Sunday, December 14, 2008

5020 and 6020 have a 3D Y/C comb filter

A Y/C comb filter separates the luma (Y) and the chroma (C) signals from a composite source such as laser disc or an OTA NTSC broadcast. Digital sources already have their luminance and color components separated but for analog composite sources, the video signal quality is highly dependent on the technology of the Y/C comb filter. Pioneer's documentation mentions that the Elite Kuro models have four settings of (Off / High / Mid / Low) for a video processing 3DYC feature. The documentation for the non-Elite Kuro mention that they have no 3DYC feature. So I decided to determine what type of Y/C comb filter Pioneer decided to put in the PDP-5020FD and PDP-6020FD Kuro plasma displays.

I did some testing with a couple of video test patterns, a Pioneer Elite CLD-99 laser disc player, and a Pioneer Kuro PDP-6020FD plasma display. In the late 90's the CLD-99 laser disc player was the first consumer electronics device to have a 3D Y/C comb filter. It was based on a digital 3 line comb filter design and it added a digital frame buffer to compare with the previous frame. This added time as a dimension, hence the 3D label. It was amazing new technology that was expensive, and it was only in the CLD-99. A couple years later 3D Y/C comb filters became more common place and were introduced in some higher-end RPTV's.

The S-video port of the CLD-99 laser disc player uses the 3D Y/C comb filter while the composite port has the combined Y/C signal straight from the optical disc which means that the comb filter in the display is used. This allowed for the comparison of the CLD-99's 3D Y/C comb filter to the comb filter in the non-Elite Kuro.

Static Test
First a color bar test pattern from a laser disc was viewed. The sharp transitions between the different colors is a good test of the separation quality of a Y/C comb filter. Lessor comb filters have an active noise shimmering-like effect between the colors. A 3D Y/C comb filter stabilizes the shimmering but it does have some video artifacts. On a PDP-6020FD display the CLD-99 S-video output looked about the same as the composite output.

Motion Test
For the second test the Snell & Wilcox zone plate from a laser disc was viewed. The zone plate has a fresnel ball that bounces around the middle square section. This motion causes all sorts of problems for Y/C comb filters and the result is chroma flashing. The zone plate also has a couple boxes with vertical and diagonal lines near the top that tend to have a lot of chroma noise with non 3D Y/C comb filters. The comparison of the S-video and the composite signals showed roughly the same image. The CLD-99 had slightly less flashing chroma noise with the moving ball than the Kuro did. The static vertical and diagonal lines in the boxes had slightly less luma noise with the Kuro but increasing the 3DYC slider control from the default value with the CLD-99 equaled and then improved that noise aspect.

The performance of the comb filter in the PDP-6020FD roughly equaled that of the 3D Y/C comb filter in the Pioneer CLD-99 laser disc player. So Pioneer's specifications are incorrect, the PDP-5020FD and PDP-6020FD both have 3D Y/C comb filters. The non-Elite Kuro just lack 3DYC configuration controls.

The CLD-99 had a slightly better Y/C separation than the Kuro but the results were close. This advantage is probably due the CLD-99 being optimized for the laser disc formats 425 lines of resolution while the Kuro's 3D Y/C comb filter is designed to work well with a resolution range from VHS (220 lines) to D1 (480 lines).

The Kuro's 3D Y/C comb filter default also have a bit more Y and C noise reduction (NR) than the standard default in the CLD-99 player. The CLD-99 standard default setting is 50% for Y NR, C NR, 3DYC, and Sharpness controls. Increasing the CLD-99 players Y NR, C NR, and 3DYC settings by a couple ticks to about 75% equaled the image effect of the Kuro's default. It is unknown if this is equal to the 3DYC Med or the High setting of an Elite Kuro display.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

is a source running at 24 fps?

The PureCinema film mode can reverse telecine 24 fps (frame per second) film material and display it at a native 72 Hz. A Blu-ray player can transmit a movie over HDMI at its original 24 fps and have a Kuro display this at 72 Hz. This is great and it eliminates the effect of 3:2 pull-down induced film judder. So how can it be determined if a Kuro is being fed a source at a 24 fps rate?

The Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player has a "24P" blue LED that lights up when 24 fps material is being output. This is a great feature since it is rather tricky to correctly configure the S350 for 24P output. Unfortunately there is not an easy way to query a Kuro's refresh rate. Other than observing the smoothness of motion and pans, there is no way to tell if PureCinema is actively performing reverse telecine. Switching an HDMI source to be a PC input is a trick that will report the input frame rate.

Here are the steps to check the refresh rate of an HDMI source:
  1. Select HDMI input
  2. Press Home Menu
  3. Enter Setup
  4. Enter Option
  5. Enter HDMI Input
  6. Select PC from the Signal Type submenu
  7. Exit menu
  8. Press Display to see the refresh rate
  9. go back to step #1 and change Signal Type back to Video
Unless your source is a PC you probably won't want to keep your HDMI in PC mode since it has a number of picture ramifications that are not good for general TV and film viewing. It would be a really nice feature if Pioneer gave the Kuro a special control panel screen that displayed internal information like frame rate, 720p or 1080i resolution, MPEG2 bit rate, AC3 channels and bit rate, and full PSIP information.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

PDP-5020FD vs. PRO-111FD

The Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD and PRO-111FD are 50" versions of the 60" PDP-6020FD and PRO-151FD plasma displays. The 50" Kuro panels are smaller, about 45 pounds lighter, and consume less energy than their 60" counterparts. The feature differences between the Elite and non-Elite models are exactly the same. See the PDP-6020FD vs. PRO-151FD comparison report for details.

  • PDP-5020FD 50" - $3500
  • PDP-6020FD 60" - $5500
  • PRO-111FD 50" Elite - $4500
  • PRO-151FD 60" Elite - $6500

The step up from a 50" to a 60" panel costs +$2000. The step up to an Elite model costs +$1000.

For current street prices check out the Pioneer Kuro 9G store.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Firmware Version

Below are the software firmware and hardware version numbers from a July 2008 build PDP-6020FD:

  • Software Version: 0901-0201
  • Hardware Version: 0x351
  • HMG Version: 02.00

Recently built Pioneer Kuro have been reported to be using the same versions. This means as of December 2008 no firmware bugs have been fixed. The Kuro 8G had a mid production firmware fix but since the Kuro 9G hasn't had one yet and its operation is fairly solid a future firmware update is unlikely.

In any case, the Kuro firmware is not user upgradeable and must be done by a certified technician.

Other than minor cosmetic items and the speaker positions, the only difference between the Elite and the non-Elite Kuro is believed to be firmware. So, theoretically a non-Elite Kuro could be upgraded to be an Elite Kuro simply via a firmware update. This would likely require some special equipment and the chances of Pioneer offering this are near zero.

Since the Kuro 9G runs Linux it is unfortunate that the interface isn't more open in a manner that would allow users to get inside and tweak their displays. The potential is enormous. I'm sure some amazing things could be done by creative users but such an open architecture would create a major support headache for Pioneer and it could reveal many proprietary secrets to how the Kuro operates. So, again, the chances of this happening are near zero.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

PureCinema film mode

The Pioneer Kuro has a special film mode feature called PureCinema that engages a couple different 24 fps (frames per second) processing algorithms. One of the algorithms helps with film mode de-interlacing, while the other two algorithms produce smoother motion by performing a reverse 3:2 pull-down (inverse telecine) operation and then interpolating the in-between frames or up converting to a 72 Hz frame rate.

The Pioneer Kuro has a native progressive video refresh rate of 60 Hz. Interlaced input sources (480i, 1080i) need to have their even/odd fields reassembled (de-interlaced) first to be progressively displayed. This is called de-interlacing and it removes the teeth artifacts during fast motion and pans.

PureCinema parameters:
  • Off - deactivates PureCinema
  • Standard - only works with 480i and 1080i sources, de-interlaces
  • Smooth - produces smoother moving images by frame interpolation
  • Advance - activates 72 Hz refresh rate for 3:3 pull-down of 24 fps source material for smoother moving images
None of these modes work when the input signal is 1080p60. Speculation as to why is that there's insufficient video processing resources to handle the higher bandwidth of a 1080p60 stream. Standard setting only works with interlaced sources (480i and 1080i). Smooth and Advance settings work with 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i input sources.

Standard and Smooth settings display at the standard 60 Hz frame rate. The Advanced setting displays film material at a 72 Hz frame rate. Note that a 72 Hz refresh rate for 3:3 pull-down is automatically engaged whenever a 1080p24 signal is input regardless of mode setting. It doesn't hurt though to play it safe and select Advance mode anyways. Note that 24 * 3 = 72.

Like film in cinema, many prime time TV shows are also recorded at a 24 fps rate, and funnily enough sometimes with a video camcorder. So the Advance mode can be useful for more than just DVD and Blu-ray playback.

What is "dejudder" and how is it related to all of this? Judder is the 3:2 hitching that occurs when 24 fps film material is displayed at a TV's native 60 Hz frame frame. Judder creates a periodic chugging effect that is easiest to see with slow pans or during scrolling credits. Dejudder is the process of removing judder by using video processing. Removing judder, like how the Kuro does with its 72 Hz frame rate is a good thing as it preserves the natural flow of 24 fps film.

Many new LCD flat panels have a 120 Hz refresh rate feature that uses frame interpolation to create smoother motion. Interpolating frames improves the LCD panel's poor motion resolution so LCD manufacturers like this feature because it boosts their specifications. Plasma displays have a superior motion resolution and don't need this technology. Note that with 24 fps film material the LCD's 120 Hz 5:5 pull-down has a similar effect to the Kuro's 72 Hz 3:3 pulldown. Also, the Smooth mode with the Kuro's PureCinema feature does frame interpolation but displays it at 60 Hz.

So dejudder used to mean removing the 3:2 hitching of 24 fps film material by playing it back at a native frame rate multiple of 24. Unfortunately dejudder has morphed into an ambiguous, overused, and abused term that includes both native rate playback and the frame interpolation of all sources (24, 30, and 60 Hz). Some people dislike the frame interpolation feature and disable it. Some LCD HDTV's don't allow 5:5 pull-down of 24 fps film material unless interpolation is enabled and this further complicates the issue. So when you hear the term "dejudder" make sure you understand if it means interpolation, native rate playback, or both.

I keep the PureCinema option set to the Advance mode and it works fine for Blu-ray, DVD, and broadcast HDTV sources. The algorithms are smart enough to prevent odd artifacts most of the time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

runs Linux software inside

The Kuro 9G operating instructions manual has a licensing appendix section that lists the names and licensing restrictions of the open source software used. Below is a description of each piece of software mentioned in the licensing appendix.

The Linux kernel is an embedded Unix operating system that manages peripherals, memory, and processes. Linux also has a complete TCP/IP networking stack.

A suite of tiny UNIX utilities for handling logins, user authentication, changing passwords, and otherwise maintaining users and groups on an embedded system. It also provides shadow password support to enhance system security. TinyLogin is, as the name implies, very small, and makes an excellent addition to an embedded system. The getty program opens a tty and invokes /bin/login

A high-quality and portable font engine that is capable of supporting several font formats (be they bitmapped or scalable) through a simple and uniform interface.

A library for building control points, devices, and bridges that are compliant with Version 1.0 of the UPnP Device Architecture Specification. Used for the DLNA client.

A cross platform implementation of the Zeroconf zero configuration networking standard. It includes daemons and a client side SDK for registering, browsing, and resolving network services, and assigning link local IP addresses without a DHCP server.

The portmapper manages RPC connections, which are used by protocols such as NFS and NIS. The portmap server must be running on machines which act as servers for protocols which make use of the RPC mechanism. This portmapper supports hosts.{allow,deny} type access control.

A library which provides a packet filtering mechanism based on the BSD packet filter (BPF). Used by the packet sniffing program tcpdump.

A toolkit implementing the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL v2/v3) and Transport Layer Security (TLS v1) as well as a full-strength general-purpose cryptography library.

A free implementation of Netscape's Secure Socket Layer - the software encryption protocol behind the Netscape Secure Server and the Netscape Navigator Browser.

A library for reading and writing gif images.

JPEG image compression
Generic licensing for use of JPEG image decompression.

A library for manipulating PNG format graphics files.

A library for decoding the Tag Image File Format (TIFF).

A lossless data-compression library. Used by gzip and many other compression programs.

A library for dealing with MPEG-1 streams.

A set of tools to encode, stream, and playback audio and video. It uses the MPEG-4 standards for audio and video, and the IETF standards for streaming. The included player can either playback from local MP4 file or stream from a remote server via RTP/RTSP.

The Kuro 9G runs Linux for its Home Media Gallery (HMG) function and possibly other more system critical features. Linux has driver support for Ethernet 10/100 and USB devices. TinyLogin suggests that getty is used with the RS232 rear service port. FreeType are nice anti-aliased fonts that are likely used for the Kuro's menu system and closed caption text.

The Pioneer Home Media Gallery (HMG) can use both USB and DLNA as a method for accessing audio, video, and image files. The UPnP library is a basis of DLNA support while the Howl zeroconf, also a remote discovery protocol, has an overlapping and somewhat unknown purpose.

The Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is used for accessing encrypted data with https: web servers. It is possible that SSL is used for some sort of DLNA digital right management (DRM) but that fact isn't listed in the manual or advertised. SSL's sole purpose could be for streaming MP3 from servers that use https:.

The existence of the libpcap packet filtering and port mapping libraries were surprising. It is unsure why a DLNA client would need to have any sort of packet sniffing software but this could all be part of the UPnP server discovery process.

There are codec libraries for DLNA image (GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF) and video (MPEG-1, MPEG-4) support. MPEG-2 video support isn't listed because the Pioneer Kuro has silicon support for this video codec. It is interesting that packages for VC-1 and all of the audio formats are missing but those likely required special proprietary licensing agreements.

Pioneer has an open source code distribution service page that has a section for the Kuro HDTV's up to the Kuro 8G series. It looks like Pioneer plasma displays have been using Linux long before the HMG function was introduced. Also of interest is that a number of debug utilities are listed such as the bash shell, gcc, gdb server, strace, and telnetd. It is unknown if these debug services are active in shipping Kuro's because an nmap scan turns up empty.

It is unfortunate that a telnet shell isn't accessible so that a Kuro owner can't login and poke around with the Linux inside. It is also unfortunate that Pioneer doesn't supply an SDK so that users could create applications that do interesting things with their Kuro. It's understandable because of obligations to protect the HDMI stream and other internal IP but think of all the amazing possibilities?

Monday, November 3, 2008


Pioneer releases it's first Kuro LCD in Europe. This LCD may be available next year in North America. The bulk of this 37" 1920x1080 TV is manufactured by Sharp. About 18 months ago Sharp invested about $400 million in Pioneer for an 18% ownership stake. The Pioneer Kuro LCD product line is joint venture with Sharp and is available in 32", 37", and 46" sizes. Pioneer color filters and some Pioneer electronics are used. The MSRP for the KRL-37V is $1721 USD. Technically this LCD HDTV isn't a ninth generation (9G) plasma panel but it is part of the current Kuro product line.

A standard Cold Cathode Florescent (CCFL) backlit as is common on Sharp LCD panels was used in the KRL-37V. This HDTV has Pioneer's PureCinema processing feature and 100 Hz processing which is common with European TVs (think 50 Hz AC power lines). PureCinema has a "smooth" option which interpolates and operates at 100 Hz and it also has a mode that detects the 2:3 pull down of 24 FPS movies. On the Kuro plasma's this detected 24 Hz film source is run at a native 72 Hz 3:3 sequence which eliminates pull down judder. It is unknown if the KRL-37V LCD does this or if it runs detected film sources at a 100 Hz frame rate. Since 100 does not evenly divide by 24 this will create some sort of frame rate mismatch. Not sure of the benefits of 100 Hz.

  • 3 HDMI 1.3a
  • 1 YPbPr
  • 1 S-Video
  • 1 composite
  • 2 SCART
  • optical Toslink ouput
There isn't a USB or Ethernet jack so no DLNA and no Home Media Guide (HMG). The remote control looks a lot like the one that comes with the 5020 and 6020. Pioneer's purple high contrast filter improves the black level while not reducing the bright white level.

  • black levels
  • accurate colors

  • heavy aluminum chassis
  • standard LCD motion blur issues
  • standard LCD off-axis viewing angle problems
  • lack of a native 24 Hz multiple frame rate

The specifications for the KRL-37V seem very similar to the Sharp Aquos LC37D64U 37-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV which is available for $857. The Sharp LCD model has DLNA but it is missing all of the Pioneer modifications. Do these additions make it worth an almost $900 premium?

The reviewer said that the KRL-37V had very good performance for an LCD but lacks having a "truly groundbreaking black level response." Unfortunately reviewer said that the KRL-37V does not live up to the Kuro name.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beige Grisé and White Kuro available in Europe

For those wishing to harmonize their TV with their interior design, a limited edition run of luxurious Beige Grisé and minimalist White (Shiro) Kuro are available in Europe. The White KRP-500AW and the Beige Grisé KRP-500ABG are 50" Kuro 9G monitors that have their tuner/decoders in an external media receiver. Only 1000 of the beige and 1500 of the white Kuro will be produced.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Picture In Picture (PIP) inputs

The Pioneer Kuro 9G series has one built-in tuner so only one live channel (ATSC/QAM/analog) can be viewed at once. This is unfortunate and it eliminates most of the value of the Picture In Picture (PIP) feature. In fact one of the PIP inputs must the internal tuner. This means that doing PIP with two external inputs is not possible.

The reason why two arbitrary inputs cannot be used in PIP mode is unknown. Speculation is that this limitation is due to the Kuro 9G models only having one HDMI decoder and/or one video ADC chip. This also simplifies the internal high bandwidth data path circuitry which probably further reduces costs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

is a source 720p or 1080i?

With a Kuro 9G how can you tell if a source is broadcasting at 720p or 1080i?

Unlike most other HDTV's the Kuro's "display" button doesn't reveal this resolution information. The display button only shows an HD tag if the source is high definition (720 or 1080). The lack of an HD tag means the resolution is 480.

Fortunately there is a way to determine if the HD resolution is 720 or 1080. Pop-up the Tools menu and look at the available screen size modes. If the "Dot by Dot" option is visible then the source is 1080, if it isn't then the source is 720. Since the the Kuro 9G is a 1920x1080 panel the non-native 480 and 720 resolutions need to be scaled and cannot be displayed "Dot by Dot."

Update Feb 5 2009
The Kuro 0904-0401 firmware update added the display of resolution information for the different video inputs. This resolution information is not displayed for the ATSC/QAM tuned channels so the "Full" and "Dot by Dot" trick is still useful.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Made in the U.S.A.

I was surprised when I looked at the label on the back of a Pioneer Kuro PDP-6020FD and saw:

"Assembled in U.S.A with U.S.A and imported components."

Since Pioneer is a Japanese company I had always assumed that the Kuro's were all made in Japan. I'm guessing that Kuro's for Japanese consumption are made in Japan and the ones for American consumption are made in the USA. Maybe there are tax or tariff benefits to assembling them locally? Or maybe since plasma displays are heavy and fairly fragile that it's less expensive to assemble them locally with some local parts? They probably can significantly reduce return defects, shipping damage, and shipping costs this way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

5020/6020 Color Temperature

List of the color temperatures for the different AV modes of the Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD and PDP-6020FD models:

AV modes
  • Optimum 7500K but automatically changes
  • Dynamic 10000K
  • Performance 8600K with S-shaped gamma
  • Movie 6350K with a 2.3 gamma
  • Sports 10000K with S-shaped gamma
  • Game 8000K with a 2.2 gamma
  • Standard 8000K with S-shaped gamma
The Movie mode is the closest to the D65 standard and it has a decent gamma. Movie is the recommended AV mode to use on the Kuro 9G non-Elites.

Monday, October 13, 2008

PDP-6020FD vs. PRO-151FD

How do the Pioneer PDP-6020FD and the Elite PRO-151FD differ? Both are 60" second generation Kuro 1920x1080p plasma HDTVs. They use the same electronics and the same 9G plasma panels so picture quality and major features are basically the same. Most of the differences are minor but one is very major:

  • the PDP-6020 has a bottom speaker while the PRO-151 has side speakers for better stereo separation
  • the PRO-151 has an aluminum plated, learning, backlit illuminated remote control
  • the PRO-151 an external color sensor for use with the optimum mode
  • video processing controls of the PDP-6020 have been removed so
  • the PRO-151 is ISFccc calibration ready with independent RGB gamma controls
  • DRE, black level, ACL, color space, color temperature, 3D Y/C comb filter, and 4 noise reduction controls have been removed on the PDP-6020
  • the PRO-151 has 3 more A/V selection memories
  • panel dimensions are the same without the detachable speakers, with speakers attached the PDP-6020 is 3" taller while the PRO-151 is 8" wider
  • the MSRP of the PRO-151 is $1000 more expensive
The most significant difference is the lack of configurability of the PDP-6020's video processing picture quality controls. Those firmware controls have been removed. So for an extra $1000 the picture quality of the PRO-151 can be calibrated and more finely tuned.

For current street prices check out the Pioneer Kuro 9G store.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


"Pioneer pushes ever closer to their goal of absolute black by further reducing the idle luminance and improving black levels five times over the previous 2007 KURO models." The result is Blackerness. Take a look at Engadget's Blackerness photo comparing the black levels of Panasonic, Samsung, Sony plasma and LCD displays with the 8G & 9G Kuro. From the photo, here is the black level ranking with some measured luminance values in fL (foot-lamberts):
  1. Pioneer Kuro 9G - 0.001 fL
  2. Pioneer Kuro 8G - 0.004 fL
  3. Panasonic plasma - 0.008 fL
  4. Samsung plasma - 0.026 fL
  5. Sony LCD - 0.032 fL
  6. Samsung LED LCD - ? fL
The Kuro's ranked on top and all the plasma's beat out the LCD's when it comes to having the best black levels. The two LCD's were photographed slightly off-axis which accounts for their gray backgrounds. LCD's black levels quickly degrade when viewed off-axis.

It is interesting that the Sony CCFL LCD has a better black level than the Samsung LED LCD which is last years 81F model. Many reviewers said that the Samsung LED backlit LCD had an on-axis black level (fL luminance) that rivaled the Kuro 8G's.

Friday, October 10, 2008

vs. Kuro 8G improvements

The 2008 second generation Kuro plasma HDTV (9G panel) is an amazingly beautiful sight to behold. It is an incremental improvement over the previous Kuro 8G series and here is a list of the changes:

  • 5x deeper blacks for improved contrast ratio
  • black level luminance changed from 0.004 fL to 0.001 fL
  • all models have a native 1920x1080p resolution
  • panel is 1.2" thinner and 10 pounds lighter
  • new redesigned remote control
  • improved Graphical User Interface (GUI)
  • clear-QAM tuner
  • HDMI 1.3 now with Deep Color support
  • three more aspect ratio settings (Auto & Wide modes)
  • inputs labels can now have custom names
  • automatic 3:2 pulldown @ 60Hz for PureCinema 72Hz mode
  • non-Elite models have light sensor for optimum video mode
  • non-Elite models have DLNA Home Media Gallery (HMG) via Ethernet and USB
  • energy save modes
  • energy star compliant (less than 1W standby)
  • MSRP is $1000 less

features removed:
  • one of the YCbCr component video inputs has been removed
  • TV Guide On Screen Interactive v9 removed
  • cableCARD slot removed
  • video processing controls removed on the non-Elite models
  • one of the analog NTSC tuners has been removed
  • one the RF antenna inputs has been removed

Many of the new features are very nice and useful. The main disappointment is the removal on the non-Elite's of the video processing controls (gamma, noise reduction, DRE, black level, ACL, ...).