Pioneer 500A (KRP-500A) Kuro Plasma TV Review

Have Pioneer released the best reference Plasma yet? Phil Hinton gets a sneak peek at the KRP-500A and is blown awayâ?¦

by Phil Hinton
TV Review

39

Pioneer 500A (KRP-500A) Kuro Plasma TV Review
SRP: £2,800.00

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It is not normal for AVForums reviews to cover an item which is not seen in our review facilities. However when we were granted unprecedented access to the Pioneer KRP-500A at TLC Broadcast’s demo rooms – ahead of an arranged Forums event – we jumped at the chance to be the first in the UK to really give the TV the once over.

The KRP-500A has Pioneer going back to the days of a separate media receiver. The advantages of this approach allow for a neat solution when wall mounting, as you only need to run a power cable and the new display port cable to the TV. The remaining components are then connected to the media receiver which sits neatly, with its gloss black finish, in your AV rack. The other advantage of this set up is the fact the TV no longer has tuners and other components built into the panel, so in turn the screen gets slimmer - 64mm thin with the KRP-500A.

Looking at the Pioneer from the front you could be mistaken for assuming it is an all in one plasma TV like the PDP-LX5090, the first of the 9th Generation screens to be released by Pioneer back in June 2008. It has that sleek Kuro look with the high gloss black surround, but if you look closely you start to notice some changes. The first obvious difference for me is the Pioneer logo. On previous screens this has been a silver badge that protrudes from the bezel at the bottom of the screen. On the KRP it is still there, but now forms part of the bezel, i.e. it has been sunk into the surround material. Another plus point for me, (being an LX5090 owner), is that the blue led on the front left edge of the screen is now back to being pin sized. On the LX5090 it is much larger and can be distracting, yet on the KRP it is small enough to remain unnoticed, like the previous 8G models.

The media receiver is also an item of beauty. This sleek gloss black box just screams high end when placed in an AV rack or next to the screen. It has a minimalist look with just a small blue power on light at the far right hand side. The flap at the front hides a host of connections which include two access card slots (PCMCIA CAM), one for satellite and one for analogue, along with an HDMI, USB, Analog RGB, composite, audio inputs and a headphone jack. The right hand side also has input and power selectors. Moving around the back of the media receiver there are three HDMI inputs, three scart, one component, audio outputs, RS232, aerial and satellite inputs, plus a Lan connection and the display port to the TV panel. The satellite tuner is not being marketed as Freesat as it doesn’t have the full functions available. It should pick up free to air channels but will not have the red button interactive facilities.

Last thing in the box to unpack, (or not if your serious about picture quality), is the colour sensor probe. This is a small black rectangle with a magnetic strip which can sit anywhere around the TV frame. It is used with the Optimum mode on the TV, more about that later.

Once the TV was powered up, I checked out the new menu system, which makes its debut on the KRP-500A. This is a move away from the standard menu screen we have become accustomed to on the 8G and LX 9G screens. The new menu switches the picture to a small box on the right hand side with the selections on the left. There is also a new brushed metal look to the graphics with the tool, return, menu and EPG buttons seen on the remote, in each corner of the new menu layout. There are a couple of further changes with selections available on the menu list, including home media gallery. This is DNLA compliant and allows you to stream music, video and pictures over your network via the Lan connection. This works extremely well and in no time we were streaming MP3 tracks and home videos to the KRP. Playback of the video was also very good when fed an HD source.

Moving further through the menus and the only other obvious changes are the optimum mode which now offers a histogram feature, and the Pure mode. Pure mode replaces the sports option on the old menu system, but it offers so much more in picture performance, as I will explain later. The optimum mode feature is updated and now displays within the selectable histogram, what the TV is doing to change the picture settings according to the room lighting and viewing conditions. It does this by feeding information from the colour sensor which sits on the TV, every three seconds. This is nothing more than a gimmick feature in my opinion. If you want the best performance from the KRP I would suggest that you leave the sensor in the box and concentrate on the new Pure mode in the picture selection menus.

Rounding off our over view of the KRP is the new remote control unit. Again this takes on a quality feel with a machined metal finish. The buttons are well laid out and on the KRP the main controls are now backlit in a funky neon blue colour. Full access to all the TVs features are available via the remote control.

Out of the Box and Calibration

Pioneer is one of only a handful of manufacturers to supply full calibration controls on their TVs. This obviously appeals to real Home Cinema enthusiasts who want the best possible picture quality. They will understand the benefits of an ISF calibration. However at this moment in time not many people appreciate how much they can improve the picture quality on their TVs. If only manufacturers could get the sets out of the box to have the best possible starting point. Obviously proper calibration will be influenced by the sources and the viewing environment, and every TV is slightly different, but just getting a TV close out of the box would help.

No TV we have measured here at AVForums has ever been this close to accurate out of the box. That’s why in this section of each review we let you know how far away the review model is from perfect, and what can be done to improve it.

You can forgive my enthusiasm at the initial results we managed with the KRP-500A. To set the scene correctly I have to explain the new Pure mode. This comes from the US where Pioneer screens have had this option for a number of years now. The reason is that the US market is about 7 years ahead of the UK and a large following of demanding videophile enthusiasts has grown over time. With the KRP-500A is looks like Pioneer are acknowledging that the UK is growning a similar audience. There is no doubt that Pioneer have been the choice of the videophile over the last two years, so it's refreshing to see the company listening to enthusiasts like AVForums members and finally adding the Pure mode. Replacing the old sports setting (in the picture selection menu header), Pure mode turns off all the picture processing such as noise reduction, and sets the sharpness to -15 and colour to -3. So how did it measure?

Well the latest Pioneers have two colour space selections and in previous models [colour space 1] has been over saturated against the rec709 gamut and [colour space 2] under saturated. However it has changed slightly on the KRP-500A in Pure mode. Now in this selection [colour space 2] is exactly right when it comes to the rec709 gamut. So this is the only TV we have ever measured out of the box that has not only hit almost all the points for primary and secondary colours, but does so with an almost flat greyscale and temperature of almost bang on D65. I was so surprised that I forced the TV back to factory mode and re-measured it three times before believing what I was seeing. And again this is not just a fluke due to this model being a pre-production set. We tested the finished production 600M model and it is exactly the same. So ladies and gentlemen we have found the most accurate, broadcast standard TV available on the market out of the box!

Out of the box results

Obviously this performance is stunning and you may think that things can’t get any better, but let's apply some ISF tweaking... With some time spent fine tuning the 500A with our calibration equipment we were able to get things 100% on the Pioneer, again another situation that is rare with a consumer TV. You would have to spend four times as much on a broadcast monitor to get close to what this Pioneer can do out of the box. Indeed there was a professional PF10 Panasonic monitor in the same room while I was conducting these review tests and it was pretty obvious that the 500A was more accurate and had a dynamic range (contrast ratio) that simply blew the Panasonic screen away.

Fine tuned result

So setting this screen to Pure mode and [colour space 2] out of the box, you are guaranteed a picture performance that has never been seen out of the box before. Add to that an ISF calibration to fine tune the set and your various sources and this is by far the best performance I have seen from a consumer TV. (It should be noted that the 500/600M monitor model is the same in this respect).

That should about cover the picture set up area of this review, but we must mention the absolutely terrible Optimum mode. This has been on the previous 8G and 9G Pioneer screens where it uses a small colour sensor built in to the TV frame. This sensor detects the ambient lighting conditions so that Optimum mode can automatically set the picture brightness and colours 'appropriately'. This facility cannot be used with any other selection other than Optimum. You could describe it as a fully automatic set up procedure device. On the 500A it gets a face lift and the addition of the separate colour sensor and a histogram of what it is doing to the picture performance.

Now lets get one thing clear here, this is a gimmick. Not everyone who will buy this TV will use it in the accurate Pure mode (in recent research it was shown that 30% of the buying public never touch the picture settings on their TVs when purchased), so this mode would certainly be appealing to that type of customer. Pioneer has added all the nice flashy graphics and charts to make it appealing to show off to your mates. However personally if I was spending this much money on a TV I would want the very best picture quality and not an inaccurate gimmick mode. I have no doubt the subjective reviewers out there who review everything in factory settings will have a field day saying how great this feature is. If you’re serious about quality and seeing it as the director intended, stay well away from this mode.

Picture performance

Once I was satisfied we couldn’t squeeze any more from the 500A through calibration, I sat back to watch material from various sources. The 500A was set up next to an LX5090 from Pioneer and a PDP-508XD. All the sets where calibrated with the 500A in Pure mode and the two other screens in movie mode, (the closest those sets have to Pure).

In the coverage of the event at TLC Broadcast, Pioneer's Dominic Freeney tells us about Pure mode why there are differences between the 500A and the 5090
[video=65]

Starting off with normal SD material was an eye opener. The 500A looked crisp and natural with very little noise in the image. This was surprising as Pioneer had claimed there shouldn’t be any major differences between the 500A and the 5090. However it was clear to see that the KRP was smoother and more pleasing on the eye than the 5090. I am a little stuck on why there are differences and indeed asking Pioneer didn’t provide any firm answers either. It would appear that because these models are three months on from the first 9G screens, along with having new components and no internal tuners, they have an edge in picture terms. Plus the fact that [colour space 2] is also now accurate to the standard and the all in one models are still under saturated in this mode also adds some further evidence of the differences.

Standard definition looked very good with the excellent processing from the Pioneer. There is still some noise and edge definition missing with SD, but nothing is going to ever change that.

Next we used HD content from SKY and Planet Earth on BBC HD looked utterly breathtaking. The shadow detail and vivid, yet accurate colour saturation added an unbelievable, three dimensional feel to the images. The blacks were super deep but not at the expense of fine detail in the shadows, and colours like the lush green foliage of the forests looked extremely realistic. Edge definition was also stunning with no signs of noise and indeed this was the 500A’s big plus point.

Even feeding Blu-ray in the guise of Sunshine just had me wanting to watch the whole movie. The opening scenes of the spaceship as the camera pans from the bright front end, to the backside in the darkness was a sight to behold. The amount of fine detail seen in the black dark areas of the ship is incredible. Comparing screens with this scene paused; you could see where the accuracy of the 500A was pulling away from the other two Pioneer screens. We could see the finest detail on the KRP but on the other two screens it just wasn’t as visible. Colours again just looked more natural and noise-free when compared side by side.

Overall the KRP-500A displays the best possible picture quality I have ever seen from a consumer TV and the fact that this performance is available out of the box, has me writing this review in disbelief.

The KRP-500A also follows the now tried and tested Pioneer family trait of passing all our video processing tests and joins the other screens from the company in providing some of the best processing seen. This is obviously another area where Pioneer excels and spends the money to get the best performance.

Final thoughts

I could go on further with this review than what you see here, but then I would run out of words to describe just how good this TV is. It’s sister set, the KRP monitor has a few changes in terms of menu selection and lacks a media box, but it also offers identical performance to the A version reviewed here.

There are features I have only slightly touched on such as the DNLA streaming of pictures, music and video. These work extremely well and are an added bonus that many will take advantage of. But the one thing that keeps coming back to me time and again is that picture performance. If you are looking for the best TV on the market then this is the one for you. No other manufacturer can come close to the KRP-500A for its dynamic range, colour accuracy and breathtaking image. And when you go up in size to the 60” it just gets even better with that larger yet just as accurate image.

It’s not cheap and there are some features it could have done without, such as the colour sensor. But in terms of performance and accuracy there is nothing else on the market that even dares to come close, I want one!

Pros:

  • The most accurate consumer TV on the market
  • CMS and Temp controls for calibration
  • Media receiver offers easier wall mounting and added features
  • Good Video Processing for SD and HD signals
  • Handles 24fps material with ease
  • DNLA compatible for streaming pictures, audio and video

Cons:

  • That colour sensor and optimum mode, leave it well alone...

Scores

Smart Features

10

Ease Of Use

10

Build Quality

10

Value for Money

10

Verdict

10

Picture Quality

10

Video Processing

10

Greyscale Accuracy

10

Colour Accuracy

10

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

10

Screen Uniformity

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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