Plasma TVs: A disappearing value

Friday , July 04, 2014 - 6:51 AM

By LESLIE MEREDITH

Samsung has announced it will stop manufacturing plasma TVs by the end of November. Panasonic made a similar move last year, which leaves LG as the sole maker of plasmas — for now. Industry analysts predict LG will follow the pack soon. It's unfortunate because home theater enthusiasts have long preferred plasma technology, despite the rise of LCDs and their successors, LED LCDs. What's next?

Samsung said it will now focus on 4K technology — that's twice the resolution of today's HDTVs — and its curved models. If you have been watching the World Cup, you probably noticed the 4K banners ringing the fields, but it's still too early for this pricy technology, and more important, broadcasters have yet to offer 4K programming.

But there is a silver lining to Samsung's news — you can expect to see excellent bargains on remaining plasma TVs.

For instance, B&H Photo offered a 51-inch Samsung plasma TV for under $400 with free shipping. (I'm sad to report this deal ended July 5, but I'm betting there's more on the way. DealNews is a great website for finding onsale electronics, and you can set up deal alerts for items you're interested in buying.) A Samsung 4K 50-inch HDTV costs about $2,000 or five times as much as a plasma model.

Plasma could never shake its reputation as an energy-guzzling heavyweight. However, over the past five or so years, manufacturers made significant improvements to the technology, leaving plasma on a competitive footing with LCDs. (Note: LED TVs are a type of LCD HDTV, which has become extremely popular, but often mistaken as a different technology than LCD. In fact, LED TVs are just LCD TVs that use an LED backlight instead of a fluorescent one. LED-LCD TVs generally have better contrast and more accurate colors than fluorescent-backlit models, and the LEDs are also more energy efficient. Most TVs today use LED backlights.) Plasma TVs are now more expensive to manufacture than LED LCD TVs, but that doesn't seem to translate to retail pricing.

If you'd like the best deal on a high quality TV, plasma is the right choice. Here are three ways plasma beats LED LCD:

Blacker blacks: Plasma delivers the deepest blacks without sacrificing surrounding color levels. Each plasma subpixel is self-illuminated, unlike LCDs that depend on LEDs that run around the perimeter of the display. This difference is likely only noticeable when viewing the TV in the dark, such as in a home theater.

Wider viewing angle: Again, because of the difference in plasma technology and LCD, viewers can sit at a wider angle from a plasma set without picture distortion than those watching LED LCD TVs. If it's just one or two of you who watch TV, that may not be much of an advantage, but get a few friends and family together, and you'll be glad to have the plasma.

Smoother motion: Plasma technology allows fast action to be displayed without what's referred to as motion blur. In other words, watching the Indy 500 on a plasma display will look crisper than on most other HDTVs. LCD technology addressed the problem by offering faster refresh rates, which can also add to the cost. A standard refresh rate is 120Hz, a premium rate stands at 240Hz.

The bottom line is you should have no qualms about buying a plasma TV. Both plasma and LED LCD TVs are rated for about 100,000 hours of viewing. That means you could watch TV for six hours every day for the next 45 years without a problem from either technology. And at half the price of an LED LCD TV — and perhaps less as we approach Black Friday in the fall — your brand name plasma TV will be a smart choice.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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