Panasonic 50-inch 1080p plasma monitor for comparison.

Light fall-off on the Panasonic at +45 degrees and -45 degrees measured around 35 percent of the on-axis reading. The decrease in brightness was much higher on the Pioneer, averaging 65 percent at +45 degrees and -45 degrees. That alone would indicate there is some sort of advanced light path filtering going on, and it's most likely polarizing.

This drop-off in illumination is readily seen. Overall brightness also appears down slightly from previous models, with full white screen readings of 50 nits to 60 nits on the PRO-110FD coming well under the 65 nits to 73 nits readings I took using the same test pattern on the older PRO-FHD1.

This isn't to say the newer design is unusable in anything but a darkened room, but I'd avoid ambient light spillage as much as possible with the PRO-110FD. How it would hold up in a digital signage application is hard to say — small area full white readings did hit a peak of 163 nits in dynamic image mode.

PIECE DE RESISTANCE

Pioneer has been able to engineer substantial improvements into plasma technology. In a day and age when it's easy to disparage plasma in favor of LCD, the PRO-110FD proves there's plenty of life left in the old dog. And the emphasis on picture quality, instead of producing torch-like bright images, is indeed refreshing.

There are still many of us who vote for best image quality over brightest image every time, and we all fell hard in love with Canon's Surface-Conduction Electron-emitting Display (SED) when it was first shown at CES a few years back. Unfortunately, the SED is tied up in a complex of legal and technical problems that may prevent it from ever reaching our shores.

In the meantime, Pioneer has shown that it can achieve SED-like image quality with 1920 x 1080 resolution in 50-inch glass (the SED's targeted size and pixel count) and make it into a mass-produced, shippable product.

The remaining issue for plasma to overcome is power consumption. In my eight-hour tests with everyday content, the PRO-110FD consumed just over 400 watts — decent for a 50-inch plasma, but nowhere near the projected 80-100 watts that a comparably sized SED would consume.

On-going research at the Advanced PDP Development Corp. in Japan has shown that it's possible to get plasma luminous efficiency as high as 6 lumens per watt, which would drop the PRO-110FD's power consumption down well under 100 watts. Combine improved black levels, accurate colors, and lower power consumption, and plasma will continue to be a strong player in the consumer and professional markets for years to come.

Contributing editor Pete Putman is president of ROAM Consulting in Doylestown, Pa. He can be reached at pete@hdtvexpert.com.



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