This isn’t something I normally blog about, but with me being a Photographer/Videographer who just happens to have 20/10 vision, I am a very discerning television reviewer. The rule of technology and TV’s in general is that each year the newest models released are the best TV’s available, this has always been true except for the last three years. This past week at the CES (consumer Electronics Show) 2011 show where manufacturers announce their greatest new products for the year brought several surprises. Panasonic released their flagship television and claimed that it’s black levels were even more “infinite.” A reporter at the event asked the question, “Yeah, but is it as good as the Kuro?” That’s an excellent question! First off, what is a “Kuro?” Kuro is japanese for “Black”, and is the name given to the discontinued line of the best plasma televisions created by Pioneer and Pioneer Elite. In 2008, Pioneer released it’s ninth generation Elite Plasma and at the time it was the most awarded television in history. It earned the title “Best Flat Panel Television ever made.” Fast forward three years and it’s still “The Best Flat Panel Television Ever Made.” How is this possible? I thought technology was supposed to get better each year. This is one of those weird instances in the history of technology where this “law of technology” just does not apply. You see, Pioneer Elite was years ahead of any other television on the market. At the time of release it was touted that the best Plasma Televisions were 5-6 years behind the KURO and the best LCD and LED TV’s were at least 10 years behind the KURO. Yes, you heard right, I am saying that Plasma TV’s create better picture than LCD/LED TV’s. Save your stones, I’m a professional videographer and know way more about televisions than just about anyone who sells them. The mark of a great TV is how ACCURATELY it depicts the video in the way it was shot. That means that anything running 120/240/480 hertz etc is already disqualified as it completely destroys the beauty of film. Most hollywood movies are shot in 24 frames per second, that’s a religious frame rate in Hollywood, when you triple that frame rate with an LCD, you have destroyed the look that those hollywood cinematographers and editors worked so hard to achieve. In fact, Wally Pfister, Oscar nominated Cinematographer films like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception etc… is a Kuro spokesman. Enough about LCD TV’s. They’re great if you want to “go green” and have a TV in the brightest room in the house, but if you want the absolute best picture quality, you have to go with a top-tiered plasma. Here is a short review by CNET (One of the Authorities on Television and other Product Reviews)
So what happened to the KURO? When the recession hit the United States in 2008, the sales of the ninth generation KURO nosedived. Pioneer had a 10th generation KURO prototype developed that promised to have even better picture quality and deep blacks but it was scrapped due to the decline in sales because of the recession. The Pioneer Elite PRO-111FD 50′ Plasma retailed for $5000 and the Pioneer Elite PRO-151FD 60″ retailed for $7500. The price point of this TV is what ultimately killed it. The best TV in the world definitely came at a high cost. However, these could be bought for as little as $2500 and $4500 from Best Buy towards the end of their cycle. Pioneer ultimately shut down their Television operation and decided to focus on audio components since they had dominated the Television market for over a decade and wanted to try their hand at making even better audio components. Pioneer sold many of its KURO patents to Panasonic sometime soon after Pioneer got out of the TV Market. Although Panasonic is unable to reproduce the dark blacks the KURO did or maintain those blacks over time, Panasonic currently makes the best Plasma which means… Panasonic currently makes the best TV… period.
Here are a just a few of the KURO’s Awards/Accolades
Pioneer Kuro – Sound & Vision Product of the Year “World’s BestPlasma vs. World’s Best LCD”
PC Magazine Editor’s Choice Dec 2008 & 2009 – “The Best HDTV You Can Get”
Business Week Technology Editor “The Kuro is still the best HDTV on the market”
CNET in 2010 “Pioneer Kuro which still reigns supreme as the best HDTV overall”
Home Theater Magazine – “Greatest Flat Panel Ever”
HDTVs Review – “Pioneer Kuro will still be rated #1 ten years from now”
Channel News – “The Pioneer Kuro plasma-TVs has set the standard for picture quality in the flat panel market for some time with arch rivals LG and Samsung recently admitting that it was a “Superior” plasma TV technology”
A photo from CES (courtesy of engadget.com) demonstrating the Black Levels on the 8th Generation Kuro (left) and the upcoming 10th Generation Kuro (right). Sadly, the “Ultimate Black” TV was cancelled just a few months from release
I’ve mentioned “black levels” a few times already and most of you probably don’t know or don’t even care what that means. Does it really matter? Well Pioneer thought it mattered enough to name their TV after this fact, and as we’ve already established, they made the best TV’s of all time. Black levels basically means the ability of the TV to create total blackness. The Pioneer Elite KURO created the absolute darkest blacks of any TV ever created. You could have the TV on a pitch black scene in a dark room and you wouldn’t even know the TV was turned on. Most LCD’s created a dark grey or a glowing “black” appearance on black scenes, but the KURO could create almost an “infinite black.” One of the biggest selling points of TV’s these days is the “Contrast Ratio”, meaning the range from darkest black to brightest white. The best LCD TV’s now produce 1:5,000,000 contrast ratios. They achieve this by making their TV’s brighter. Don’t get me wrong, LCD/LED’s produce decent black levels, but because the KURO’s black levels were so dark they contrast ratio was “unmeasurable” stated as being “near infinite.” The black levels are the canvas of any picture and darker blacks create an environment for better color accuracy and more realistic picture quality which the KURO possessed as well. Now days, the KURO has become something of a legend. If you walk into an electronics store and ask a specialist if they have a TV as good as the KURO, they’ll usually laugh and say something like, “I wish!” This TV has recently sold for over $10000 used on Amazon and $12000 new on eBay. That’s right, it’s brought over double its original MSRP. The last time I was in Ultimate Electronics I even asked the manager where I could buy the best TV in the world and he stated simply, “eBay!”
A short video talking about the KURO’s Blacks and Contrast Ratio
So if money is no option and you want the absolute best Television ever created by human hands, the Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD and 151FD can be bought for a premium on eBay… if you can still find them. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait what could be another 4-5 years for a TV that’s as good as these Pioneer sets were back in 2008. Quite the escape from the technology norm, but quite a feat by Pioneer as well! I love listening to people talk about how their TV is the best TV on earth as I sit thinking to myself, “is that news reporters skin supposed to look pink” or watching flowers on their set thinking, ” These flowers have colors that would make Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd nervous.” The truth is, after watching a Pioneer Elite KURO TV for a couple of years, its very hard to watch anything else. So buyer beware… THE KURO WILL SPOIL YOU as it’s hands down the BEST HDTV EVER MADE! – and you will NOT want to watch any other TV!