Pioneer Kuro (PDP-508XD) Plasma TV Review

You may wonder why we are reviewing the PDP508XD when the 9th Generation screens are hitting the shops? Could it be that this screen is now the bargain of the year? Phil Hinton explains all...

by Phil Hinton
TV Review

15

Reference Status
Pioneer Kuro (PDP-508XD) Plasma TV Review
SRP: £2,800.00

I have to confess that I have lived with the PDP508XD for nearly a year and had planned a review much earlier than now. But such has been life until recently; I have just never had the full amount of time to actually get the review done, or give this screen the attention it deserves. That is until now. You will start to see our review content grow quite considerably in the very near future, so it’s only right that we start by looking back at what many have described as the best plasma screens yet seen.

The PDP508XD was released back in late June 2007 to much excitement and a great deal of hype. I had been whisked away to Rome by the company in May of that year, to see first hand what they had done with their 8th Generation screen. Everyone who saw the kuro then, and who have owned one since, was blown away with its revolutionary black performance. So have things changed after a year on the market? Is there any competition that even comes close? And why should you consider buying one now?

The actual 50” model is a beautiful looking screen with its polished back surroundings, neat (optional) speakers below and a presence that shouts quality before the power switch is even turned on. Looking directly at the screen, on the left hand side panel are one s-video, one composite and one USB port, with headphones and analogue audio outputs. To the right hand side panel you have the input selection, channel selection, volume and standby switch. Moving to the front of the screen there is one power button to the bottom left, and the remote sensor to the right. Moving on to the rear panel and the connections improve again with three HDMI v1.3 slots, three scarts, one VGA, one component as well as an RS232 connector, CI card slot, speaker outputs, subwoofer output and one optical output. Phew! As you can see there are a myriad of connection possibilities, although some will double up as input selections, so not all can be used at once. As an example, input 1 & 3 can either be used as HDMI or scart connections, you will select which is which from the menu screen.

Moving on to the menu system and at first, you may very well be confused by all the various selections, and what they actually do. It cannot be claimed that Pioneer skimp on giving you complete control over exactly how the screen is set up. However this can also overwhelm some users who are not used to fiddling around with settings. One of our forum members, and a fellow calibration colleague Bumtious (Steve), has gone to great lengths to produce a settings list that could help get you started with understanding what all the controls can do.

Although such settings posts and lists will never suit everyone’s separate environments and viewing conditions, Steve’s listings will help users get to grips with exactly what each menu selection does. This should give people a ‘starting point’ to then get the picture and performance up to a very capable level. However, as always, our advice would be to also have your screen professionally calibrated by one of the many friendly ISF guys on the AVForums. One of the unique features with Pioneer screens is the C3 ISF interface, which allows calibration experts to fully calibrate the screen and offer a night and day settings menu, which once calibrated, is locked so your optimum settings are always available and safe from deletion. This is a superb feature and we just wish that more manufacturers would adopt this.

Within the menus you are given just about every selection choice possible from any screen on the market. The comprehensive nature of the adjustments that can be made and the effects it could have on your viewing pleasure could extend to 15 pages if I went into things in any real detail. Suffice to say that it will take you quite a few hours of checking and rechecking to get the very best out of this Kuro. However, the hard work you put in (or the research you do with the settings link I gave you above), will be rewarded with an image and picture processing performance that will give you a smile each time you use the Pioneer.

The remote control supplied with the PDP-508XD is robust and feels like a quality item. The layout is intuitive with all the controls neatly laid out in a logical order. You can access every feature you could possibly need for everyday use and more in-depth set up right from the comfort of your sofa. I have to say that this is one of the best remotes I have yet seen that has been provided by a manufacturer, and certainly beats the usual plastic rubbish that you know will not last the life of the set.

Other features of the Pioneer are the home gallery and USB connector. With this you can watch your photos from your digital camera directly onto the 508 and it actually works very well indeed.

Introduction

Moving on to the out of the box performance we found the best settings were in the cinema mode with major controls set for the environment in which the TV was used. You can also look at the settings supplied in the plasma forum at AVForums, and try those out on your own screen. For the review here, I set the TV up without using the advanced settings menu, as the majority of new users would do initially. The only thing I did change was the colour space which I set to [1]. There is a large selection of other menu modes and settings that could be used, but for this review we will keep this section as straight forward as possible, so what were the results?

As you can see the usual trait with Pioneer’s recent screens is present on the 508XD with [colour space1] producing a slightly oversaturated gamut against the HDTV [rec709] standard. The second option [colour space 2] is slightly under saturated to the same standard. If you do not intend having the plasma calibrated, then the most accurate settings for you will be movie mode, with [colour space 2] selected and then using basic pluge and ramp test patterns to set your contrast and brightness controls correctly.

Moving to more advanced calibration it is possible for a qualified professional to dial in the 508XD using the C3 interface and get the grayscale tracking perfectly. The colour management also works well, but as I have found with calibrating a few Pioneers now, the fact that this is not 3D (i.e. there is no independent control of the luminance of the colour points, only hue and saturation), the best settings are obtained by running things just outside the [rec 709] HD standard. This gives the best colour balance against trying to hit the points exactly. I have found this to be the case with other CMS controls lately which affect the luminance of the colour channel without allowing compensation; the Sony VW200 is another good example of this. The gamma controls within the C3 interface could also have done with better control, but with care you can attain an accurate film like 2.2 setting.

Moving on to the picture processing area of our tests gave the expected excellent results with Pioneers onboard processing. You can set some memories up so that the pure cinema and drive modes for certain materials are chosen each time. However in the majority of cases you may have to quickly enter the menus and change these settings to best suit the material running. The Pioneer does not have automatic detection which is the only down side I can find.

In all our tests from the HQV and Benchmark PDP discs, the 508XD sailed through with very few instances of artefacts being seen. Most promising was the movement tests which allowed the 508 to shine with frequency burst tests remaining well resolved even when moving quickly through the frame. So top marks go to the 508XD for its on board processing, with one caveat being that in some cases you will have to manually select the correct settings through the menu.

So with the calibration and picture processing proving to be up to scratch in our objective testing, how does the kuro handle actual viewing material, against the hours of test patterns we have thrown at it.

Out of the box viewing

Using our chosen out the box settings we settled down to watch some freeview material on the built in tuner. After having suffered many mediocre tuners in cheaper sets sent for review, the Pioneer felt like it was a quality product. The picture quality although not perfect, gave pleasing results that meant I was quite happy watching free to air channels, even those with poor bitrates as the Pioneer did its best to make everything appear smooth and life like. Colours are very nice, if just a tad under saturated in [colour space 2] and with freeview I found myself selecting the [colour space 1] option. Fine lines and fast movement held up well with no obvious or stand out issues apparent. The EPG menu system is easy to use and understand, although it does seem to freeze up now and again, but in terms of design it looks pleasant enough.

Moving on to HD sources and Sky HD and thins improve again. There will be some out there thinking that as this is a 768 resolution set, how can 1080i content look good? Well you have to remember that resolution only comes about 4th or 5th on our list of most important features that make a good picture, with contrast ratio and dynamic range, along with colour accuracy and saturation more important than the number of pixels. And this is where the 508 excels with its stunning contrast range which goes from solid ‘real black’ to a strong high end. Colours are rich and vivid without getting anywhere near cartoon or pastel, and the depth of field as a result is astounding! Take Discovery HD and the Great White Attack footage that was playing recently, the depth of field was stunning with this shark appearing to move in 3D space (from a 2D source) with detail dripping (er, it was wet) from the screen.

Blu-ray just improves again with the level of detail and high bit rate material looking even sharper, and more layered than off air HD material.

Switching to our accurate calibration settings, as you would expect, just improved matters even more and you soon realise that even though you could get the picture looking very good indeed using out of the box settings, doing the full calibration job just improves it again another 50%.

Again it is the black levels and sheer dynamic range of the set, being black but without crushing details, which stands this TV out as still being a tour de force of what plasma can do over the light box LCDs. If ever there was a more practical demonstration of how important black levels are to your picture canvas, then this TV is one such example. Put it next to any other make on the market, even a year down the line, and the final calibrated performance is truly night and day over the rest of the market.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Black level performance that still beats the competition a year later
  • Full CMS controls for calibration
  • Excellent accurate colours
  • Good Video Processing for SD and HD signals
  • Handles 24fps material with ease

The Bad

  • No automatic processing detection

Pioneer Kuro (PDP-508XD) Plasma TV Review

Well, yes I am a year late in posting this review, but the reason I am now publishing this quick overview is that it is quite possibly the biggest bargain on the high street or online at the moment. With the 9th Generation screens now upon us (review of the 5090 coming in the next week), the 8th Generation models will quietly disappear over the coming months as stocks are sold off. Yes the new models improve again on the 8G, but if you don’t have the budget at the moment to go for one of them, then you cant go wrong with plumping for last years marvel. The fact is that there are no current or newly released plasma or LCD screens that come close to the PDP508XD (or other 8G Kuro screens) even after a year of being available.

The black levels are unmatched (by any other manufacturer), the colour accuracy is stunning and the dynamic range has other manufacturers scratching their heads. The 8th Generation of plasma from Pioneer is a major step in technological achievement and brings the qualities of solid blacks and accurate colours to their rightful place, the top of the pile. So, you have an awkward choice to make dear reader, do you bag a bargain 8G or is the step up again provided by the 9G the way to go? Stand by for our PDP-LX5090 review coming soon, or if you can’t wait or don’t have £2500 in the budget, what are you waiting for, the 8G sets won't be around forever!

Reference Status

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
9

Screen Uniformity

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
9

Picture Quality

.
9

Smart Features

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
9

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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