The End of Plasma

We all should have seen it coming when Pioneer announced that they were leaving the television business in 2009. Pioneer was the manufacturer of the Kuro line of plasma televisions, widely regarded as the best TVs available. The end of plasma was near. That beautiful picture quality that few appreciated would soon be impossible to find. Panasonic carried the crown of “best TV” (from what I can tell) once Pioneer left, but that won’t be the case for long. Panasonic has announced that it will cease production of Plasma televisions in December.

This announcement leaves Samsung and LG as the last of a dying breed of plasma television manufacturers. But I don’t expect them to last for too much longer, the writing is on the wall for plasma and eventually Samsung and LG will leave the business too.

It’s funny that plasma has been touted by television reviewers as the best display technology for so long and yet consumers just haven’t bought into it. When I bought my first HDTV in 2006 the two models I was debating between were Vizio’s 42-inch LCD for roughly $1400 and Vizio’s 50-inch plasma for $1999. I ultimately ended up with the smaller LCD but that was because of price concerns. However, just a year or two after my purchase the pricing climate switched and plasma TVs became cheaper than LCDs at the same display size. This is why the death of plasma has been so curious to me.

The theory I’ve held for years now (and continue believing) is that it’s the retailers fault. The truth is, televisions are sold in brightly-lit showrooms and plasmas can’t compete with LCDs in brightness. But, in the real world they shouldn’t have to. TVs aren’t typically watched in brightly-lit rooms, they’re viewed in dim living rooms before bed-time with one (maybe two) lights on. But, when you go to a store to purchase a television you’re standing in a room with hundreds of fluorescent light bulbs above your head, certainly not ideal conditions for showing your customers what the TV will look like when they get it home. In those conditions plasma televisions look dull compared to LCDs, but when you get home that “dull” TV will have incredible black levels and superb picture quality that LCD TVs couldn’t hold a candle to.

The other major problem is poorly informed sales associates. These employees selling you televisions usually don’t have any idea what makes for a good TV. They parrot selling points that they’ve been given in employee training material and marketing speak written on the side of the TV’s box. But, they don’t really have any idea what TV is best for the customer. They find out how much you want to spend and point you in the direction of the TVs that cost that much, and that’s if your lucky. If you even suggest the idea of a plasma television many of them will start telling you about burn-in and how plasmas “leak plasma” that will have to be refilled every few years. Both of which couldn’t be further from the truth. Older plasma TVs had problems with burn-in but that was 15+ years ago and only after watching video with static images on it for prolonged periods of time. And no, if you buy a plasma television you will never have to “refill” it. The gases inside plasma cells are sealed during manufacturing and will never have to be refilled, ever.

It’s sad that plasma manufacturers can’t seem to make enough money from the displays to make it worth staying in the business. Plasma televisions truly offer much better picture quality for the majority of consumers, but between poorly designed retail stores and ignorant sales associates it’s difficult to find your footing and actually make enough money selling a superior product. If you’re one of the few that appreciates plasma televisions you still have a little bit of time before Panasonic plasmas will be impossible to find. And (at least for the next year or two) you’ll be able to purchase Samsung and LG plasma televisions but they currently aren’t as well reviewed as Panasonic’s. So, if you want the best TV I’d suggest browsing Amazon for Panasonic plasmas.