Pioneer calls its new plasma TVs 'Project Kuro', as Kuro is Japanese for black.
Not because they're dressed in gorgeous high gloss black (though they are), but rather because Pioneer reckons they deliver the finest black level performance - by miles - of any flat TV. Cue an unprecedented (in the flat TV world) claimed contrast ratio for the 50in PDP-508XD of 16000:1.
There are four innovations that are chiefly responsible for this groundbreaking contrast: a patented Crystal Emissive Layer that boosts each plasma chamber's discharge efficiency; a proprietary colour filter in place of the customary plasma glass, which soaks up ambient reflections; a deep-seated plasma cell structure that reduces cross-pixel light/colour seepage; and processing that treats dark and light parts of the picture differently.
The fifth element
Another key element in the PDP-508XD's premium make up is its 1080p/24fps capability. As well as taking this format (used to master films to HD discs), it carries a 72Hz playback mode so 1080p/24fps sources can be played using a simple 3:3 progressive scanning equation, to reduce noise and judder.
The set's high-end focus is also evident in its three HDMIs, all v1.3 enabled for compatibility with HDMI 1.3 features like the Deep Colour extended colour palette and auto lip synching.
So are the PDP-508XD's black levels really that special? You'd better believe it. Feeding the TV the strangely dark Superman Returns on HD DVD, the black level response is simply stunning. As Supes flies Lois over Metropolis at night, the intense blackness of the sky has never looked so stunningly, cinematically black and detailed on a flat TV.
The amazing black levels also help the PDP-508XD's colours, as everything from the rich skies of Superman's rural home to the dark, tricky skin tones as Superman is beaten up on a Kryptonite platform are rendered with equal aplomb in terms of both vibrancy and tonal naturalism. This even applies to reds and greens, so often plasma's downfall.
Turning to a 1080p/24fps Blu-ray transfer of Casino Royale, meanwhile, shows a genuine benefit from the Pioneer's 72Hz mode, as the immaculate transfer is reproduced with startlingly little noise, and with pretty much perfectly smooth, clear motion.
The PDP-508XD is not a Full HD screen, instead using a 1366 x 768 resolution. But the quality of its image processing and the extra clarity afforded by the black level prowess and pristine motion handling help its pictures look crisper and more detailed than many Full HD LCD rivals.
Pioneer's PDP-508XD really is as uniquely good as it thinks it is, and were it not for its premium price, the competition might as well just pack up and go home. Project Kuro looks set to be a real success.