Should I buy a used plasma TV?

From eBay to store demo models, Amazon Marketplace to your neighbor who’s moving, there are some tempting deals out there. But is a used plasma worth the money, or any money?

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Panasonic plasmas are gone. Pioneer's plasmas, the revered Kuros, are long gone. Samsung and LG are left, but for how long?

There's a growing market of used plasmas, from a variety of sources, temping picture quality fanatics with great deals...but at a risk.

Is that risk worth the price and picture of a used plasma? Good question.

This article was prompted by this tweet:

My first impulse was to say "NO," but the more I thought about it, expanding it out to other used sources, I thought "Probably not, but..."

Let's go over the risks, and you can decide if they outweigh the benefits.

Wear and tear

This is the main issue. All TVs have a lifespan, and how much of that life has been taken up by the previous owners? For that matter, did they leave static images on it all day long? Are you going to get a TV with the Fox News logo burned into the screen? Or worse, CNN? Playboy Channel?

Are the input jacks loose from heavy cables dragging on them? Are the mounting holes stripped from trying to force it on a mount that wasn't the correct size? Was the TV plugged into the same circuit as an ancient refrigerator that sent power spikes down the line ever time the compressor kicked on, wearing down the power supply -- the part most likely to break in any TV?

This is why I'd be really hesitant to get something off eBay, even with all the assurances of the seller that that TV is perfect. Especially given the next issue...

Shipping

After the condition of the plasma itself, I'd be worried about how you'd get it to your house. If it's local, some careful car/trucking would be fine (don't torque it!).

Past that, I'd be extremely wary. Even if the seller claims to have the original box, this isn't likely adequate. Having unpacked and repacked countless flat panels over the years, I can tell you they're designed to be packed once, and unpacked once. As soon as you break the structural integrity of the cardboard and/or styrofoam, it's never going to be the same.

A manufacturer once told me they get one, maybe two reviews out of a plasma (as in sending it to one reviewer, then sending the same TV to a second reviewer), and after that they're toast. With lighter LCDs they get two or three reviews per panel. TVs in general and heavier plasmas specifically just don't survive multiple shippings in the original box.

This doesn't mean the TV will arrive broken, but I'd definitely take out some shipping insurance.

One email I still get regularly is from those who want to buy a used Pioneer Kuro, the former champ of picture quality. While it was definitely the best thing going for a long time, that doesn't mean a used one is today. The most recent Kuro is ancient now by TV standards, and presumably has many hundreds (thousands) of hours on it. It's also, in many ways, not as good as the most recent Panasonic plasmas.

So don't feel that Kuros are worth any sort of premium. They were great TVs for their era, but that doesn't mean they're still the best.

Panasonic's recent plasmas, on the other hand, are generally better than the current TV offerings (OLED aside) available today. Especially the 2013 versions, the last and best of their kind and, let's not forget, the ones most likely to be lightly used. You might get lucky and find one that, for some unfathomable reason, the current owner doesn't want any more. If you trust the seller and it's a good enough deal (see below), it might be worth the risk.

Floor models

Given what I've said about needing to see the TV before, it would seem that floor models would be a good option. No, they're not. I wrote a whole article specifically about why buying any floor model TV is a bad idea. The tl;dr version? Stores abuse the crap out of their TVs. Leaving them on all the time with who knows what going on. Risky.

It's like buying a rental car, another thing I never understood. Sure the retiring car is cheap, but how do YOU drive rental cars? You're not the only one. Floor model TVs are likely similarly abused.

But...

Here's my main caveat to everything else: If it's cheap. If the TV is significantly cheaper than a new Samsung, and it's in good condition, then maybe. How much cheaper? Well that's up to you. Personally, a few hundred off wouldn't cover the risk for me. Half? Maybe. But that's me, and I haven't owned a TV in over a decade. The fact is, the most recent Panasonics do look better than most other TVs, and I can certainly understand someone's desire to have the best picture quality, and not succumb to LCD.

Bottom Line

I'd say the most important thing, when even considering buying a used plasma, is being able to see it. Does it have any image retention or burn in, is it dim, or have any weird discolorations or dead pixels? Do all the inputs work?

If it all seems OK, and you can get it to your house, AND it's cheap, cheaper than a new model of similar size, then maybe. I'd still be wary though.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. plasma, active versus passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won't tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.

 

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