When a plasma TV was as widely commended as the last generation KURO, it was always going to be a tough act to follow. Have Pioneer done enough to justify their status at the top?
From a design point of view it can’t really be faulted – a simple gloss black bezel surrounds the screen, with a single Pioneer logo front bottom centre. There is no shouting about any other onboard technology, until, that is, you peer at the top, where you’ll find the HDMI, Dolby, SRS and DVB logos.
Ok, it’s a slight lie, as down in the bottom left corner are the LEDs that reveal the screen's status. You can adjust the brightness of the blue "On" LED, but unfortunately you can’t turn it off completely for that perfect home cinema experience.
The KURO can be wall mounted, but the stand is a straight-up sturdy lump, there is no swivel or adjustment, partly due to the size and weight of such a screen, plus, if you are interested in screen of this standard then you should be looking in detail at where you position your screen, rather than making last minute tweaks with swivel.
Connections-wise you should be well catered for. The KURO boasts three HDMI, three SCART, and a Component connection, plus VGA for a PC hook-up, as well as PC audio input, should you need it (as well as the aerial and common interface). On the side of the screen you’ll find additional connections AV as well as USB, for photo viewing, for example. As some of these inputs are shared, you have to switch over to the HDMI connections in the menu when you set-up your screen.
It is a shame, however, that there is no HDMI on the side, as you’ll find on many screens, so if you have a high-def camcorder, you’ll have to scrabble around the back to connect it, which isn’t ideal on a screen this size.
You will also find L and R audio out, and the connection for the subwoofer, optical as well as speaker terminals. There is also an SR+ control connector. The KURO has an integrated digital amplifier for a range of speaker options, including mounting on the side of, or under, the screen. This also accounts for the SRS logo on top of the screen. We found the under-slung speaker provided great all-round performance with impressive bass.
Out of the box, the KURO will auto-tune the onboard digital Freeview tuner (and analogue, if you wish). The included EPG is functional, but not exactly ground-breaking. For example, when you enter the EPG, you don’t get a preview screen, or even the sound from the channel you were on, you are just plunged into silence. Although such things are easily changed with a software upgrade, it doesn’t really feel that exciting.
In use and you’ll find that on this size of screen standard definition content suffers. Watching SD digital TV is something you get used to and given sufficient viewing distance is passable, but it is an unfortunate reality that if you don’t have an HD broadcast from the likes of Sky HD or Freesat, you’ll have to live with the compromise. Upscaled DVD, however, still looks very good, if a little on the soft side.
But the chances are you are looking to get the most out of your HD home cinema set-up, and once connected to your Blu-ray player, the results start to justify the kudos surrounding the KURO. At 1080p, 24fps, "true to the original" as Pioneer say, the experience is simply breathtaking. There is a whole host of technology packed in to get the most out of the screen, with various enhancements and noise reduction options. There are also light sensors, so the screen can adjust to give you the best performance as the ambient light conditions change.
We watched a number of Blu-ray titles, from the sweeping landscapes seen in The Water Horse to faster-paced action in The Bank Job, and the KURO delivers outstanding results. Pioneer’s mantra is about perfecting perfect black and when you turn the lights down, you can really see it. Compared to LCD screens with their backlight bleed, in a darkened home cinema setting, the plasma is leagues ahead of the game.
Pioneer are claiming that this version of the KURO they have further reduced the idling luminance and improved black levels five-fold. However, on a standalone basis, without an "inferior" quality screen for comparison, you perhaps wouldn’t know how good the Pioneer is.
Take the screen out of the home cinema setting and whilst the same performance remains, you get the feeling you could have the same results at a lower price: so this is very much a beast for a purpose.
The settings give you a wide range of controls, including the normal colour presets, but the Optimum mode seemed a great default. There is a dedicated Game setting, although to be truthful, we couldn’t detect any substantial differences. We connected the KURO to the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles for some high-definition gaming and again were very impressed with the results. Gaming on a screen this size is totally immersive and makes you wish more developers would take advantage of the consoles' HD power.
Also worthy of note are the split screen/picture-in-picture options, which means you can do two things at once, watching an input and the digital tuner at the same time, for example. It works very well, which some TV PIP options don’t.
The remote control continues that great feeling of quality. Topped with brushed aluminium, it is weighty device, unlike the cheap plastic that remotes so often are. You don’t want your dog to chew this one up. The remote is also programmable and a number of codes are provided to do this; we set it to control our Samsung Blu-ray player with no problems. You also get dedicated input selector buttons, which makes life much easier than menu-based systems.
The Pioneer KURO PDP-LX5090 is a television that makes you want more: it makes you want to get the best from your home cinema set-up and deservedly so. It distinctly has a purpose, and settling down to watch a movie in front of the screen is a great experience; gaming too is an absolute blast in high definition.
But it is not without faults, rectifiable and superficial they may be, and the argument is that the core, the display, is the best quality around. Our only major criticism with the KURO lies in the digital EPG, which seems to let the side down. That said, if you are looking at this sort of screen, then you should be looking at HD sources, which may come with their own programme guide, such as the Sky HD offering. The lack of a side HDMI is also an irritation when it comes to ad-hoc connections.
You can expect to pay around £2500 for the PDP-LX5090, depending on the options you take with your Pioneer dealer.