Rich Warren: Plasma TVs are fading; time to consider LCDs
Today we conjure the video spirits to answer a reader question concerning plasma versus LCD TVs. Once upon time, you could see ghosts on plasma sets caused by burn-in.
"Over the last 10-plus years I've owned nothing but plasma TVs. I've got a nice Panasonic 50-inch in the living room and a 42-inch in the bedroom, so I'm really into plasmas. In fact, I recommend them to everyone I know. Can you beat 600 Hz for fast action and their individually illuminated cells for the best blacks and viewing angles?
"But according to my local stereo/video store, LCD is catching up, and getting better and better. Here's what interests me about LCDs: 0.3-inch almost nonexistent bezels; much cooler running; very power efficient; brighter; less glare.
"So I looked at the Samsung (hometheaterreview.com/samsung-un55f8000-ledlcd-hdtv-reviewed/>UN55f8000) today, and wow is it impressive. It's the only LCD set, so far, that motion blur and artifacting really isn't noticeable in HD. In 'movie' mode it's the closest thing to plasma I've seen.
"I have a nice little PC plugged into my TV, so I have no use for all that 'smart' stuff, so if I can drop to a cheaper one that offers the same video quality and small bezel I would look at that as well.
"My living room is bright during the day and I could use a tad more brightness than my Panasonic offers, but it's still acceptable. Someone has offered me good money for my 4-year-old 50-inch Panasonic plasma and sitting 12 feet from it, I could really use a larger set. I'm leaning toward a 60- or 65-inch screen.
"My local store rep says he's not even aware if plasma will do a 4K set, just too many cells. He says plasma's days may be numbered, probably five more years then that will be it. (Keep in mind he owns and recommends plasmas to many people as well.)
"Do you think I'd be happy with a Samsung 8000-series LCD to replace my Panasonic plasma for movie watching and computer use?"
Simply: Yes. The question is so long and detailed, the answer must be brief. Plasma TVs definitely are fading out. Only Panasonic seriously supports the technology — while it shifts toward LCD TVs. Samsung half-heartedly markets budget plasma models.
LCD TV will never quite duplicate the true, deep blacks of plasma. Otherwise, it can match or surpass plasma in nearly every other category. In this age of energy efficiency, plasma TVs are the trucks of TVs, while LCD TVs come closer to the Prius. Also, plasma spews all kinds of spurious radio frequency garbage that can interfere with many home products.
Your local rep is correct: It is unlikely there will ever be a 4K ultra-high-definition plasma TV. There's no incentive for a company to invest in the technology.
I have not seen the Samsung TV you mention, but Samsung is a leader in LCD TVs. It imbues its sets with advanced, first-rate technology. It manufacturers its own LCD panels (and panels for about half of the rest of the industry).
TV manufacturers resemble car manufacturers. If you want the best model, you usually have to take it fully loaded. For example, 3-D TVs are a bust, but the best sets still include the capability. To make 3-D work, the manufacturer must include the best possible LCD panel. Including "smart" functions of Internet connectivity costs the manufacturer nearly nothing, yet it can charge a premium at retail. Thus, it's unlikely you'll find a true high performance model that isn't "smart."
LCD now offers much wider viewing angles than in the past, with addressable backlighting for much blacker blacks, and is close to eliminating fast motion blur. The picture can be as bright or dim as you desire and, with proper adjustment and tweaking, can match 98 percent of the performance of plasma — with several side benefits such as size, weight and energy efficiency.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.