Originally, plasma display technology was developed back in the 1960s as a screen for the PLATO teaching computer system. It was a simple, monologue display of the brightest orange that measured in at about an inch thick. Back then, nobody had any idea that plasma would some day lead a revolution into the lounge room...
As you're probably aware, plasma displays use noble gases wedged between two sheets of glass, which are zapped with electricity to make them change colour (for more, check out this post here). What you may not know is how the technology has progressed almost exponentially in the past 20 years.
It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the so-called "father of plasma", Larry Weber, began researching plasma at the University of Illinois. According to Wikipedia, he has 15 patents related to the technology in his name today. What's more - he essentially saved the technology from extinction in the early 1980s, when IBM planned on closing their plasma display factory, by buying it off them.
It wasn't until the 1990s that plasma prototypes even started appearing - up until then, the screens were used in cash registers, calculators, pinball machines and a whole host of other gadgets. In 1992, Fujitsu showed off a 21-inch colour display, although it used other technologies to pump up the brightness. The first full-colour plasma display was demonstrated by Larry Weber in 1994 and led to Panasonic buying his plasma company.
The rapid expansion of plasma continued in 1997, with the sale of the first 42-inch plasma TV from Fujitsu. It had a resolution of 852x480 pixels and was followed by a Philips display with the same resolution. It didn't come cheap though – that first set cost $US14,999, although that included home installation.
Over the past 12 years, the technology has progressed even further. The panels developed to display Full HD resolutions, increased their contrast ratio, and worked out all the kinks in the technology, like burn-in and problems at high altitudes. Today, LCD has definitely taken over plasma as the main TV technology available, however many pundits (myself included) argue that the plasma picture quality is a more enjoyable watching experience. And when you couple that with some of the latest plasma screens – which use much less power than previous generations and can be up to 1-inch thick for a whole 50-inch television, it's easy to see that the technology still has some life left in it.
History of TV is Giz AU’s month-long look back at the development of the world-changing medium and its influence on our daily lives.