The Bell Tolls for Plasma TVs

pioneer-60-plasmaIn the market for a new TV? These days, there are bargains galore, especially when it comes to those with plasma screens. The Wall Street Journal reports that the growing popularity of their LCD cousins has TV makers such as Pioneer and Vizio phasing out their entire plasma TV line-ups. Others may soon follow suit. (Read an alternative take on the future of Plasma TVs.)

One can hardly blame them — there were 30 million LCD TVs sold in the U.S. in 2008 vs. 4 million plasma TVs, according to Display Search, a market research company. That’s quite a comedown for a technology that once represented the cutting edge of the display market.

Plasma is made of cells. Each cell is essentially two plates of glass filled with neon-xenon gas that is electrically charged, which then strikes phosphors on the screen and that in turns displays the image. LCD panels in comparison are made of two layers of transparent material where one of the layers is coated with a special polymer that holds liquid crystals. Electric current is passed through these crystals which either pass the light or stop it, there by creating an image. (From

I remember when plasmas trumped LCDs by a mile, both in terms of picture quality and viewing angle. There were some problems with them, of course — they generated too much heat and static images burned into the screen, limiting their lifespan. They’ve since improved a lot, but so have LCDs, which by comparison have better contrast, sharper images and higher refresh rates. NewTeeVee back in February saw the demise of Pioneer’s Kuro TV line-up as a sign that plasma TVs would go the way of the buggy whip.

I paid an ungodly amount of money for a 42-inch plasma screen TV in 2002, only to sell it on Craigslist for a third of that price when I moved to San Francisco in March 2003. It taught me a valuable lesson: Televisions (and most consumer electronics) lose value really quickly, so there’s no point in overpaying by buying the latest and greatest. (I leave that for cell phones, computers and headphones.) Today, I have a 50-inch Panasonic LCD TV — not exactly the best on the market, but it does a fine job as a display for my DVD player and my Apple TV.

Now I’m getting ready to move to a bigger apartment. This would give me a chance to buy another television, this time for the bedroom. I’m thinking about buying a cheap plasma TV — just for old times sake. After all, it will be obsolete by the time I’m ready to move again so I won’t feel that bad about losing my investment.

P.S.: In case you’re still wrestling with which TV — LCD or plasma — to buy, CNet has a handy comparison guide.

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