Blog Post

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.

19 Responses to “The Bell Tolls for Plasma TVs”


    Not all plasmas use more power than a same-sized LCD. You have to go on a case by case basis. Some of the newest plasmas are quite energy efficient. Conversely, some feature-laden LCD sets are immense power hogs – all that computing power they deploy to get rid of LCD-only artifacts (like blurring) draws a lot of watts.

  2. Richard

    Plasmas use far, far more power than LCD screens – quite apart from the impact on your bank balance as energy prices are set to continue increasing for the foreseeable future, this means they are also contributing more to climate change and global ocean change (acidification is killing plankton which support the entire carbon / oxygen cycle, and the oceans are essential to the survival of life on land).

    Thanks for listening to this eco-rant, we now return you to your normal service…

  3. In UK prices have fall down very low.

    Nobody wants hustle because tv is a life time thing that’s why plasma tv’s are out of race.

    Currently the LED Backlid LCD Tv flair going around the market. They are cheap thin and superb quallity.

  4. Ben Dean

    So, you link to a WSJ article that says, despite some manufacturers jumping ship, plasmas are better quality and still a “viable technology”. Then to a C|NET article that gives the nod to Plasmas in every way except power consumption.

    So how exactly is the Bell Tolling?

    The only LCD’s that come close to “catching up” to Plasmas picture quality are direct-back-lit models that still cost 2x or 3x more than a similar sized (and higher picture quality) plasma. And these are *not* the TV’s that Wal-mart and Best Buy customers are leaving with in droves.

    Just because the majority of people who walk into Costco or Best Buy – many of whom can’t tell the difference between HDTV and SDTV ( – walk away with LCDs – and probably a few hundred dollars of Monster cables worth about $30 at Monoprice – doesn’t mean you should too.

    • Jesse Kopelman

      Some manufacturers jumping ship? There weren’t that many to begin with. Now there is pretty much just Panasonic. When you are down to a single major manufacturer, it is a good sign that the window is closing on the technology. Does that mean you shouldn’t buy a Plasma, of course not. The end of life of a particular technology is often the best time to buy it — everything has been perfected and price is low. The point of the article wasn’t don’t buy plasma, it was don’t expect to be able to buy plasma in 5 years.

  5. You won’t make up the difference in “no time” – but, true – plasmas consume about twice as much electricity as an LCD. I’ve been tempted to make my next and final increase in size a plasma set because of the crashing prices. But, I’m trying to be as Green as I can about all this stuff.

    So, I’ll wait for the LED-backlight LCD’s to come down to a reasonable price – I can only go up to about 54″ next time, anyway. My wife would shoot me if the corner location in the living room started to overlap the windows either side. :)

    OTOH, a plasma in the bedroom, Om – would save on heating the room in the rainy season.

    • Jack Won

      The best way to be green is to use what you already have for as long as feasible – avoid manufacturing energy costs of the new and the landfill costs of the old.

      I dont think the energy savings from the new stuff justify these costs in their lifetime yet

  6. The article has been well written.I don’t have a Plasma TV but i do own a Samsung(LCD) and Akai TV(Old Days Product).But still they’re running ok.I really appreciate new products on the market.
    But i don’t buy it sooner.It takes some months.To observe what people and the analysts have to say about the product.Then i take a decision to spend the money.

  7. It may be cheaper up front, but plasmas consume a lot more energy than LCDs. You’ll make up the difference on your power bill in no time.

  8. Artruro Jayson

    Honestly, Om, grab the best plasma you can at a price that won’t break your credit rating, and you’ll probably enjoy it for years. The new ones are quite nice and they apparently don’t burn anymore. The contrast, sharpness and refresh rates have improved quite a bit, and I think there might be something out there comparable to any LCD. Buy the best and maybe the BIGGEST one you can afford, or fit into your new place, especially at these prices.

    And, yes, don’t make the mistake of buying one so big you can’t fit it into your place. People have done this. The stories are ridiculous. Take measurements of rooms and doorways.