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Plasma TVs: High resolution, long viewing life, and narrow profiles

By The Vann’s Editorial Team
Last revised October 12th, 2009

Television has progressed into the stratosphere beyond the days of tube-driven technology, and this is clearly evident when you take a look at the spectacle that is plasma television. Gone are the days of vacuum tubes and televisions that double as furniture: a new age in high-definition television viewing has dawned, and at the front of the pack is the plasma display.

Plasma displays are the invention of Donald L. Blitzer and H. Gene Slottow. At the University of Illinois in 1964, these two developed plasma technology for use in the PLATO computer system. Originally these displays were in green or orange monochrome, and gained popularity in the 70’s as they did not require refresh circuitry or memory to operate. The quest for a true multi-color plasma display found its roots in 1975, but was not realized until 20 years later. In 1995, the first true multi-color display fired to life, and the technology has steadily advanced to the high-definition monitors seen today.

Plasma screens consist of an array of hundreds-of-thousands to millions of pixels arranged into a grid. Each pixel in a plasma display positions a gas-filled cell between two glass plates. When electricity is applied to a pixel cell, the gas is ionized, becoming plasma, and the movement of the gas ions results in the emission of photons, or particles of light. While the ionization of the gas is responsible for the production of light within a plasma display, color is reproduced via two means. First, the amount of electricity applied to a pixel governs a part of color reproduction. Different intensities in the electrical charge applied to the gas in a pixel result in different intensities in the colors produced. Second, the use of phosphor coating on cells contributes to the production of color. Each pixel is made up of three sub-pixels, each with a different color value (red, green, and blue). These colors blend when the cells are charged and generate the overall color for that cell.

Plasma screens are better suited than LCDs to use in situations where there is a lower level of ambient light, for two reasons. The first reason has to do with screen materials. While the slightly reflective nature of plasma screens that can result in unwanted glare in high-light situations, this is not an issue under low-light conditions. The second reason concerns the production of black levels. Black levels, or the ability of a display to reproduce blacks, is a key component in the reproduction of high-definition images. More blacks mean more contrast and more detail. Plasma displays completely shut pixels off to achieve deep, high-detail black levels. Because this method reduces the luminosity of the panel, plasmas are better suited to low-light conditions. LCD displays, on the other hand, reproduce black levels by blocking the passage of light through a pixel. Because LCDs can not completely block all of the light, lower black levels are attained and these panels may appear overly bright in low-light situations.

Currently, most plasma flat panels support the highest high-definition content, including 720p and 1080p. Here, the numbers “720” and “1080” refer to the resolution, or number of pixels — expressed as the number of pixels in a horizontal row — that a panel can deliver. The higher the resolution (and the higher the number), the higher the level of detail that can be displayed. The letter “p” refers to the scanning method — or way in which new frames are displayed on the screen giving the illusion of motion — that a particular flat panel uses. While a “p” refers to progressive scanning — in which each row of pixels is displayed in sequence — an “i” refers to interlaced scanning — in which the odd lines are displayed before the even lines. Because progressive scanning is a more advanced technology, any flat panel set able to display progressively will also be able to display interlaced source material.

There is some concern about the risk of “phosphor burn-in” or “screen burn-in” with plasma displays. These terms refer to a phenomenon by which the prolonged display of a stationary image on a plasma display can cause a “ghost-like” residue of that image to remain, permanently. Phosphor burn-in occurs because the phosphor coating on the individual pixels can lose luminosity with use. When the same image is displayed constantly (even on just a small part of the screen), the pixels involved in displaying that image begin to fade or dim (i.e. lose their luminosity) and can be visible to the eye. Phosphor burn-in occurs most commonly when a television station that displays its logo in the corner of the screen is left on for extended periods at a time. Also, menu screens on video games and DVDs can have a similar effect if left on for long periods. While phosphor burn-in can happen in these extreme cases, many manufacturers have developed technologies that greatly reduce the possibility of burn-in. Look for pixel orbiting, image washing or screen-saver modes.

When one thinks of a plasma display in these modern times, generally resolution and extraordinary viewing quality come to mind. Plasma displays are brighter than most televisions (1000 lx or higher), boast a broad color gamut and can be produced in very large sizes: up to 103” diagonally in some cases. The display panel itself is around 2.5” thick, allowing for narrow-profile wall mounting, and produces far more power than a CRT or AMLCD television. As the technology advances so does the plasma television’s affordability, making these an excellent choice for home theater applications. Initial consumer-level plasmas had a relatively short life span, but the new generation boasts a lifetime of up to 60,000 hours of viewing time — nearly 30 years for the person who averages 5 hours of viewing a day.

Plasma televisions also boast incredible contrast ratios, some being 5000:1 or higher. To put this in perspective, a standard movie at a local theater is displayed with a contrast ratio of about 500:1. Plasma displays enhance the movie-viewing experience (visually, at least) by 10 times! Such a wide range from black to white means great depth and dimensionality with vibrant colors. The ability to display billions of colors results in a picture superior to other competitive technologies. Deep blacks provide excellent shadow detail during dark scenes, while brilliant whites allow plasmas to render bright scenes with vivid realism.

A plasma television is narrow and light enough to be easily mounted on a wall without taking up much more room than, say, a framed painting. Generally additional wall mounts are not included with these televisions, but most are shipped with lightweight, low-profile base stands for entertainment-center placement. Three principle categories of mounting solutions are available: stationary, tilting/adjustable, and articulating arm. A stationary mount works as it sounds: once you mount the television, it stays firmly in place against the mounting wall. A tilt-mount will allow you to adjust the viewing angle 10-20 degrees vertically; this is an excellent option if you intend to mount the television higher than eye-level. Articulating arm mounts allow you to extend/alter the distance the television sits from the wall, and often allow for horizontal and vertical tilting. Whatever your viewing preference, mounts are available to meet your viewing needs and enhance your viewing experience.

If you have any questions regarding plasma flat panel televisions, please give us a call at 1-800-769-5668. We’re happy to help you make the flat panel television investment that is right for you.

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