Incredible Secrets of the World’s Largest Plasma TV

Incredible Secrets of the World’s Largest Plasma TV

Meet Dorothy. At 150 inches diagonal, she’s the world’s largest plasma screen and the biggest direct-view TV ever made, built (and named) by Panasonic. We got to play with her recently and as you’ve seen, it was mind-meltingly awesome. Even though firsthand experiences with Dorothy are akin to filling a leaf blower with nitrous oxide to jet-huff directly into your brain, Dorothy’s backstory is almost as incredible, especially when it comes to manufacturing, shipping and yes, managing all the electricity needed to fire her up. So even though you will absolutely never own one–except for you Giz-reading NBA stars and platinum-selling rappers–the story of the world’s most advanced television is a thrill, and serves as a crystal ball to the future of all TV. Come, talk to her. She’s intimidating, but it’ll be good for you.

Why “Dorothy”?
There are currently five 150-inch Panasonic plasmas in existence–and a sixth for CES 2009 is currently being assembled. They’ve been named, appropriately enough, like hurricanes–starting with A and working down. Dorothy’s number 4, hence the D.

Why 150 inches?
It's all about the upper limits of the manufacturing process. Panel factories crank out the largest single piece of "mother glass" they possibly can, so that they can cut more large TVs per pane of manufactured glass. The ultimate size of a piece of mother glass is limited by the glass's strength and uniformity—how large the thing can get without cracking. Panel makers will always be pushing this boundary, because the more 50-inch TVs you can get out of each single assembly-line run, the more money you can make on them even if they're selling at lower prices in stores.
Panasonic's previous biggest piece of mother glass was 103 inches (remember?), from which four 50-inch plasmas could be cut. Their new manufacturing plant, Amagasaki 5 in Japan, has pushed the max to 150 inches--enough glass to birth nine 50-inch plasmas. Dorothy's as big as she is because she literally swallowed nine TVs. When manufacturing evolves further, creating even larger panes of mother glass, you could see larger trade-show sets, provided they fit through the convention-centre doors. 103 inches, how quaint. And look at that lil' 42-incher, looking fit for bathroom viewing only by comparison.

What's the resolution?
Typically called 4K, it's resolution is 3996x2160. Even though you could technically call this 2160p, it's important to recognise that it's four times as tight as 1080p. Think four 1920x1080 panels Voltroning together to make something that's 8 megapixels, as opposed to the best current TVs' 2 megapixels. The annoying thing is that the industry went from measuring vertical resolution—720p and 1080p—to horizontal resolution—2K and 4K. (More on that here.)

As a result, watching a 1080p Blu-ray disc upscaled on Dorothy is akin to watching a standard-def DVD upscaled on your HDTV. As you can see in the shot below, the upscaler uses two pixels to render a one-pixel wide line from a test disc. But at Dorothy's scale, it's less about spotting compression artifacts, which are most visible when you're close enough to induce nausea anyway. It's about getting your face blown off.

How's it stack up to Pioneer's Kuro, one of the top plasmas in the game?
As far as motion-resolution goes--the all-important ability to maintain crisp images while they're in motion on the screen--it's actually better. According to HD Guru Gary Merson (who was more interested in running his calibration discs on the 150 than sticking with us for some Counter Strike, God bless 'im), the 150-incher, even as a prototype, scored a resolution of 920 lines on a 1080i signal. Pioneer's '08 Kuros, the next best, scored 900. Our bet is that Dorothy can't best the Kuro in the contrast department, but as you can see from all of our shots, it's no slouch. Check out more performance specs in Gary's 125-TV mega-guide. Below: Gary testing motion resolution.

How much power does she suck down, and at what cost?
Dorothy is addicted to raw electricity--we're talking two dedicated 15-amp, single-phase, 208-volt lines which produce around 3,000 watts on average. Dorothy peaks at around 7,000 watts of direct consumption. Not exactly EnergyStar.

If I plugged Dorothy in at my apartment (that is, after removing my second-floor balcony door and window and much of the exterior wall while at it, and hiring a crane to bring the TV in), Dorothy's juice habit would run me around $US1.50 per hour of use, at ConEd's current price of 22 cents per kilowatt-hour. So, after renting the Godfather Blu-ray set, factor in about $US15 more in electricity charges for watching the whole thing.

How much heat does the thing put off?
We were expecting getting close to Dorothy was going to feel like putting our faces in a toaster oven. Even standard-size Kuros can feel a little warm. But surprisingly, up front, the heat was far from extreme. It very well could be channeled out the back, but we didn't see any industrial-grade heat sinks behind her, either, or hear any fans blowing away. (Note: We're not allowed to show photographs of Dorothy's rear, though we did have a peek.)

How much does she weigh?
Around 770 kg not including the stand. For comparison, an actual Mini Cooper with Adam in the driver's seat weighs about 1,270 kg.

How does Dorothy get around?
With great care and difficulty. After her inception at Amagasaki 5, Dorothy and her sisters were tested then sent on the trade-show circuit. Unlike the 103, they're too big even for wooden crates. All that protects Dorothy and her sisters from the elements are the thin membranes of bubble wrap and Styrofoam wrapped around them, and the tarp draped over the open shipping cage. That's all. Here's a fun fact: Only two 150-inchers can fit in a single 747 cargo hold at a time.

Although we saw a 150-incher at CES last January, Dorothy's first trip was to IFA in Berlin this September. Afterward, she headed for Panasonic's North American HQ in Secaucus, NJ where we got the chance to meet. She's due to appear on Wall Street today (unfortunate timing for the poor girl) for the official US debut, then on to trade shows in Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong before returning home again to Japan.

Thanks for the facts, but what was that about a "mind-meltingly awesome" experience again? Any way to demonstrate that, say with a video of Gran Turismo 5's in-car view?
Why yes we can, and we'll throw in the 42-inch steering wheel for free:

There's more where that came from: check out more hands-on 150-inch action here and here.