Some salespeople still think flat-panel LCDs beat plasmas?

We have to wonder why a salesperson would recommend flat-screen LCD HDTVs at the rate that J.D. Power and Associates claims in a recent report.

In a time when CNET's two top-rated HDTVs of the year are Panasonic's TH-50PZ800U and Pioneer's PDP-5020FD , we have to wonder why a salesperson would recommend flat-panel LCD HDTVs at the rate that J.D. Power and Associates claims in a recent report.

Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD
Pioneer's Kuro PDP-5020FD, one of our top plasma HDTVs CNET Networks

The report, which surveyed more than 2,000 shoppers on their experience in big-box electronic retailers, a specialty television retailer, a mass merchant, and a warehouse store, found that retail salespeople recommended LCDs over plasmas at a three-to-one rate.

Sure, plasmas have a long list of supposed failings: they're allegedly bulky and power hungry, and have image burn-in issues and leaks, and a short lifespan. However, most of these problems--image burn-in being the most common with early plasma sets--have been resolved on modern plasma displays.

According to the report, however, "37 percent of salespersons warned their customers that images may be permanently burned onto the screen of plasma TVs." The lifespan argument doesn't hold up either, as both LCD and plasma lifespan claims are basically the same now at 60,000 hours each. And, with LCDs still costing more at equivalent screen sizes, it's certainly convenient for retailers to promote the LCD technology over its less expensive rival.

In larger screen sizes especially, plasma is still the more affordable choice between the two. A typical 50-inch plasma TV is generally less expensive than the typical 52-inch and even many 46-inch LCD sets. To compare between the two most-popular brands from each category, Panasonic's entry-level 50-inch model costs $1,399 at Best Buy today, while the least-expensive 52-inch LCD from Samsung goes for $1,999 and the least-expensive 46-incher for $1,499.

As for deep black levels, plasma HDTVs are still king of the hill. Pioneer's new PDP-5020FD set is testament to this fact as seen in our recent review . Side by side, as we watched a dark scene from the Blu-ray version of the film, I am Legend, the PDP-5020FD came in first place--the dark areas in the scene nearly disappeared in our darkened home theater test facility--last year's PDP-5080HD came in second; the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U came in third; and the Samsung LN52A650, the best 52-incher flat-panel LCD we tested this year, came in last.

Undoubtedly, there are advantages for flat-panel LCD technology, some of which the salespeople in the report mentioned. They consume less electricity than plasmas (Pioneer's new PDP-5020FD will cost you $91.05 a year to operate versus the $68.81 investment for the Samsung LCD). They weigh less and they're not a second space heater for your family room as plasma sets can be. And, as the report stated, 68 percent of salespersons mentioned that flat-panel LCDs "do not have a shiny glass screen that can reflect unwanted light in brightly lit rooms." Of course, more and more new LCDs also have highly reflective screens, and some plasma sets have effective glare-reducing screens.

In our experience, the best plasma sets just look better than the best LCD screen in a demanding home theater environment. We do expect both LCD and plasma technology to continue to evolve--Sony recently announced a new LED backlight technology for LCDs that looks particularly promising, for example--but for now, we still tend to lean toward plasma for home theater HDTVs.

What do you think? Are salespeople doing customers a disservice by pushing LCDs, or are the points against plasma valid?

 

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