When Pioneer announced that it was producing a Kuro LCD TV, a number of people reacted strongly, and not in a good way. They complained that LCDs don't produce good blacks, and they aren't far off -- indeed, it's fair to say that there's no real way for LCDs to achieve the brilliant black levels of plasma TVs at the moment. But with Sharp taking a financial interest in Pioneer, it was almost inevitable that a high-end LCD would arrive sooner or later.
And so it has. Pioneer has used the same panels found in Sharp's LCD range and combined that with its own fantastic picture-processing expertise to create the Pioneer Kuro KRL-32V, along with 37-inch and 42-inch models. We have high hopes for this LCD, which is available now for around £1,300.
While Pioneer's plasma TVs have a specific style to them, the company appears to have gone in a different direction with its LCD range. Firstly, it has dispensed with piano black and opted for a gunmetal grey style, with a full-width but subtle speaker grille at the bottom of the screen. Overall, it's not as classy looking as the plasma range, but it's not ugly by any stretch of the imagination.
Even though the TV doesn't look like its big brothers, there is a familial resemblance in the remote control and we like it. The controller that comes with this TV isn't quite as weighty as those that ship with the plasmas, but it still has that classy Pioneer feel that we've grown to love over the past years.
Connection-wise, everything of any importance is located at the back of the TV, with a basic side panel hosting only S-Video and composite inputs. There's a USB socket too, but this is only for service updates, so don't get too excited.
You get three HDMI inputs, all 1.3a capable, for the best possible digital picture and sound quality. You also get component and VGA for high definition analogue sources -- Xbox 360s and the like -- and you'll also find a pair of Scart inputs for older hardware too.
It's fair to say this TV isn't exactly bursting with special features. Pioneer's goal is to create a high-quality LCD for people who want the best possible picture quality, but either can't manage the cost of a plasma or don't have the room for a 50 or 60-inch TV. Of course, this also has a lot to do with the company's decision to cease production of 42-inch HD-Ready PDPs (plasma display panels).
While it might not be brimming over with funky toys like a Samsung would be, it is still capable of all the most modern picture processing and handling. For example, 1080p at 24hz is no problem -- the TV will automatically convert such signals and process the picture so it looks as smooth as possible.
The TV will also adjust itself to take advantage of the viewing conditions of your room. It does this by monitoring the ambient light levels and reducing the TV's backlight when the lights are dimmed. This is good for two reasons: firstly, it makes blacks look better and secondly, it will save electricity.
The inclusion of a 1080p panel on a 32-inch TV does pay some dividends. Although the TV is quite expensive, the sharpness and detail of the picture is exceptional. So too is the colour reproduction on Blu-ray movies. Firing up Vantage Point, we noticed that the Sony Pictures logo at the start of the film had a wonderful quality to it, which left us wanting more.
Of course, this TV carries an auspicious moniker -- Kuro -- so we were very keen to see how black levels looked. It was good news: with the lights off and the backlight set to a reasonable level (between -5 and -10), we were impressed by how rich colours were and how impressively black the black was. The black bars at the top and bottom of the screen in the 2.35:1 ratio in Vantage Point were almost totally black. We could only detect a small amount of backlight bleed.
We also looked at X-Men, one of our favourite DVDs for assessing upscaling ability, and were thrilled with the results. Everything looked as good as we could have hoped -- colour was bold without being over-the-top and there was a great level of detail. Keep in mind that smaller TVs like this generally struggle less with standard definition material, but it was still clear to us that the 32V has some very capable picture processing built-in.
Freeview picture quality was also well above average. We found there was plenty of detail in most programmes from the four main broadcasters. Colour was a little over-the-top at times, but that's easily adjusted in the pleasant menu system. Noise from MPEG encoding wasn't a problem either, which we were very pleased to see. Overall, this Kuro did a great job with standard definition material.
Although generally speaking we don't benchmark TVs, we did try out our Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) test disc to see how this landmark TV performed. Happily, it aced all the tests, proving itself very good at reducing picture noise, which is almost certainly why Freeview and DVDs look so good. There was no noticeable video or film resolution loss and the TV even did a good job at reducing 'jaggies' on moving objects.
Sound wasn't the most powerful we've ever heard and it would probably get lost in a large room, but the quality is excellent, with clear dialogue. Bass-heavy movies won't sound their best on the built-in speakers, so if you're a Bruce Willis fan, invest in some external ones.
We really like the Kuro LCD. It's never going to reach the giddy heights of near perfection that the plasmas from Pioneer do, but that doesn't make its picture performance any less impressive. Of course, if it was £300 or £400 cheaper, we'd be even more enthusiastic. That said, the recommended retail price is around £1,300, but you can already pick it up for as little as £1,100, so perhaps the price will drop even further in a few months.
We happen to think plasma is still the better of the two technologies in terms of picture performance. Plasmas used to have significant problems, with nasty solarisation effects and little sparkles all over the picture. But in the last two years we've seen huge development in the quality of of the technology, with a jump to 1080p and better black levels.
But nonetheless, we're excited about this LCD TV and have high hopes that the 42-inch model will be a class leader. Until then, if you want a great LCD, we'd have to suggest the Toshiba 40ZF355D, one of our favourites. We also love the Samsung slim series 8 TVs, such as the LE40A856, which has massive visual impact, loads of extras and a great picture.
Edited by Marian Smith