Pioneer Elite Pro 111FD Plasma
The Kuro Elite plasma line has been dubbed by one reviewer as perhaps the best displays ever manufactured. This is not quite as hyperbolic as it sounds, though I have a somewhat more nuanced view of this. The Kuro Elites—indeed the Kuro line in general—offer the best simultaneous contrast of any display technology that has ever been produced to my knowledge. This is not the on/off contrast that manufacturers typically quote, but the less-often quoted ANSI, or checkerboard, contrast. Although the Kuros offer the best on/off contrast of any flat panel display technology (OLED may surpass this, but I haven't seen one of these), other displays can boast an even higher figure. However, the Kuro simultaneous contrast significantly surpasses every display technology I have ever encountered. This is an enormous technical achievement.
The only reason that I resist the "best display ever" designation is that contrast, although very important, is only one measure of display performance. In other respects, the standard Kuros are good, but not world-beating. The Elites, however, (especially after calibration) are capable of truly outstanding performance in a wide variety of areas important to overall image quality, but this can be said of other displays as well. Also, it is important to remember that the Kuro's achievement comes at a price. They are the most expensive plasmas on the market, and the Elites are the most expensive plasmas by a rather large margin. This high cost no doubt limits their market saturation, which is probably what accounts for the fact that Pioneer had a hard time making money selling them, and will be exiting the plasma manufacturing business (Don't worry. Pioneer will license the Kuro technology to Panasonic, which will manufacture them for Pioneer who will continue to sell them under their brand. We will see if this business model succeeds where the previous one failed.)
To sum up, I would say that the Kuros in general are the best flat panel displays for on/off contrast and the best displays of any type for simultaneous contrast. The Kuro Elites are certainly on the short list for the best displays available where cost is no object.
The Elites offer a nice mix of controls that give the calibrator considerable control over the image (the Samsung plasmas are still the champ in this area). Fortunately, in those areas where it does not offer controls (color decoding, for example), performance is good enough that not much adjustment is required. The user menu contains adjustments for:
The Elite color management system (CMS) is quite primitive. A comprehensive CMS offers 3D control over the primary and secondary colors in the 3 aspects of color performance: hue, saturation, and lightness. The Elite CMS is only 1D, offering adjustments for hue only. However, using the correct preset, I was able to get excellent hue and saturation results as shown in the chart below, so very little adjustment was required. Using the CMS, I was able to improve the secondaries a little.
As you can see, the color points are very close to the targets set by the Rec.709 standard. The color decoding was just as good, though it required adjusting the main color control a little to achieve this.
Color decoding is a not-entirely-accurate phrase that generally refers to the relative brightness of the colors. Most consumers don't understand this because the only chart they ever see that depicts color performance is the CIE chart shown above. But this chart does not display color brightness, which would require a three-dimensional representation. In any case, it is an incredibly important aspect of color performance that receives far too little attention.
Contrast and light output
Out of the box the image was very bright, in fact too bright for comfortable evening viewing. Also, you should not max out a plasma's contrast setting in the first 100 hours of use if you want to avoid problems with image burn-in. After lowering the contrast and properly adjusting brightness, I measured an on/off contrast ratio of 17,875:1 (40.1/0.002 fL). Actually, the black level was so low that it very hard to read. The 0.002 fL is a mathematical approximation. The actual measured value was slightly higher. Even more amazing was the ANSI or checkerboard contrast. I measured a 0.004 black level, and a peak white of 29.1 fL for an ANSI contrast figure of 6850:1. As I pointed out in the introduction, this is an amazing technical achievement and far surpasses any display technology I have ever encountered.
Also, as is typical of factory settings—especially for plasma displays for some reason—the gamma was much too low initially, especially at the high end. Putting the display into the correct preset (Pure is by far the most accurate) resolved the gamma problem. I now was able to measure a nearly perfect 2.2 reading across the entire range. This is exemplary performance.
Having a linear gamma in the correct range (2.2-2.6) is very important for perceived image depth and dynamic contrast.
In the default setting the gray scale was too blue. This was easily remedied by the white balance adjustments located conveniently in the user menu. Other than at 100% stimulus where blue falls off a little, as you can see from the charts below post-calibration the grayscale dE was 2.0 or below and typically below 1.0. This is very good performance.
When finished, we tuned to a high-definition cable channel and were both impressed by the clarity, sharpness, depth, and realism that the display provided. It was simply one of the best images I have ever seen. Because of the great processing and inherent advantages in viewing angle, I saw none of the image artifacts you occasionally see on even high-end LCD models. Because of the astonishing color accuracy and nearly perfect grayscale tracking, skin tones looked deeply saturated but also completely natural, without any hint of sunburn or yellow or orange tinge that you see too often on displays who lack the Elite's color performance.
I don't generally have much to say regarding subjective impressions, because unlike audio, video performance is very well predicted by objective measurements. If a video display measures well, then it will look good for the simple reason that virtually all of the parameters important to video quality are fairly well understood. When properly adjusted, the Kuro Elite measures nearly perfectly, so no one should be surprised that the image it produces is gorgeous. Other than price, I am hard-pressed to think of anything to criticize. It offers color performance that is nearly as good as the Samsung, but provides on/off and ANSI contrast that is substantially better. Other areas important to image quality, such as processing, noise reduction, and gamma all showed excellent performance.
If you can afford it, then this definitely my top pick for a flat panel display.