A revamped cousin of Pioneer’s excellent Kuro Elite 50-inch and 60-inch plasma HDTVs, the 50-inch PRO-101FD monitor tested here (a 60-inch version is also available) is stripped of three features that many users don’t want or need. It has no speakers (as an external audio system is assumed), no built-in tuner (hence the monitor designation, as an external cable or satellite box/DVR is likely to provide the video signal) and no table-top stand (Pioneer assumes most monitors will be wall-mounted, although it does offer a table-top stand as an option). Custom integrator-friendly, the set features IP/LAN connectivity with the ability to set critical picture characteristics using a computer and web browser.
It is bittersweet that this Pioneer will be “the last of the Mohicans” as Pioneer has recently announced that, due to market pressures and high cost factors, it will be exiting the HDTV business in 2010. This news is doubly sad given that the firm’s recent Kuro Elite offerings have in many ways set the standard for plasma HDTV picture quality. Premium-priced (but still a bargain considering what similarly-sized plasma sets used to retail for just five or six years ago), Kuro sets continue to provide state-of-the-art picture quality that the majority of LCD flat panels can only aspire to.
Consider this HD Monitor if: you’re going to go with wall mounting, a cable or satellite tuner/DVR and an external audio setup, as you won’t be paying for speakers and a table-top stand that will most likely end up in a landfill. But most of all, consider the Kuro Elite if you value extraordinary picture quality; this set meets the color and gray scale specifications of the HDTV standard better than any other we’ve tested.
Look elsewhere if: you’ll be needing an ATSC/NTSC tuner for over-the-air local broadcasts, as well as supplied speakers and a table-top stand. Pioneer’s Kuro Elite HDTV sets provide these features and essentially the same picture quality as this monitor does, and at comparable prices.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced monitors):
The news here isn’t what this latest in Pioneer’s Kuro Elite monitor line (sub-branded as their “Signature Series”) has, but rather what it doesn’t have. Knowing full well that many customers will go with external audio systems and wall mounting, Pioneer does away with attached speakers and a table-top stand with this set, and the company also forgoes an internal ATSC/NTSC tuner. Instead, the emphasis is on custom installation friendliness, with IP/LAN connectivity for integrator setup. By deliberately leaving out features, the monitors are slimmer than comparable full-featured TV models, with a svelte 2 ½-inch cabinet depth. A deluxe owner’s manual package includes a certificate from the factory (here in the U.S where the set is assembled, I might add) stating the inclusion of specially-selected components and more thorough testing prior to shipment, including white balance calibration and phosphor pre-aging among others, along with web access to each set’s white balance calibration results. It also has additional configuration options that will appeal to the Hollywood post-production community who desire a reference-grade HD studio monitor.
Above average digital connectivity, with four HDMI inputs supplanted by an additional DVI input (which can be pressed into service as a fifth HDMI input with a suitable adaptor), the set only has one component video input and a solitary composite input, which might be an issue for some, and no side panel convenience connections, which should be no surprise for a set that is intended for wall-mounting. An RJ-45 IP/LAN port allows a custom integrator to get the set tuned up via a web browser. An analog PC input is also provided, which accepts resolutions of up to 1920x1200.
On Screen Display
I actually prefer Pioneer’s earlier OSD over this latest iteration, which is text-based and a tad plain-looking, but it’s a useful design that avoids common mistakes (such as taking up large areas of the screen, thus hindering picture adjustment tasks).
Here again, I prefer Pioneer’s earlier design, which had larger buttons with easier to read labels. The current design is somewhat cramped, with numerous small buttons that may have some users reaching for reading glasses. It is backlit though, which is a help. I’m guessing that for most custom-installation customers the remote will be replaced by a more user-friendly touch-screen setup.
While the Kuro Elite (like its cousins) features the usual Vivid, Sport and other picture memory settings, the only one you want to choose is Pure, which puts the set basically into studio monitor mode, with outstanding colorimetry and gray scale characteristics that, out-of-the-box, provide picture performance that is truly state-of-the-art. Choose the Pure mode, and you’ll instantly get calibrated video performance that is as good as it gets. The Pure mode also turns off just about all of the so-called picture “enhancement” functions, most of which aren’t necessary with quality video sources such as HDTV and Blu-ray.