Pros: Spectacular picture quality, particularly good performance on high-speed sports action, movies and video games.
Cons: Cost. Pioneer is leaving the market, remote could be better.
I researched TVs exhaustively before finally settling on this Pioneer Kuro plasma. The Kuro line is aimed at videophile buyers who want extremely high picture quality and are willing to pay quite a bit extra for it. These TVs are typically significantly more expensive than mainstream LCD TVs from even well-established brands like Samsung and Sony at similar sizes.
The Kuro comes in two flavors - the Elite, which has all kinds of user-adjustable settings for the small number of people who are both utterly obsessed with their TVs and have unlimited wealth, and this one - which is aimed at people who can do without some of the tweaking capabilities of the Elite and/or still work for a living.
So why buy this more expensive TV vs. a Sony LCD or some other perfectly fine, high-quality brand? Here are the advantages as I see it:
Plasma still seems to handle fast moving images better than LCD. There is often an artificial blur when watching sports or other fast-moving images on most LCD screens. It is a harshly jarring and unwelcome artifact for somebody used to watching a high-quality CRT television. Buying a Plasma TV doesn't entirely fix this issue, but it seems materially less intrusive than on an LCD for some reason.
LCD manufacturers have been trying to tweak up the refresh rate to fix this problem, and introduce smoothing effects by interpolating between images, but these systems are far from perfect, and they tend to make the source material look sort of unnatural, almost like watching a soap opera.
Black levels on the Kuro line are the best in the industry, according to the expert reviews I read, and that better black level supposedly makes the rest of the colors pop out more clearly with better contrast. I don't know about all that, but I do know that I can tell a significant difference in the quality of the picture of this TV vs. others I was considering. The picture seems both more accurate and attractive than even the most expensive LCD screens I've looked at.
It does particularly well in showing movies...it captures the correct grainy textures in some older movies far better than any LCD I've seen. There is a warmth in the picture which is just not there in the more sterile LCD screens. It feels like you are actually watching film as opposed to a digital reproduction of film, and the LCDs I've looked at just don't have that same feel to me. There is a dedicated "movie" mode which seems to optimize the settings for watching movies and I find it does a truly excellent job.
I cannot tell you whether the HD picture on this TV is the "best" in some abstract or technical way, all I can say is that I think it is materially better than any other TV I've seen.
Another key issue for me was how well the TV handled non-HD content. Most TV is still not shot in HD yet, and everything that wasn't shot recently is in standard definition (SD). So anybody buying a TV today has to recognize that they are still going to be watching an awful lot of non-HD content on it, and so it better do a good job handling those lower-quality sources. This TV seems to do an excellent job with most SD sources. Obviously, the picture isn't as good as in HD, but it is not that harsh, YouTube looking stuff you find on some LCDs trying to render SD video. I sit about 8-9 feet away from this TV and at that distance it looks really good. It is not jaggy, but rather quite smooth and not objectionable at all. At 4-5 feet or so you are close enough to start seeing some issues, but by then you are really sitting too close to a 50" TV anyway. I can't tell you how well these capabilities compare to other TVs, but I can tell you this was an issue that caused me to hold off getting a new TV for many years, and I am completely satisfied that I didn't have to take a material step down in SD picture quality in order to step up to HD with this TV.
Although I really liked the picture of the Kuro best of all, I was a little wary of buying a plasma screen, because I had heard all these horror stories about plasma technology: you can get "burn-in" on the screen if you aren't careful, the plasma screens are complete energy hogs and they don't last as long as LCDs. However, after doing more research I realized that all of these initial issues had basically been solved since plasma screens first came out almost a decade ago. The energy consumption profile of this TV is not significantly different than a number of similar LCDs I was looking at and its expected life is at least as good as a CRT. As for burn-in, there is a pixel rotation system that automatically and imperceptably shifts the screen slightly to protect the screen and today's plasma screens are far less receptive to burn-in than the early plasmas. As long as you aren't a complete idiot about it - you shouldn't have any issue with burn-in if you buy a late-model plasma. That said, none of these fancy big TVs are exactly green purchases. If you want the "green" TV choice - it is watching that 13" CRT TV you already have until it dies.
I got a wall-mount for it, and put it up myself. That gave me a chance to check out the back panel pretty carefully. This thing is just obviously engineered to death. Every little thing reflects obsessive attention to detail and high-quality. If something as trivial as the mounting holes for the screws are this meticulously designed, I cannot imagine how much care was placed on designing the insides. It seems to be extremely well-made, which bodes very well for its long-term durability.
Now that I have it home, I obviously have no other screens to compare it to, but I think the picture is just spectacular. I am very happy with the decision to buy this and I can't wait until football season next year.
I also like how it is so much larger than my last TV yet, because of the thin screen, it takes up far less room. Some people obsess about the thickness of the screen and think an LCD panel looks better because it is 2.75 inches thick instead of 3.4 inches or whatever it is for a plasma. If you are worried about this TV being too thick vs. a LCD, don't. It is a very attractive and very very thin television. I cannot imagine any installation setting where the thickness of this TV would be an issue. I like the bezel around the screen...it is a bit thick, but conveys a nice feeling of solidity without being bulky. It is definitely not unattractive.
The menu system is fairly intuitive and set-up wasn't particularly hard.
The manual reflects the same level of exhaustive engineering detail as the back of the TV - it is literally a big thick book. There are a number of different picture modes - including dedicated modes for sports and video games.
Speaking of video games, the XBOX at 1080p through an HDMI cable on this thing is truly eye-popping. The richness of the colors and the details in the textures are just shocking. Again, fast-moving images look just amazing, with none of that blurring or distortion.
The biggest drawback is this - Pioneer has announced they are going to exit the business sometime next year. They haven't been able to differentiate themselves from the mass market TVs sufficiently in order to justify their price premium. Apparently, most people aren't as picky as me when it comes to picture quality and are perfectly happy with a mainline LCD picture. To me the difference was really quite obvious, but I guess I am in the minority. Pioneer isn't going out of business (they are part of Panasonic) and they will honor their warranty, and they have announced they will continue to make spare parts available as well, so there isn't a lot of risk in buying one of these but you are going to get one of the last ones if you do.
I am also not a big fan of the remote control. It is a long thin slab with way too many small buttons placed to closely together and isn't back-lit. The one thing I do really like is that that every input has its own, dedicated button on the remote - so you can flip between the cable box, the XBOX, the DVR etc. easily.
Bottom line: This is a big-budget purchase and an undeniable luxury. Nobody really "needs" a TV this nice. Indeed, you can get a TV that is probably $300-500 cheaper that will be fairly close to this in picture quality and size. But I figure I am going to be watching this thing for a decade or more (my last TV lasted 12 years). So why not get the true state-of-the-art product and enjoy that higher quality picture over the coming years vs. compromising now and living with that compromise for years and years? I held off on an HD purchase for many years, as all the early adopters dropped huge sums for flat-screen TVs that are not nearly this good. I did spend more than most people buying a TV today, but not nearly as much as people even last year were paying for inferior quality. Plasma is now finally a mature technology and, at least as far as I can tell, it provides the richest and most accurate picture available today.