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2013: Plasma's Last Stand?

hodg100

Distinguished Member
Fall back or fight on?

Over the past 12 months, or so, rumours in the industry have abounded that the death knell for plasma technology was about to be rung. Numerous reports spilled from the Japanese press that the World's pre-eminent supplier and proponent of plasma, Panasonic, was ready to pull the plug amidst dwindling sales and huge losses in the TV division. Whilst nothing wholly tangible ever officially emerged from Panasonic, noises from within the organisation gave some credence to these claims; back in July 2012, Panasonic chairman Fumio Ohtsubo was quoted as saying: 'We will shift our focus from selling TV sets and other electronics goods on a per-unit basis to marketing various systems and business solutions,' although, of course, that's a reference to the TV business as whole rather than a direct death sentence for plasma.

There's no denying that plasma technology is ‘old news' these days; it may surprise some to know that it was first conceived as far back as 1936 by Kálmán Tihanyi, a Hungarian physicist, electrical engineer and inventor but it took until 1961 before the first plasma display – a computer monitor - was produced and it wasn't until the early 1970's that PLATO Computer System's neon orange monochromatic displays became popular but soon became usurped by CRT with its cheaper price levels. A milestone for plasma development came through pioneering work by Fujitsu who, in the early 1990's, produced the first full colour Plasma display and a few years later – in 1997 - both they and Philips had retail models available; the Philips plasma a was a 42-inch, 480p number carrying a rather astronomical $15,000 price-tag which should give some perspective on the prices the emerging technologies, i.e. Ultra HD and OLED, are attracting in 2013.

Most of the major TV manufacturers at least dabbled with Plasma TV development. As well as Fujitsu and Philips, other PDP makers soon included Pioneer, Panasonic, Sony, LG, Toshiba and Samsung amongst the ranks but most have now fallen away as the, cheaper to produce, LCD TVs steadily took away market share from Plasma. Industry data places LCD/LED as by far the dominant technology, with around 80% of the current market share and there's no signs of plasma turning that around any time soon.


So what went wrong for plasma? It's picture quality benefits over the rivalling LED/LCD technology are certainly well known – if not 100% accepted - amongst enthusiasts; higher contrast, better black levels, almost impeccable viewing angles and more fluid motion but yet, at comparable prices, LCD/LED continually wins the heart of the customer. Perhaps one of the reasons it struggled was inability of manufacturers to make plasma TV's in more traditional sizes as the HD market exploded. There's a manufacturing struggle to accommodate plasma cells in screen sizes below 40-inches, although LG did produce a short-lived 32” model. As the market developed and the inevitable will of the customers to seek larger than 26 to 32inch displays set in, most are likely to have stuck with the technology already known to them. There was also a fair amount of misinformation and misunderstanding of plasma in the early days – it leaked gas and needed topping up or you'll get images burned in to the panel were common retorts over why to choose LCD over PDP. The first accusation is, of course, hogwash and whilst we will concede that image retention is a (minor) concern, actually permanent burn-in, is extremely uncommon.

Plasma's decline goes deeper than a degree of consumer mistrust, however, it's the will of the major CE companies that's pushed LED/LCD more to the fore. Sheer numbers dictate part of the dominance – more manufacturers making LCD/LED equals more available models on the market but the reasons for the producers favouring it are fairly easy to see. They've found ways to fabricate panels very cheaply, they're much lighter and therefore less costly to ship and – perhaps most crucially – they can be made very thin and sexy. OK, there are now some very slender plasmas on the market but it took a while for those to hit the shelves and they're not like some of the ‘Size 0' offerings we've seen from the likes of LG and Samsung. Looks certainly sell and for many years plasma has trailed on that front.

We certainly try and avoid politics whenever possible but there's no doubt certain legislative bodies haven't done much to further the plasma cause. It's no secret that plasmas consume around three times the electricity of equivalently sized LED lit sets and both the EU and the Californian Energy Commission laid down strict regulations concerning a TVs energy use. Again, the easy option here is for the manufacturers to favour LED/LCD although, to be fair, the three remaining manufacturers have sterling work in improving efficiency although some of the cost for that is that plasma TVs don't have an earthly chance of shining as bright on the shop floor; we humans have a natural disposition to go for the shiniest object and plasma simply can't compete in that department, either. Of course, many reading this will know, that particular advantage is often null and void once the TVs are in the home where they don't, generally, need to be so retina-searingly bright.


So, from the evidence we have so far, the cards are stacked against plasma and reasons to be cheerful waning. To summarise, in comparison to LED/LCD: they use more power; they can't go as bright; they're generally not as sexy; they cost more to ship and they lack some consumer trust. Add in the fact that OLED is coming, which is assumed to be taking the picture quality crown from plasma - although has yet to prove itself and, of course, there's a bunch of Ultra HD (4K) LED TVs about to steal more of the limelight away so perhaps time is finally up? Like that old champ who's taken one too many blows to the head, maybe it's time to throw in the towel? We hope not.

Whilst there's no doubt we're excited about OLED and U-HD - not to mention the two combined – it's not quite a realistic technology just yet. We don't doubt that, one day, 4K and/or OLED will be mainstream but that transition won't happen overnight. You can slap in a pre-order for either right now and it may well be that in 12-24 months time, you'll be able to put down your deposit for a 4K OLED but your pockets will need to be deep and your patience long as there will be a lack of content, initially, to fully utilise the extra pixels inside so 1080p isn't going anywhere in a hurry. Looking at it pragmatically, if your primary concern is Blu-ray and Broadcast HD and you're not made of money, plasma still offers the best bang for buck in terms of picture quality and that's not likely to change for the next 3 to 4 years. Fortunately, it looks like two manufacturers concur.

We have to admit going in to CES 2013 we feared at least one of the remaining 3 PDP manufacturers would be pulling the plug but that didn't happen. Admittedly plasma was given only the briefest of mentions by LG but they will still carry a few models even if it's patently obvious they lost any real interest in developing the technology 2-3 years ago. Both Panasonic and Samsung trimmed their plasma range but, hearteningly, announced two new plasma TVs aimed squarely at the enthusiast market, i.e. those that know what makes up a great picture. Panasonic already had the VT series which was the first consumer TV to grab our Reference Status Award in nearly 4 years and Samsung's E8000 ran it extremely close in 2012 but the engineering teams of each seem equally intent on taking the crown with their new flagships.


The announcement of Samsung's F8500 wasn't a surprise, in itself, but the amount of press material space and the hyperbole used to describe it were. In recent times the Korean's have certainly been pushing the LED message far more vehemently so this public, almost tacit, acknowledgement that plasma bests it, picture quality wise, was quite refreshing. Samsung is extremely confident in the F8500 and say it's designed to become the new industry standard for plasma TV excellence. They're claiming the deepest blacks and the brightest picture available, with the same brightness levels and eight times the black expression of regular LED TVs. All of which is made even more interesting by Panasonic's, extremely similar, claims for their new ZT60 top-tier plasma. Panasonic says the ZT is ‘the new Reference' with Kuro killing picture quality and astonishing black levels. For those that don't know, the Kuro, from Pioneer, hasn't been available for around 4 years but still possesses the deepest black levels yet seen for a domestic TV. If both the ZT60 and F8500 live up to even half the hype surrounding them, we're probably in the most exciting year yet for plasma TV and the fact that Panasonic does have a 4K Plasma in the stable – albeit at a ridiculous screen size and associated crazy price-tag – might mean it's worth keeping an eye on what they announce for the domestic market at IFA 2013 or CES 2014.

If 2013 is to be the last hurrah for plasma, it's looking like it's bidding farewell in fine voice but we don't honestly think that it will be the case. Despite the increasingly niche sector of the market the technology finds itself in, there looks to be plenty of life in the old dog yet and the advancements - and therefore financial investments - of Samsung and Panasonic mean they'll likely keep it around for a few years, at least. In fact, we can't see either sending PDP out to pasture until OLED prices are able to be brought considerably south; there needs to be a choice for the videophile who isn't made of money and, for many, LED TVs just don't cut it – 4K or not. It seems like recent reports of plasma's death have been greatly exaggerated.
 

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Welsh Whirlwind

Well-known Member
Great article, many thanks.

Although, I have to dis-agree about the rareity of burn-in and, having experienced it myself on my 2011 Samsung Plasma, I don't think I'll be buying again...

My setting were calibrated using a DVE disc on Movie mode/warm 2 etc. Back light was at a fairly modest 16. Myscreen burn protection settings were all maxed-out and my TV viewing was watched on a 16:9 aspect ration (so 'pixel shift' etc were still enabled). Despite all of this, I still got burn from the BBC News Logo. Just like this from an unfortunate Kuro owner:

http://www.avforums.com/forums/10592041-post332.html

I intitially attributed it to some really stubborn screen retention, however, this burn has not disappeared for many months now despite my best efforts.

I spent almost a grand on this TV only a year ago, as we all know screen burn is not covered by warranty (if this is a non issue nowadays, why is it still not covered?) Alas, this is why I will not be buying this technology again and I will be moving back to LCD. I just hope OLED isn't shackled by such issues.
 

Trollslayer

Distinguished Member
What went wroing with plasma?
The costs of bringing out something new every year regardless together with the obsession that surrounds this.
OLED is a bit away in practice but should have a very good life given there are different approaches possible (e.g. quantum dots).
 

deanl

Novice Member
I own a 2006 Panny. Plenty bright. Never even THOUGHT about lights off or DAY/NIGHT settings. Why?

But then producers decided to pointlessly "try" (key word TRY) to keep up with power consumption of LCD. Bought my 2011 VT30. NOW I understand the need for day/night settings, lights off at night, rear lighting. I never realized that SOME tv shows were recorded with dim lighting, but I DO NOW.

There are plenty of reasons for Plasma's downfall. People who worry about power consumption are never going to buy a plasma, so why dim the picture to save power and irritate the PICTURE QUALITY people who love you. BEATS ME. But PLENTY of LCD/LED's have been sold to PQ type people for this reason only. ALL that to save the average user around $10 a year.

As for Burn in/image retention. The green bar from my DVR's have left a gray shadow on the 2006, luckily you only see it with white/near white screens. And when I had a cable DVR the "TV GUIDE" bright red and white logo EXACTLY, and ALWAYS, in the middle of the top screen was always there, in a light shadow. Luckily it went away after getting TiVo.

Image retention on my VT30 is horrible. And well known NOW(and finally acknowledged, too late by Forum No-NOs) Luckily I am well trained. But many MANY 2011 Panny plasma owners have image retention that have turned into burn-in after less than a year of ownership. But "don't worry image retention and burn-in are a thing of the past". Yeah RIGHT. As a 2006 and 2011 Panny owner. Image retention issues WEREN'T a thing of the past, but is something you better pay attention to NOW.

But.......it IS the best PQ. And I will NOT buy an LCD/LED. ALL LCD/LED TV's look strange with soap opera effect and "screen door" look to me. It's give and take. But I COMPLETELY understand ANYONE who does not buy plasma, including that plasma manu's DO NOT stand behind their product. PERIOD.
 
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zekepliskin

Novice Member
Incredibly well written synopsis of the state of the Plasma TV market in 2013, thank you. As has been said, an excellent read.

As much as I love the deep blacks and higher contrast of Plasma sets, I just couldn't own one. Aside from the issue of cost and inability to get them in 32" sizes, based on the way I use my Samsung LCD I would inadvertantly end up destroying a PDP within a year. This is because I have my HTPC hooked up - I use it as a basic desktop machine for web browsing and emails - running Windows 7 with the DPI cranked up to 150% of normal means the TV functions as a large monitor when I'm not watching 1080p24 Blu-ray movies or 720p50 TV shows on it, or perhaps turning on the Freesat box to watch rugby/football in 1080i50, very occasionally the XBOX360 for nice 1080p gaming. All very nice and sparkle free with HDMI connections on all three, and a cheap but effective Sony STR-DE595 amp which can give surround for those devices by the 2 opticals and 1 coaxial.

Based on the TV spending 50% of it's on time as a PC monitor, if I was to replace it with a Plasma set the Windows taskbar and/or Firefox toolbars would burn into the screen fairly quickly. And having an afterimage of those things while trying to watch a movie would quickly render the deep blacks and more vivid colours moot as an improvement. Besides which, power usage is a small but pertinent factor, and having three PDPs on in the house when everyone is at home and watching something in their various rooms would push average evening consumption well over 1 kilowatt per hour, rather than idling between 0.5 and 0.7 as it does now.

I don't see Plasma TVs dying in the same way I don't see vinyl dying - people who know about quality and want the best hookups they can buy for whatever reasons are never going to go away. But your average person just wants a simple TV that looks alright - they don't care about immersive 5.1/7.1 sound and HD sources when Freeview and Freeview HD will do. When I take the liberty of tweaking someone's TV set for them (on the fly, naked eye: I don't carry a calibration disc with me!) I usually find that the TV is in some horrid Dynamic or Vivid mode where the sharpness is at zero and the colour tone makes the whites have a yellow patina. Added to that - and shame on the manufacturers - when dealing with full HD broadcasts and dedicated sources connected by HDMI, overscan is without fail always on, rather than defaulting to 1:1 pixel mapping so you're losing 5-10% of the picture. No wonder regular folk often say they can't see the difference between SD and HD - with settings like that neither can I!

With 4K, isn't the average size of set believed to be between 60 and 100 inches? That's overkill for everyone but the most devout of home cinema enthusiasts who happen to have rooms large enough not just to mount an extra large size set, but enough distance to place the seating back so it's comfortable to view such a thing. For people who don't really care about HD and 3D in the first place, they really aren't going to give a monkeys about 4K for a long while.

TL;DR

Plasmas aren't going away, they're simply getting more niche, tailored to those who want the best no matter the cost. Pristine picture quality isn't a big issue for most people, which explains why networks like ITV in the UK can get away with stupidly low bitrates on their SD channels and not have people complain about blockiness. They want simple, they want low maintenance, and LCD/LED sets give them that. For that reason I think current 1080p HDTV standards will do fine for at least a decade, if not more. Unlike their smartphones people refuse to replace their TV once a year or more, and manufacturers are just going to have to accept that new standards like 4K please only them and enthusiasts like us while everyone else makes do with SDTV and their DVD collection.

Just my opinion, obviously! :)
 
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vism

Well-known Member
Thanks Mark, good article.

I still reckon It'll all be over for plasma within 2-3 years.

The fact that there was no 70Inch or 4k plasma at CES says it all for me.
 

IvorB

Novice Member
I purchased a plasma TV from Panasonic after it got the nod on here for reference quality picture and I must say I am more than happy with it. The picture quality is indeed superb. It's plenty thin and sexy enough for me. It's a heavy beast of a machine though. It's the heaviest thing I've lifted in ages. But I love it and I wouldn't change it for anything.

The only downer is image retention. Yes, image retention is an issue even on the very best panels. I don't watch broadcast TV so there is no problem with logos or anything like that. But for gaming it does come up. A had a very long session on Dragon's Dogma about a month or two ago and at the end some HUD elements were visible against certain backgrounds (never in movies thank god). Full disclaimer: the panel was still relativity new (I had had it for about a month) and I stupidly had the contrast up very high in game mode. Fortunately I take good care of my gadgets so when I saw this developing I immediately stopping any use of that game which was a bit annoying because I was really enjoying it.

Now the IR can still be seen very, very faintly but it is definitely fading so I am not calling it burn in yet. It's been ages though with tonnes of other content being shown on the set in the meantime. So I haven't been able to play that game since then. I've actually started playing it on the LCD in my room. This seems the be the only game that's caused any lasting IR but it's something that I have to keep an eye on constantly. Other games may leave a bit here and there but it soon fades.

So basically I would prefer a technology that would provide reference picture quality and allow me to game for hours and hours without worry. I guess nothing is perfect. My phone screen is AMOLED and that's got some heavy burn in so not sure OLED will allieviate this. BUT I would rather have reference picture for movies, make some concession on gaming and manage any potential IR than not have the excellent PQ. So I am happy to be sticking with plasma until something truly better comes along.
 
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Queens Pawn

Active Member
another move away from plasma could be passive 3D and an increasing use of projectors for blu-ray viewing; plasma is not always the choice for enthusiasts either.
 

Kalos Geros

Active Member
Passive 3D is quite possible on plasmas and is not tied to LCDs, but I personally hope it will never happen as current implementation is inferior in ways of resolution i.e. visible "scanline" artifacts...even if it indeed leads to the death of plasma...

Plasma may (but just may) survive as niche technology since at lower and mid level LCDs are practically becoming the primary choice and cheap plasmas will eventually phase-out, but I fear the cost of R&D for just a single (or couple of) top plasma models is probably a death sentence - exactly what happened to Pioneer plasma division...since selling premium products without annual improvements in PQ is also not a long-term option, I'm afraid plasmas will not survive long enough to be naturally replaced by OLED at similar price points...top end LCDs will become the intermediate choice...the only problem is that even the ones with the best picture still look artificial to me...
 

LicensedTaximan

Well-known Member
Around about eighteen months ago our erstwhile 19 year old 33" Mitsubishi CRT went where ever 4:3 CRT TV's go to (our local recycling centre actualy) and we bought a Panny 50" VT30. Now a goodly amount of the films I watch are in 2:35:1 ratios and I haven't had any problems with any form of image retention.

Whether I have been fortunate or not I don't know but I also haven't had any issues with the dreaded "greenish tinge" debacle. Having said that a display costing what this model cost and the subsequent VT50 & VT60 one should not even have to consider that there would be any visual problems anyway apart from the odd one or two due to manufacturing faults as opposed to batch problems. As I said maybe i've been one of the lucky ones as I don't even suffer from any undue extranious fan noise which has also been reported.

Personaly I think that Plasma does have a future for the time being, and I agree that it will probably be around from manufacturers for about the next two to four years untill reasonably priced OLED's come along. Nice article by the way.
 

Dr Ed

Active Member
I'd be rather suprised if there isn't a Panny VX400 this time next year or at the end of this year. I would expect it to essentially be a a large ZT (85" like the VX200) and possibly even 4K (likely), so might be more of a TH85UX.

This then would be the plasma "to end them all", the ultimate and the last to be seen (in pure prefomance terms)... a panasonic last Hurrah :p

All of the above is pointless conjecture (thats what forums are for :blush:)
 

Hobnobs

Novice Member
I do value image quality over almost everything else when it comes to choosing a television now the usual answer to this is plasma but then we enter into the issue of using a plasma with a PC and we run into problems like the static taskbar and blurred windows fonts, these two issues alone are enough to put me off along with previously owning a Plasma set that I wasn't overly impressed with as I felt that colours where far too vivid and over saturated even after calibration.

I can overlook screen glare, buzzing noises, IR, clouding etc... but if it can't display a desktop well (A desktop consists of 70% of my use) then it's a no go.
 

Scooby2000

Distinguished Member
IR and burn, a lot of confusion over these issues.

I've personally had no burn in problem and neither have any friends or relatives with plasma sets. I had very bad IR fir months with my PX80, after 5-6 months though it inproved and still has no burn.
Not saying it doesn't happen, in fact Im more than convinced of three burnt sets posted on the forums in the last three years. I for wonder though if such sets have an underlying issue as the burn in occurred over a relatively short period of normal use.

As a game I love plasma, Id not go back to LCD myself despite some IR.
I don't think plasma stood a real chance to be honest, too many people with an interest in LCD sales and too much quite frankly disgraceful misinformation spread by some retailers. Manufacturer marketing has also been very misleading with LED, amazed they get away with it really, I can only put it down to ignorance of those who are meant to be looking out for the consumer.

Great that Panasonic and Samsung have stuck with it and giving us some great sets.

I'll still promote plasma myself, its not always the right choice but IMO in most areas its simply better and clearly better value for money.
 

Hobnobs

Novice Member
You certainly do get more for you're money with Plasma to my annoyance as everything I want from a set, deep blacks, good contrast, natural colours, reduced input lag, reduced motion blur or none at all are all things that are major pluses on Plasma set's yet I always get back to the DPI issue on windows desktop :/
 

Kalos Geros

Active Member
Is it churlish of me to suggest Plasma = Betamax, LCD = VHS ??
Well, Betamax never reached the market acceptance of plasma...can't compare :D

@hobnobs: the convergence prinicple the world is adopting is to blame...if used purely as a TV or display for motion content, plasma is better than LCD, but everyone nowadays want their TVs to cover other uses including serving as a computer monitor for which it is not quite suitable...why not design them to brew coffee as well, then? :rolleyes:

What problem are you having with DPI on plasma...1080 plasmas and LCDs have the same DPI at same screen size, perhaps you're reffering to larger inter-pixel gaps?
 
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Hobnobs

Novice Member
Well, Betamax never reached the market acceptance of plasma...can't compare :D

@hobnobs: the convergence prinicple the world is adopting is to blame...if used purely as a TV or display for motion content, plasma is better than LCD, but everyone nowadays want their TVs to cover other uses including serving as a computer monitor for which it is not quite suitable...why not design them to brew coffee as well, then? :rolleyes:

What problem are you having with DPI on plasma...1080 plasmas and LCDs have the same DPI at same screen size, perhaps you're reffering to larger inter-pixel gaps?
Iv read that text can be blurred with windows 7 on Plasma sets with that said Iv had the Panasonic L47E5B LED a week now and it suffers from motion blur, unrealistic colours and lip sync so I'm now considering a Plasma in the £600 range.
 

IvorB

Novice Member
Iv read that text can be blurred with windows 7 on Plasma sets with that said Iv had the Panasonic L47E5B LED a week now and it suffers from motion blur, unrealistic colours and lip sync so I'm now considering a Plasma in the £600 range.
You are crazy to use a plasma as a computer monitor. Your set will be IR-ed to the max in no time. I doubt it's worth it especially if there are those other issues you mentioned.
 

Hobnobs

Novice Member
Yeah I'd not considered the IR from static images, seems I'll have to put up with the flaws on this LED set as I can't see anything being as good in the same price range unless going Plasma.
 

Mr.D

Distinguished Member
Used multiple panny plasmas for many years as computer monitors in conjunction with an htpc. IR was never much of a problem , no burn in. Thats with the desktop displayed for hours at a time.

I do regard the pro evel screens as being much better than the consumer ones. I eventually traded my fantastic 42phd8 for a 46gt30 ; even with the lower resolution the PHD8 was the better screen.

If ease of use wasn't an issue I'd have kept the phd.

I'll be homest and say that I've found every other manufacturer's plasma offerings pretty nasty with the exception of Panasonic and Pioneer ( even then I regard them as slightly over rated).
 

zekepliskin

Novice Member
the convergence prinicple the world is adopting is to blame...if used purely as a TV or display for motion content, plasma is better than LCD, but everyone nowadays want their TVs to cover other uses including serving as a computer monitor for which it is not quite suitable...why not design them to brew coffee as well, then?
That's a rather spurious argument, and I can't understand why you'd see convergence as a bad thing personally.

The question convergence asks is, why have a seperate screen for everything when it's not needed? It works from a minimalist perspective, which a lot of people find incredibly appealing.

In my case a HTPC which plays my Blu-ray content incredibly well via XBMC also doubles as a basic desktop machine, able to do some web browsing/emailing etc. So I don't have to struggle with the same on an inaccurate touchscreen, run a laptop or have two screens on the go at once when there's no need to. Having screens all over the place is not something most people will find appealing, especially when you consider the WA factor.

Personally I've waited decades for this kind of convergence and I'm glad it's finally happening, as are many people I expect, judging by the market figures. As much as I love plasmas they can't play jack-of-all-trades at all, and your disdain suggests a degree of snobbery rather than simply admitting the strengths and weaknesses of plasma (incredibly good at motion content, superior contrast/colour reproduction, incredibly bad at static content, much more expensive, less reliable etc etc).

Just setting the record straight... ;)
 

manty1973

Active Member
My Panasonic vt20 still put a smile on my face.
A friend of mine came round the other day he has a sony 55' led top of the range. He also as a pioneer 5090 kuro in the cinema room after watching brave on my tv he said im putting the kuro back in the living room.
 

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