Plasma Television Buying Guide

Plasma TVs are a new type of display that uses technology fundamentally different from other televisions. The way Plasma TVs work is as following:
A Plasma TV works by suspending an inert gas such as neon or xenon in between two glass plates that are meshed together. Between the glass panels there are generally over 1 million pixel cells capable of producing 16.7 million colors. This inert gas is excited by a charge from an electrode, one per pixel of the display, turning it to plasma (hence the name), and causing ultraviolet light to be created. Of course, we cannot see UV light, but this light is used to illuminate phosphors built into the glass, creating visible light. Since each pixel includes red, green and blue phosphors, the need for space is reduced. Likewise, since each pixel includes all three colors, there is no need to scan the image as with traditional cathode-ray tube displays, allowing Plasma TVs to produce exceptionally bright and colorful displays.

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Brightness of Plasma Screen Televisions

While LCD televisions and some high-end CRT televisions can be very bright, they do not approach the quality of brightness found in plasma screen televisions. Plasma screen televisions are capable of displaying picture brightness that is perfectly uniform. Often, screens of lesser quality have “hot spots” or areas that are too bright. The images of many televisions often darken at the corners with age. Both distortions can make the images on screen look unnatural. The transistors within a plasma screen television illuminate all of the screens pixels equally, creating an evenly bright picture.

Speakers and Plasma Screen Televisions

Very few plasma screen televisions come with built in speakers. Some, however, are constructed with built in amplifiers on the sides that work with attachable speakers. These amplifiers are usually small (7 or 8 watts) but they do produce respectable sound. Owners of plasma screen televisions without built in amplifiers, or those who wish to have greater sound quality, still have many attractive options. The easiest is to connect the television to the receiver of a home theater system. This allows for the highest audio quality output possible.

Plasma Screen Televisions and Scan Lines

When a standard CRT creates an image, a beam of electrons moves across the back of the screen, scanning an image on to phosphors. These leaves scan lines in the images, which can be visible, especially on older televisions. Plasma screen televisions do not rely on phosphors or electron beams. Plasma screen televisions have transistor electrodes for every single pixel on the screen. These transistors eliminate the presence of scan lines, creating higher picture quality.

Screen Shape of Plasma Screen Televisions

Standard CRT televisions have a curved screen, which causes a slight distortion of images at the edges. CRT television screens are also often subject to problems cause by glare. Plasma screen televisions are perfectly flat, allowing for a uniform image with no edge distortion. The flat surface of a plasma screen television also allows for greater viewing angles than normal televisions. Coating the plasma screen with a thin layer of plexiglass often alleviates the problem of screen glare.

The Importance of Size in Plasma Screen Televisions

Plasma screen televisions are built to provide the largest image while saving the most space. The units themselves are only a few inches thick, yet capable of displaying images of over 60 inches. The standard depth is about 3.5 inches for screens around 40 inches, and 4 inches for screens greater than 50 inches. The housing of the plasma screen television is barely larger than the screen itself, making the plasma screen look less like a television and more like a framed picture. This makes the plasma screen an entirely different aesthetic television experience. Due to the size of plasma screen televisions home users and business professionals alike are able to place a television screen within spaces that no television could fit in before.

Color Levels of Plasma Screen Televisions

The colors present in plasma screen televisions far surpass the color capabilities of normal CRT televisions. This powerful imaging capability makes a plasma screen television a stunning entertainment piece for the homeowner and a useful tool for photo and video professionals. A plasma screen television of exceptional quality is capable of producing up to 16.77 million colors. The televisions are also able to show more subtle variations in color, producing a more lifelike picture. The color saturation of images on plasma screen televisions is much greater than that of the average television, making the picture especially vivid.

Wide Viewing Angles of Plasma Screen Televisions

Plasma screen televisions have a wider viewing angle than the standard CRT television. Most plasma screen televisions give viewers 160 degrees of viewing angle, from top to bottom and left to right. This wide viewing angle is even better than that of LCD television displays. The 160 degree viewing angle of wide screen televisions allows for greater flexibility of screen placement within a room. Plasma screen televisions used in home entertainment centers will all viewers to see more comfortably from a wider area, and those used in professional settings will allow greater utilization of space.

Plasma Screen Televisions and Older Aspect Ratios

You may be worried that images formatted in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio may be incompatible with the 16:9 aspect ratio of plasma screen television. Luckily, plasma screen televisions have two primary ways of dealing with this incongruity. In the first case, plasma screen televisions are capable of displaying the whole of a 4:3 image on screen, with black or grey bars on the sides compensating for the unused image space. Plasma screen televisions can also display a 4:3 aspect ration image on the whole screen by stretching the image. The plasma screen television does this by enlarging the whole image and limiting the stretching to the image’s side, minimizing distortion and rendering the 4:3 picture on the full screen.

Plasma Screen Televisions and DTV Technology

Buying a plasma screen television allows you to take advantage of DTV technology. Soon, all methods of broadcast, recording, and display will rely on digital standards. Buying a plasma screen television insures that your home theatre will be compatible with future television standards. Plasma screen televisions are also able to take advantage of computer video and reception. They can flawlessly display digital video from DVDs, digital video tapes, and digitally recorded video.

Professional Video and Plasma Screen Televisions

Plasma screen televisions are cable of displaying images of very high resolution, producing pictures of incredible quality. Because the images are of such high resolution, a plasma screen television is ideal for people who work within the video, digital filmmaking, and digital photography industries. Plasma screen televisions can display standard DTV and HDTV signals and are also capable of displaying XGA, SVGA, and VGA computer formats. This means that your plasma screen television’s use can extend beyond that of the home theatre system. It can also be used to display signals from your home computer, or to display images from a digital photography collection.

Video Formats and Plasma Screen Televisions

Right now, plasma screen televisions provide users with the greatest amount of compatibility across multiple video formats. They can display video using standard coaxial video input and the digital S-video input used by digital video recorders and DVD players. Plasma screen televisions also accept video signals from most computer systems. Plasma screen televisions are especially useful for professionals who work with multiple video formats. Most screens can display signals based on NTSC, PAL, SECAM, RCA, and BNC.

Widescreen on Plasma Screen Televisions

Plasma screen televisions are capable of displaying images in their natural aspect ration. Currently, all films shown in theatres are displayed at a 16:9 or “widescreen” aspect ration. This aspect ratio is also used in standard DVD formats and HDTV. Images from satellite TV, VCRs, and cable television are shown with a 4:3 or “full screen” aspect ratio. This often creates distortion, often called “pan and scan” when watching movies on regular CRT televisions. Plasma screen televisions circumvent this problem by having a default widescreen display, allowing viewers to see DVD movies and HDTV in their natural formats.

ADVANTAGES OF PLASMA TV

Plasma TVs offer many advantages over other television technologies, and this accounts for why they are the fastest selling ‘new’ TV technology on the market. Some of the advantages of plasma TVs are:

  • Exceptional Color: Plasma TVs display up to 16.77 million colors – more than the human eye can even register – to provide a highly accurate, lifelike picture.
  • High Resolution: Plasma TVs are able to display a high resolution, and are capable of displaying HDTV signals. Many Plasma TVs are capable of producing 720p pictures, and some are able to display 1080i as well.
  • Slim, Lightweight Design: A key advantage of the Plasma TV is it’s thin, flat-panel design, often only inches thick. Plasma TVs are also very light.
  • Price: Although still more expensive compared to direct view or rear projection TVs, Plasma TV prices have fallen dramatically, and are now quite affordable. Plasma TVs are priced lower than other new technologies such as LCD and LCoS TVs.
  • Built-in Line Doubler: Most Plasma TVs include a built in line doubler; a feature that basically doubles the resolution of conventional TV signals, greatly improving their image quality. This is perfect for those times when you are not watching a HDTV or DVD source.
  • Widescreen Aspect Ratio: Plasma TVs offer a dramatic widescreen 16:9 ratio display, allowing you to view HDTV signals in their native size, as well as view DVDs in their proper aspect ratio.
  • Uniform Screen Brightness: Compared to rear projection TV’s, Plasma TVs offer perfectly uniform screen brightness. Rear projection TVs often have ‘dull spots’, where the picture is a bit fuzzy or not nearly as bright, resulting in a lower display quality.
  • Wide Viewing Angle: Plasma TVs offer the best viewing angles, equal to that of the best direct view (CRT) sets. Plasma TVs are noticeably superior to rear projection and LCD TVs in this regards.
  • Magnetic Field Immunity: Since Plasma TVs use different technology compared to conventional TVs, they do not suffer distortion when placed in proximity to a magnetic field. Speakers can be placed next to, below, or right on top of Plasma TVs with no adverse effects.
  • Flat Screens: Plasma TVs offer perfectly flat screens, cutting down on image distortion and glare.
  • Computer compatibility: Most Plasma TVs are able to receive VGA and SVGA signals from computers, as well as standard television and HDTV signals. This allows them to be used for multiple purposes, including many in a commercial or retail environment. Computer gamers have also been known to make use of Plasma TVs to provide them the advantage of a larger viewing area.

DISADVANTAGES OF PLASMA TV

Of course, not all technologies are perfect, and Plasma TVs do have some disadvantages compared to other TV technologies. Some of them are:

  • Potential Burn-In: Because of the phosphor technology in Plasma TVs (see How Plasma TVs Work), it is possible for traces of an image to be ‘burned-in’ to the display.
  • This is generally only a concern in commercial uses, where images are displayed for long-periods of time. Those that watch stations that offer news tickers may alson eed to be careful. Burn-in can generally be avoided by making sure that you do not keep a constant image on the screen for extended periods (sometimes as little as 20 minutes), either by turning the television off, or changing the channel.
  • Lower Brightness: Although still considerably brighter than rear-projection TVs, direct view and LCD TVs often are able to provide a brighter picture. This is generally only readily noticeable if watching in a very brightly lit room. Latest generation Plasma TVs have improved on the brightness issue considerably, and our only real warning would be to those that plan to do the majority of their viewing in a room exposed to afternoon sun.
  • Not the Lightest or Slimmest: Although Plasma TVs are MUCH lighter and thinner compared to direct view and rear projection TVs, a lighter, slimmer technology does exist: LCD TVs. LCD TVs use the same technology as used in most laptop computers. However, it should be noted that LCD TVs are not generally available in the same sizes as Plasma TVs, and in those rare cases that they are, they generally cost considerably more.
  • Price: Yes, this is a disadvantage and an advantage. Although Plasma TVs are considerably cheaper than comparably-sized LCD or LCoS TVs, they do cost more than direct view and rear-projection TVs. Of course, it must be mentioned that direct view HDTVs do not exist in the sizes that Plasma TV offers (namely 42-inch and 50-inch models).
  • Shorter Life: Compared to other television technologies, Plasma TVs do generally have a shorter life span, and there is no option to repair a burnt out tube or backlight. Most Plasma TVs have a life span of 20,000-30,000 hours based on manufacturer’s estimates. This life span is commonly referred to as the Plasma TV half-life, as it is the number of hours over which the Plasma TV will loose approximately half of it’s brightness.
    Of course, we should note that a Plasma TV with a 20,000 hour life would allow you to watch 4 hours of TV per day for approximately 13.7 years. Even at 8 hours per day, your Plasma TV should provide you with nearly 7 years of enjoyment. So, for most of us, this should not be an issue, and a Plasma TV is a worthy investment.
  • Fragility: Plasma TVs are a very fragile technology, and the units are quite easy to damage. Extreme care must be used when moving them, as even laying the Plasma display on it’s side can have adverse effects, possibly damaging the unit irreparably.

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