Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

Today Pioneer is revealing its official 2008 Kuro TV lineup for the US. As we expected from European announcements, it includes second-generation Kuro plasmas—thinner, with five-times-deeper black levels than the first critically acclaimed Kuro plasma—and a Kuro-branded LCOS projector originally developed by JVC. What's missing here are the smaller-sized Kuro LCDs that Pioneer is offering European flat-panel shoppers. Here's the full product rundown, plus the reason for the missing LCD piece of the puzzle:

More Kuro Than Kuro

On the plasma front, Pioneer's new Kuros fit midway on the contrast gamut between the previous generation and the "Extreme Contrast" panel shown at CES. The five-times-deeper blacks don't show up on the brightly lit sales floor as well as they do in a dimly lit home, but Pioneer's Russ Johnson says they will blow away videophiles, particularly with respect to color purity and gradations of shadow. The idea is that you will see more without colors being blown out, and without "hotspots" that make whites too bright.

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

There will be two 1080p plasma TVs out next month, the 50" PDP-5020FD for $4,000 and the 60" PDP-6020FD for $5,500. They're both about 20% thinner than the previous Kuro models, now measuring 3.7" thick. Besides the features that it shares with the previous generation, these Kuros have a new remote control and new HD GUI for better ease-of-use. We're also told they have some networking capabilities—Home Media Gallery plus DLNA compatibility with PCs and other network devices. More on that when we check them out.

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

In the Elite line, Pioneer is rolling out souped-up versions of the above TVs at $1,000 premiums—the 50" PRO-111FD and 60" PRO-151FD. The bigger news from a gadget perspective is that there will be two plasma monitors that are even thinner. They will be 50% as thick as the original Kuro, measuring just 2.5". As monitors, there have no ATSC tuners or speakers, but they will be highly customizable thanks to some serious connectivity and remote access tools. It's a rich man's product, for sure, but worth knowing it's hitting the market, since the tech will eventually trickle down.

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

Pioneer's 2008 Kuro Line: Thinner Blacker Plasmas and an LCOS Projector But No LCDs

That Projector Rings a Bell

As for the KRF-9000FD projector that snuck out at the European launch, some were smart enough to spot it as a re-branded JVC RS2 or HD100, the two so similar they're referred to as "twins". Johnson tells us that the company chose the LCOS projector because its performance was "consistent with the deep black levels" of the Kuro line. Pioneer added some tuning options to jive with Kuro deep-black benchmarks, but at this time the company did not do too much to make it a product distinct from JVC's. It will be branded simply as the Pioneer Elite Kuro Projector, and it will sell for $9,000, as early as June via the Elite dealer network.

Why No LCDs???

Johnson was good enough to shed some light on the missing LCDs. It turns out, Pioneer Europe has a different LCD supplier than Pioneer USA. Pioneer's European supplier—Philips?—has Pioneer's global LCD partner—Sharp—supplies different product to Europe than it does to the US. Sharp supplies 1080p LCDs in 32", 37" and 46" sizes with 100Hz frame mode to Pioneer Europe, but can't bring them to the US—even for itself. Of course in the US, it would be 120Hz, not 100Hz, a PAL spec. Those are the baseline requirements for Pioneer to work its Kuro magic. These requirements can't be met by the US LCD affiliate, says Johnson, "not even in their own line-up", but he does expect them to come eventually. Since Philips is no longer in the US TV biz, and since Sharp appears to be Pioneer's other LCD partner, I guess we'll have to wait until Sharp catches up.

That Kuro Secret Sauce

All this hullabaloo about Pioneer quitting panel manufacturing and instead buying panels from Panasonic made us ask Johnson exactly how Kuro will stay alive, and he surprised us with some factoids:

• The second-gen Kuros gets the 5X deeper black with the same panel, plus better filtering and video processing.

• Even the "Extreme Contrast" CES panel, the one that freaked us out, was based on "current glass," and not some futuristic laboratory panel. "It's how you fire the pixel," says Johnson. We don't know exactly what that means, but it's strangely reassuring. [Pioneer USA]