Plasma TV, We Hardly Knew Ye

Earlier this week, Samsung introduced its newest, latest and greatest 2014 Smart TVs, to much fanfare — Ultra HD curved screens, with super-thin and energy-efficient LED panels. There was one particular technology's conspicuous absence in all the glamour, though, as there will likely be in the upcoming announcements of LG and Panasonic — plasma is all but gone.

Full disclosure: I own a Pioneer KURO, the 50-inch LX509A. I am seriously considering buying a 60-inch Panasonic ST60A, if I can still find one — they've all but disappeared from store shelves (although I think I might be able to find one at a JB HiFi somewhere). I love plasma TVs. But for the most part, plasma is dead, and that's a real pity.

Take a look on Samsung Australia's television sub-site, and you'll notice something missing: in the past few months, the Plasma TV section has disappeared. In 2013, Samsung had two plasma ranges, the Series 5 and the Series 8+, but this year, there are none. Panasonic still has its 2013 models listed, but they won't be there for long.

To be fair, we've known about this for a long time. There's no hiding the fact that especially in the last few years, plasma TVs have been overshadowed by LED-backlit sets — LED edge-lighting and fancy local area dimming means TVs can be thinner, brighter, and more vibrant. Plasma has always been technically superior for high-quality, critical movie watching, but time and sales figures have shown that people really just aren't interested enough in that.

Power consumption has always been a big problem for plasma. There's no denying that when you place a plasma TV next to an LCD and run the same two-hour film, the plasma will consume more electricity. Panasonic especially made huge leaps forward year-on-year with its NeoPDP technology — in one year, I remember the company announcing it had cut plasma power consumption in half while still maintaining the same brightness — but it wasn't enough to keep up with the unassailable advantage of LED. When you're running an entire screen's worth of individual plasma cells, there's no comparison to a few dozen ultra-bright white LEDs doing the same job.

There's something magical about that warm, emissive glow of a plasma TV that you can't quantify with words on a website — and to be honest, this is probably what killed them off. With both screens facing up against each other in a bright, fluorescent-lit retail store, LED's higher maximum brightness and colour vibrancy makes them an easier sell for the time-pressed salesman on the showroom floor.

You can still buy a few plasma TV models — there's a couple of Panasonics at JB, BigBrownBox has half a dozen including a Samsung and a LG, Dick Smith has two. But compare that to the number of LED LCDs on offer — JB has 54, across 15- to 70-inch sizes. It's clear where the market is heading.

There's some small salvation on the way, in the not-too-distant future, in the form of OLED. If the Korean and Japanese television manufacturers can get over their current strange obsession with curved OLED TVs, and offer a flat OLED panel at a reasonable price, I'll shout about it from the rooftops.

OLED has a lot going for it, because it's technically quite similar to plasma — individual pixels create their own light, rather than being backlit by a separate LED, and can entirely power off when needed to give the TV 'true' blacks alongside incredibly bright whites. OLED TVs are thin, don't consume quite as much energy as plasmas, and have the ability to create an incredibly vibrant picture. But they're still so expensive — LG's bargain-basesment OLED, the curved 55-inch 55EA9800, is still $5999. This is a long way for the sub-$1500 you could find a 55-inch plasma for in years past.

For me, the start of this year has been a time of quiet disappointment. I really hoped that plasma would make some strides forwards in energy efficiency and power consumption — to bring those annoying niggles into line with its excellent, as-yet-unmatched picture quality and value for money performance. I'm still holding out hope that Panasonic might make a surprise announcement in the coming months about plasma's miraculous rebirth — but you and I both know that's just not going to happen.

We just have to count on the TV companies getting OLED right in the next few years. I might just buy that Panasonic ST60A and hope it lasts long enough for a new technology to match it for size, picture quality, and price.

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    Great piece Campbell. I love my 50" Panasonic PV500A. It's 4 or 5 years old now, but it was a top of the line 1080p plasma when it came out. Its black levels aren't quite up to Kuro standards, but it still blows away the blacks and contrast ratio found on most new LED-LCDs.

    I don't plan to upgrade until I can buy a 65" 4K OLED for under $5000.

    Last edited 01/05/14 1:31 pm

    I've got a 58" Samsung series 8 from a couple of years back & it's picture blows my friend's newer LED TVs away, I hope it works fine for many years to come until technology catches up.

      I've got a bout a 6ish year old plasma and even know it's picture is still amazing.

      same I've got the sammy 8 series plasma and other than the buzzing it's amazing, went for a warranty fix for the buzz but they said you couldnt fix it, once I wall mounted it to the wall though it made the buzz go over your head so can't hear it from the couch now.

    I recently bought a ST60A. I got the 60" for $1559 delivered at JB HiFi.

    Stunning TV and fantastic value.

    Panasonic already announced the end of their Plasma TVs:

      Yeah, but I don't want to believe it. It's genuinely upsetting.

    Nice article. I got my Panasonic ST60 60in after trying four LED-LCD TV's. It has become clear that the manufacturing process isn't good enough (or they dont care) to catch massive defects like uneven backlighting etc. 4K won't fix it, curved won't fix it. Only better standards or OLED can fix this problem.

    Iv'e been holding onto my beautiful 55" Plasma TV for over 5 years now. Gorgeous set that is still going strong. i have no desire to upgrade until i can get something comparable at a lower cost.

    The end of plasma makes me sad to no end. I too am looking at picking up a new Panasonic plasma before they are gone for good but I have no place to keep it... :(

      This is what's stopping me slightly. I'd have to trade away my Pioneer, and it's already excellent as plasmas go.

    My 50 inch Samsung plasma was 650 watts. It died and now I have a 65 inch sharp LCD that takes less than 200 watts to run. Yes the picture isn't as good but it's heap cheaper to run and with the ever increasing electricity prices. I'm happy with the switch to LCD.

    Just got a Panasonic 65" ST50 a few weeks ago.

    431 watts to run
    Outstanding image

    Why go LED?

    They'll have to pry my Pioneer Plasma out of my cold dead hands!!!!

    LED?? Yer kiddin...

    I bought my 50" Panasonic viera plasma last year for just NZ$800 and the picture quality still shames $5000 LEDs. The best thing was an excellent panel without wasting too much on smarts. My bluray player runs plex, which still puts most smart TVA software to shame 8)

      800 for a 50" plasma is amazing. Where did you get that from because I've currently got a 32" ccfl lcd that im looking at replacing with a 50" plasma before they all disappear

    The loss of plasma is a bad idea (business wise it is going to cost them). Yes I know, they don't use as much electricity (and neither does a book). IMHO if a person does not care enough about their picture quality to be able to see the difference (even in a badly lit showroom )they ned to get their eyes seen to becasue tehy are going blind. Plasma are far better on power and heat than they were. Trouble is the manufacurers did not PUSH this fact at all... or have TV commericals that showed those nasty halo effect.

    If a person STILL doesn't want a plasm (after seeing the differences) then they can pipe an HD tuner through an old used 1990s CRT TV (less electircity than a plasma, abd a better picture than pover hald the LCDs out there - with NO HALOs)... probably a better native contrast than an LCD too (unless you spend $6000+).

    This site is very useful in comparing Plasma vs LCD costs (cost of set and cost of electricity over time)

    It compares many of the 2013 models to make a 'very general' set of graphs/. It gives out average energy use for both styles of TVs.

    It also has a really cool application - a set of controls that lets you select a TV size and a # hours per day watched, to show you energy consumption and cost for both types of panels.

    Times have changed. About 6 years back A 42inch Plasma TV consumed about 200watts (on average, bright scenes take more electricity on Plasma sets). Now days this is just not true.

    ** THE RESULTS **

    These days (according to this web site) in the 'real world' the watts used on a plasma set are about 10 watts more than an LCD of the same size. Why is that? After all LCD tech on its own uses so very little power... and the reason is the attempt to make an LCD display look more like a Plasma one. LCD's need a whole lot of LEDs in 'regions' to have any chance of having nice bright colors, without a lot of halo effects. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You just can't get bright colors comparable to a Plasma on LCD tech without a *lot* of expensive (and energy eating) LED back lighting and the more regions, the less haloing, and a whole lot more cost up front.

    Anyway the difference between a 40inch LCD and 42 inch Plasma is about 10 watts. At 11 cents a KwH that comes to roughly $10 a year. And because that LCD/LED set costs so much more (unless you like bright stripes in the middle of your screen) it will take 35 years to pay off the difference in initial up front cost, in "energy not purchased".

    Our power is closer to 25 cents a Kwh so it would be about 10 years.

    So, you do save some energy (and cabon) unless you get some PV on your house. However you do not save any $$money$$ at all because the TV will be sitting in a land fill in Ghana for over a decade before you can manage to break even.

    I have a Panasonic 50" plasma, model TH-P50VT30A which was top of the range. I have quite a few friends and tradesmen who always marvel at the picture quality, especially sports programmes. I was thinking of an upgrade to a Ultra HD set but Panasonic inform me that they are no longer supplying plasmas. I shall now keep my still perfect plasma TV until I can be sure that new technologies are superior or at least equal. No LCD for me.

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