Opinion: Plasma Is Worth Saving
The debate over whether plasma or LCD should be the supreme technology in the HDTV business rages on with each passing day. But there’s one problem: more companies than ever are jumping off the plasma bandwagon. In fact, Vizio–once a staunch supporter of plasma–has opted to only produce LCD HDTVs and Pioneer, widely considered the best plasma manufacturer, has also decided to get out of the plasma business.
Does that spell the end of plasma? Perhaps. Panasonic is the last major company to support the technology, and so far, none of the major LCD manufacturers have indicated that they would ever want to produce plasma HDTVs.
But that doesn’t mean plasma screens should be eliminated from our lives. I believe plasmas should be saved and embraced as an ideal technology for those who want an outstanding viewing experience. Here are my nine top reasons why consumers and companies should embrace plasma technology.
Here's a picture of a Vizio plasma TV's rendering of a scene in "Pirates of the Carribean," compared to the film's own reference shot (bottom).
The accuracy of the color on HDTVs has always been a hotly contested issue. Most manufacturers ship their sets “hot,” which means the colors of the picture are pastel in nature and instead of reproducing a soft, life-like green on a golf course, they produce a bright, neon green to coax consumers into picking up one of the sets. In the store, the bright color looks more appealing. But in the meantime, the color isn’t nearly as accurate.
But in my experience with both plasmas and LCDs, plasmas, especially when calibrated properly, produce the most accurate color. On numerous occasions, I’ve played the same video through two HDTVs–one an LCD and one a plasma–and the results were striking. The high-end plasma always beat out the high-end LCD.
Now, I should note that LCD sets are catching up to plasma and some would be hard-pressed to tell a difference if both were calibrated perfectly. But in most cases, plasmas, out-of-the-box, simply produce better color. Why should we lose the single best color-reproduction technology we have?
Years ago, plasma panels didn’t last nearly as long as CRTs or LCDs. Today, that belief still exists in some circles, and every time I hear it, I’m shocked that people still believe it. Allow me to say it loud and clear: plasmas last just about as long as LCDs.
A high-quality LCD will probably last a few thousand hours longer than a plasma. I’ll be the first to admit it. But the reality is, whether anti-plasma folks want to admit it or not, plasma screens will easily last 50,000 to 60,000 hours. Assuming the average person watches TV four hours each day, a plasma will outlive its owner’s desire to own it. You’ll upgrade before your panel burns out. Guaranteed.
If the average person intends to keep an HDTV for 10 years, which is a relatively common period of ownership, he or she won’t have any trouble enjoying a plasma over that span. Why should we worry about lifespan of the panel? At this point in its development, there’s nothing to worry about.
LCD screens are getting bigger almost every month, but they still can’t compete on any level with plasma screens. In fact, if you want a high-quality display at a size that’s over 50", then I simply don’t see any reason to choose anything other than a plasma.
In my testing of both LCDs and plasmas, I’ve found that the larger the screen size, the more capable the plasma. But as LCD screen sizes increase, I’ve also found that their quality diminishes and I’m generally disappointed with what I see. In fact, anything over 50" is unappealing.
But plasmas are different. If you bought a 100" plasma HDTV, you would be blown away by the quality of that panel and there’s no reason to suggest it wouldn’t provide you with an outstanding picture. And as more people want bigger displays, doesn’t that prove the value of plasma for the future? Sure, LCD is catching up, but so far, it’s not even close. We can’t adopt LCDs as the only HDTV technology as long as that’s true.
I’m a big sports fan and every chance I get to watch baseball, football, or golf on television I take it. Because of that, how well a television handles all the motion on-screen is important and if I see blurring or I don’t get the full effect of the action, then I’m disappointed.
When it comes to motion quality, plasmas are the best in the business. Whenever I watch a game on my plasma HDTV and switch to my LCD HDTV, I see a major difference. The LCD reproduces images at a much slower rate, and instead of seeing the player run across the field like I’m there, I watch their legs blur and the action on-screen turns muddy. That annoys me.
LCDs simply can’t stack up when it comes to motion. Sure, they’re getting better, but based on my testing, they’re still not there. Come to think of it, that sounds like a mantra as we consider the value of LCDs compared to plasmas: close, but no cigar.
Potential for Technological Innovation
It’s no secret that plasma is hurting. Sales are down, fewer companies are willing to produce panels, and all the while, pundits are calling for the end of the technology. That’s a problem, since consumers will eventually start to believe the rhetoric, but it’s also an opportunity for companies like Panasonic to use that as leverage to keep innovating and improving the technology to ensure it stays one step ahead of LCD.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Panasonic’s NeoPDP idea. What is NeoPDP? Simply put, it’s a technology that addresses the biggest issue plasma faces: too much power consumption. According to Panasonic, NeoPDP will halve the power consumption of traditional plasmas and increase the brightness and picture quality to boot. What does that mean for us? Better picture quality, lower monthly energy bills, and an even flatter and thinner flat-screen.
Because plasma does such a fine job of reproducing colors and is naturally brighter and more capable than LCD, it also produces deeper blacks, ensuring that the picture quality of the panel is superior to LCD.
In my testing, contrast ratios are always higher with plasmas, and when I evaluate how deep the black colors are on-screen, I’m shocked at their quality. In fact, with a high-end plasma, I can hardly tell a major visible difference between the black flanking the side of the screen and the display itself.
But LCD is a different story altogether. When I have no signals running through the LCD, the so-called black screen is gray, at best. It’s really disappointing.
Whether you’re watching television, enjoying a movie, or playing a video game, it’s almost impossible to get your whole family and a group of friends to sit directly in front of an HDTV. Realizing that, viewing angle–how far around the screen you can move and still be able to see the picture–is extremely important. So important, in fact, that plasma manufacturers have made it a selling point for quite some time.
It doesn’t make any sense to me to buy an HDTV that has a small viewing angle. What good is it if you want to put it in your living room and only half your guests–those sitting farther away from and in front of the HDTV–will be able to see it
If you agree with that sentiment, why would you even consider buying an LCD HDTV? LCD viewing angles are generally poor when compared to plasma viewing angles. This is not based on my opinion, but on facts acquired from years of testing.
Overall Picture Quality
Overall picture quality is the standard by which we measure all HDTVs. While the number of inputs matters, as does the feel of the remote control, when you’re sitting on the couch getting ready to watch a flick, the only thing that matters is the quality of the picture. And based on my testing, plasma wins every time.
Now, when I mention picture quality and say that plasma is the best, I should note that I’m comparing equal quality LCDs to plasmas. In other words, a Vizio plasma from two years ago will not look better than the new Sony 1080p LCD. But if you compare that Sony LCD to a Pioneer KURO Elite or a Panasonic 800U series 1080P HDTV, I’m willing to bet you’ll agree with my estimation: the LCD can’t quite provide the same quality.
The issue of overall picture quality once again goes back to color reproduction and the technology behind the panel. Simply put, plasma has more mature technology, but it’s also more advanced and of higher quality, creating a technology that bests LCD. Why should we ditch the technology that offers the best consumer experience?
In the economic environment that we’re currently trudging our way through, price matters. Would you really be willing to spend $1,500 on an HDTV that’s sub-par if you can have one that’s better for the same price? These are the questions consumers ask themselves, and in the HDTV realm, the answer comes by looking at a plasma screen and realizing its value.
At this point, plasmas are the most cost-effective television technology on the market. If you compare a high-end LCD HDTV from Sony to the same size and resolution HDTV from Panasonic, I can guarantee that the price of the plasma will be substantially lower than the price of that LCD. Why is that? It starts with the fact that the plasma technology is more mature, but we can’t forget that it’s also cheaper to produce. And based on research I performed on Amazon.com, you can save hundreds of dollars by opting for a plasma over an LCD.
Are LCDs fine HDTVs? Of course. And I’m sure that some would be more than happy with their own LCD panels. But when we look at the two technologies for comparison, it quickly becomes apparent that although experts are trying to spell the end of plasma, it’s still a worthwhile technology that offers a slew of advantages over LCD.