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Plasma TVs - worth it (for the cheap ones)?

I'm thinking about getting a plasma in the big range... something along the 40+" range.

PCConnection has some for 2500-3000 and then the same size at like 5000.  So the brands like NEC are 3000 and panasonic is 5000. 

http://shop.pcconnection.com/web/Shopping/Product.htm?catalog%5Fname=PCCGeneral&category%5Fname=&product%5Fid=434982&variant%5Fid=&SearchLogID=%7BE29ED7B6%2D1001%2D4542%2D9152%2D5452AA0D9949%7D

Why the huge price difference?

I hear people saying plasma isn't worth it either.  The one we have at the office rocks, except it was the expensive kind, not the cheap kind.  I'd hate to shell out a few thousand dollars just to realize I should have spent more.

Michael H. Pryor
Fog Creek Software
Monday, March 22, 2004

I think the one thing I would look for is how well it deinterlaces and/or represents the standard definition TV signals (SDTV).  Even though the TV may be HDTV ready, most of the signals you'll be viewing are SDTV. 

Likely, the display is non-interlaced (at least most of the HDTV sets I've viewed are).  I think most SDTV signals appear really crappy on HDTV displays because the deinterlacer is crappy.  Poor deinterlacing and/or poor scan conversion makes for really jagged lines on moving edges.

Also, some HD sets seem to have really poor color reproduction.  Everything looks washed out and white.

Well, anyway those are some of my observations when asked over to my inlaws house.  "How do you like the HDTV?".  Just nod and say "great".

hoser
Monday, March 22, 2004

I'm talking out of my ass here to a degree.  I know that the older plasma's had a short shelf life (5-10 years) before they'd die.  Apprantly the new generations have had this problem resolved.  It wouldn't surprise me if the cheaper ones are of the older manufacturing technology as compared to the expensive ones.

The other aspect could simply be cost/pixel.  Many of the cheaper LCD/Plasma screens are 480x864 = EDTV not HDTV.  This ammounts to a widescreen picture no better than DVD quality.  On the otherhand you'll find a lot of the widescreen HDTV's have 720x1024 pixels or so.  Thus, the difference in cost could amount to buying a fully HDTV compliant Plasma screen (720p/1080i) or just an EDTV Plasma screen (480p).

Elephant
Monday, March 22, 2004

I suggest you to check the www.avsforum.com for help with any kind of plasma questions. I decided to wait a couple more years myself before I buy one since the technology seems to be still in its infancy.

coresi
Monday, March 22, 2004

Michael, look at resolution (EDTV versus HDTV - and within HDTV there are several resolutions).  Also look at contrast, blackness, and connectors.

EDTV has a resoltuion of 480p, that's 480 lines per frame.  Standard TV is 240i, 120 lines per frame - the other 120 lines offset by one pixel vertically are then displayed for the next frame
Deinterlacing is bringing those two 120 line pictures (each half blank) together to form one non-interlaced picture and displaying that - the result is more full picture, but it can be a bit blurry on very quick image changes - usually you won't have a problem.
HDTV starts at 720i (360 per frame each half blank)
Then there's 720p followed by 1080i
You most likely can't see the difference between 720p and 1080i.  Between 480p and 720i there isn't much difference either, but 480p and 720p are noticable (at least to me).  However you might find that 480p is just fine - especially for smaller displays (42 inches or smaller) you probably won't be able to see much of a difference.

Contrast should be as high as you can go.  Displays were stuck at 300:1 for a long time, not because the white couldn't be made brighter, but because it was difficult to get a darker black.  Some changes about two years ago allowed darker blacks to be made (don't ask me how).  You'll really notice a high contrast ratio.

Lastly take a look at the connectors, if you're thinking about a really high end system look for a DVI connector.  Make sure there are enough connectors for everything you want to hook up.  Some systems also have a remote connector box and an umbilicus which travels to the tv.  That's a really neat idea and one that can make a setup look really nice if you're mounting to a wall you can't drop wire through (such as a brick wall). 

Good luck with your decision.  I'm looking for a reasonably priced 720p system before I jump in, but a 480p system does sound a lot better considering the money that can be spent on better components.

Lou
Monday, March 22, 2004

maybe they are made in different countires. The ones made in Japan are genreally more expensive and of far better quality.

Prakash S
Monday, March 22, 2004

Don't waste your time watching TV.

KillYourTV
Monday, March 22, 2004

"Standard TV is 240i"

Sorry, that's wrong. Standard television is 480i. However, some devices offer more real resolution than others. DVDs will give you all that 480i... Laserdiscs, about 400 lines... S-VHS about 400 lines... off-air analog antenna about 350 lines... VHS about 200 lines.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, March 22, 2004

For the OP:

Plasma can be worth it, but if you can control light well, then you'll get a lot more value for a lot less money by buying a DLP front projector. Those with native 800x600 resolution can be had for under $1000, and with excellent picture results at a far larger size than the 46" of that $3k plasma. Plus, as a bonus, they can be fed from a PC, so they're awesome for gaming. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, March 22, 2004

Get a big LCD screen and sit well back.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

You're right Brad, I didn't recall the correct resolution for standard tvs.  Thanks for clearing that up.  As for DLPs, they are a sensable alternative if you don't want to mount it to a wall (although there are new versions coming out that can be wall mounted because they are quite thin).

Lou
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

You guys make me feel like I should upgrade my 19" TV that I bought in 1990!

Junkster
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Caveat: I last considered plasma TVs about six months ago. Perhaps things have changed.

My understanding is that LCD projection (front and rear) are better solutions unless you really want/need the small form factor of a plasma screen.

As said, plasma had a reputation for shorter lifespan than CRT, LCD, or DLP. They were considered much more fragile, as well. The brightness and contrast is not reputed to be any better than LCD. And plasma is generally significantly substantially more expensive than the other technologies.

If you need the ability to hang it on the wall, you can also install a ceiling mounted front projector for similar or lower cost. And this should give similar brightness, higher resolution, and even smaller form factor. Or, for similar cost a LCD or DLP-based RPTV will provide similar picture quality and higher resolution.

And for the cost of HD plasma screens, you can look into buying a new LCD project system every couple of years to take advantage of technology improvements. :)

DaveF
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I read some place that Plasmas can burn an image into a screen.  Leave it on CNN for too long, and forever have little shadows of the CNN logo.

Keith Wright
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

720i is not part of the HDTV standard. It must be 720p or 1080i to be HDTV.

Some broadcasters (like Fox) are sneaking in other resolutions and calling it enhanced or other crap. That's just their marketing dept. making up crap. There is no such thing.

Andy in Austin
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Burn-in is no longer an issue with plasmas.  Also, ignore salesmen who speak of recharging the gas.  Additionally, life expectancy is now on par with other tv sets.

Lou
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

On a Red Sox message board I visit often, in their "bullshitting" section (which is private) someone asked about High Definition sets and this one guy had some great responses...I'll post them here for you.  The only thing that I know is that it wouldn't be worth spending the money on an expensive TV, now, without the ability for HDTV.  You'd just be throwing your money away at this point:

=========
His first post
=========

You might want to consider an LCD or DLP-based set. Widescreen (16:9) LCD and DLP rear-projection HDTVs start at around a 42" diagonal. They're pretty thin and lightweight, and a lot less massive than a similar screen-size tube (CRT-based) TV. The picture quality is pretty good; not quite plasma quality, but very nice, for a lot less money.

===========================
His second post (info is getting good!)
===========================

The issue with plasmas is twofold. One concern is "burn-in"; if you leave a static image on the screen for a long period of time, especially with the TV set to a high level of brightness/contrast, you can end up with a "ghost image" permanently burned into the screen. Not good times. You have to be especially careful with things like video games that tend to have high-contrast symbols in fixed locations on the screen. (BTW, the burn-in issue is also a concern with traditional CRT-based rear-projection TVs.)

The other concern with plasmas is that they allegedly "wear" over time. In other words, a few years down the road, your picture won't be quite as bright and punchy as when you first bought it. (Also an issue with traditional CRT-based rear-projectors.)

One nice thing about LCD and DLP based sets is that neither one of these things is a problem. You can run the TV all day long at max brightness with no worries. They're therefore very nice if your room has a lot of ambient light. The only element that wears out in these sets is a projection bulb that you need to replace after 6000-8000 hours of use (about $200). But the picture quality does not degrade over time.

The main downside of the DLP sets is the "rainbow effect" that MattYoung mentioned. It bothers some people and not others. You have to go to the store and gaze at one for a while to see if it affects you.

The other downside of LCD/DLP based sets is that the contrast ratio and black levels are not as good as CRT or plasma (especially true with LCD). But they have other advantages picture-wise: vibrant colors, sharp picture, no convergence issues. Again, you just need to go to someplace like Tweeters and compare for yourself.

Also, do check out that avsforum site that MattYoung mentioned, particularly the "Rear Projection" forum.

www.avsforum.com <-- A lot of people were like, "Yes! Great Site!"

========================================
His 3rd post (someone mentioned "3rd generation" LCD)
========================================

Well, it's a bit of a stretch to say that they've got "all the bugs worked out". It's true that they make improvements each year, but they tend to be incremental. The newest LCD-based sets are better, but they still don't come close to matching CRT for contrast and black level. It's an inherent characteristic of LCD technology.

The most important thing to understand when you're shopping for a high-end TV is: every set is a compromise. There is no perfect display technology. They all have strengths and weaknesses. You just have to decide which combination of trade-offs is most acceptable to you.

Personally, I found LCD rear-projection to be the best choice for me (I have a 2nd-gen Sony Grand Wega LCD set). LCD offers very good picture quality, color reproduction, sharpness, and brightness. The thin form factor and light weight are pluses. And for me, the lack of concern for picture degradation and screen burn-in were big factors. DLP rear-projection sets offer similar advantages (the Samsung DLP was my second choice).

========================
Fourth Post (just a little more info)
========================

The "unused edges" when watching regular (4:3) TV aren't annoying at all, in my opinion. You still end up with a pretty large square image, and if you leave the sidebars black, you hardly notice them. In addition, all widescreen 16:9 TVs offer a variety of optional stretch/zoom modes for 4:3 programming that you can select if you're determined to fill the entire screen.

Another thing to keep in mind while looking towards the future is that the 16:9 aspect ratio is slowly replacing 4:3 as the standard format for new programming, even standard-def stuff (e.g. the "widescreen" letterboxed programming you're starting to see more often on regular TV). Also, just about every DVD on the market is enhanced for 16:9 viewing.

In the $2-3K range, you have a lot of choices for a 42" widescreen HTDV. Both the Samsung and Sony sets mentioned previously can be had for around $2500.

===============
Fifth Post (Someone mentioned that watching non-HDTV channels looks weird)
===============

that's exactly the effect you get with some of the stretch/zoom modes I mentioned. And it's exactly why I don't use them; I don't like the distortion. I much prefer to use the "normal" unstretched mode, which gives you an undistorted 4:3 image in the center of the screen, with sidebars. Even in this mode, you get a nice big 4:3 image; on a 42" widescreen TV, the unstretched 4:3 image is about the same size as a 35" "normal" TV.

The only problem with using the sidebars is, you can have a problem with "burn-in" and uneven wear on CRT or plasma sets, since the center of the screen gets more action than the sides. You can avoid this somewhat by keeping brightness/contrast low, or by using "gray" sidebars, but this is still a potential concern. This is another reason to prefer LCD/DLP-based sets. I run my LCD-based TV with the brightness cranked pretty high, and I use black bars for 4:3 material all the time with no worries about burn-in.

===========================
Sixth Post (more things to think about)
===========================

BigJimEd, the point you raise is a good one, and it comes as a big surprise to a lot of people who just shelled out three grand for a fancy new HDTV. The truth is, regular old analog TV signals (i.e. standard-def cable or dish) tend to look better on a regular analog TV than they do on just about any HDTV. In order for an HDTV to display an analog NTSC picture, it must put the signal through analog-to-digital conversion, deinterlacing, scaling, etc., and the results are almost never as good as displaying the same input on a TV that "natively" displays analog signals. Add to that the typically large screen size of an HDTV, which magnifies the artifacts and generally emphasizes the crappy resolution of NTSC, and the results can be disappointing.

Different manufacturers have varying approaches to handling the analog conversion problem, and some do a better job than others. In fact, one of the minor reasons I preferred the Sony LCD over the Samsung DLP when I bought my set back about 1.5 years ago was that the Sony had superior handling of analog signals. Not sure if this is still the case with their latest models (I think Samsung has improved their product in this area).

The other thing to consider is that this is a problem that will eventually "solve itself" as more and more programming is broadcast in high-def format. Already most primetime network programming is available in high-def. ESPN is going all-HD here pretty soon. If you're buying a TV for the long haul, consider than within a couple years it's likely that most stuff you care to watch will probably be available in high-def, so placing a huge emphasis on how a HDTV handles analog signals may not make a lot of sense

William Campbell
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I'm a bigt cynical about burn in when he mentions it as affecting CRT's.

Those of us with more memories than hair may recall that screensavers were called that because that was their original function - to protect the screen from having a static image burned into it. it certainly hasn't been an issue with monitors in the last ten years.

Indeed I doubt if it ever was much of an issue. Back in the 1960's in the UK there were only a few hours of TV a day, and my best mate's younger brother used to spend the rest of the time staring at the Test Card. Nieither the TV screen nor his eyeballs suffered any striping.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"I'm a bigt cynical about burn in when he mentions it as affecting CRT's."

Burn in is a HUGE concern for CRT-based front and rear projectors, and almost no concern at all for direct view televisions (which a computer monitor is).

The reason it's a concern for the projections is that you have a much brighter light source coming out of a much smaller surface area (6-9" diameter guns, depending on the television). They are very easy to burn, and if you do, you might as well just throw away most televisions; replacement will often be as near to the cost of a new television so that it makes sense to just buy a new one for the newer technology.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Brad,

Laser disc's, DVD's etc. all provide 480i lines of  resolution.  That's all the analog NTSC standard will allow, period.  There is no getting around it.

However, some devices will give you higher horizontal resolution, and I suspect the numbers you are quoting are what is known as "lines per picutre height (LPPH)" in terms of H resolution.

Digressing:  LPPH means how many horizontal lines can possibly be displayed across the screen (max).  The best which NTSC broadcast can provide is 4.2 MHz H bandwidth.  A horizontal line is 63.55 uS long, with 85% active video.  4.2 * 63.55 * 0.85 *2 = 534 lines.

Note that the lines include black and white lines, which is where the x2 factor comes in.  Cheating if you ask me, but anyway...

Now that is the number of H lines.  The "per picture height" means the number of lines across a "square TV".  Just something to add to the confusion, but it just means that on a 4:3 TV, 534 lines becomes 534 *3/4 = 400 LPPH.

So that's the NTSC broadcast standard LPPH number: 400.  Higher numbers mean linearly higher horizontal bandwidth - more lines across the horizontal scan.

The vertical number of lines for NTSC is fixed: 480 interlaced lines.  Some HDTV/EDTV's incorporate deinterlacers, which *can* make the picture look better than 480i by making it 480 p (non-interlaced, which means no flicker).  But often, it makes the picture worse.

hoser
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Actually, the HDTV standard includes a *lot* of resolutions, at least partially because nobody could agree on them, and partially because there's different resolutions and refresh rates for different kinds of video.  There's 480i, 480p (with either 704 or 640 pixels wide, with the 704 also allowing widescreen), 720i, 720p, and 1080i and 1080p.  Frame rates are allowed to be 24,25,29.95,30,50, and 60, although 1080p can only do 30 frames per second.

Throw in NTSC broadcast equipment standards, film-specific formats, European standards and the Japanese market, which almost caused the US HDTV standard to be 1920x1035 instead of 1920x1080 (i.e. just barely not a square pixel) and other fun, and there's a lot of resolutions for video folks to deal with.

Flamebait Sr.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Don't forget the often unloved 540p! :-p

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A quick note on traditional CRT Burn in.  In the early and  mid 90's I did repair of monitors and dumb terminals for a living, while I went to school at night to get my CS degree.  BURN IN is real,  I have seen VGA, SVGA , and various multisync monitors with burn in.  Leave an image on their long enough and the phospherous <sp> layer on the front of the screen will be destroyed by the electron beam used cause illumiation.  LCDs don't have burn in issues because of the way they are illumiated.

A Software Build Guy
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

It doesn't appear to have been a problem for a few years though. look at the screen savers where things don't move.

I've left monitors on for two or three days with no power saving and there has not been the faintest trace of it.

Now perhaps somebody could explain how they cured the problem.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

It takes more than a few days.  I've got a CRT in the closet that you can read C:\> in the upper left corner whether its on or not.

Ken Klose
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

New York Times' David Pogue had a good review of plasma TVs last year. See:  http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/business/6553244.htm 

The article is starting to get a bit long-in-tooth, but it has some insights on HDTV vs. EDTV.

Pogue's weekly column is pretty entertaining if your into consumer electronics. For example, this week's review of Digital SLRs was interesting. See:
  http://www.davidpogue.com/

Michael Bean
Saturday, March 27, 2004

I’ve seen a rather cheap 42” plasma TV with “Resolution: 852 x 480 RGB” (1000 cd/m2 & 2000:1). But it is also specified that “PC Signal resolution from VGA (640x480) up to UXGA (1600x1200) and 1920 x 1080 (HDTV)”. It also has a DVI. What I can’t understand that if there are physically 852 X 480 pixels then how it can support 1600x1200 or 1920x1080? Can someone explain the mistery?

Tariq Shah
Thursday, April 08, 2004

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