Why I'd still buy plasma over LCD

Many people are counting plasma out of the HDTV market. But for screens larger than 42 inches wide, plasma is set to remain the flat-screen tech of choice.

This column has been updated with a correction. See details below.

Everywhere I turn, someone is talking about the death of plasma technology in HDTVs. They contend that since Pioneer dropped out of the plasma production market , it's only a matter of time before the few companies left in the plasma business admit defeat and stick to liquid crystal displays (LCDs).

Panasonic Plasma
Long live the plasma HDTV. Panasonic

South Korea's LG disagrees. Speaking in an interview with HDguru.com published this week, LG Electronics USA's director of product development, Tim Alessi, told the publication that assertions that the plasma TV market is almost dead are, well, dead wrong.

"Plasma will continue to be a viable technology for flat-panel displays in the near- to midterm future," Alessi told HD Guru. "Plasma continues to be the technology of choice for home theater enthusiasts, sports fans, and consumers desiring a larger screen size. In 2009, we estimate that plasma will account for more than 40 percent of the 50-inch and larger-screen-size sales. That unit volume will probably continue for at least the next three to four years."

I share Alessi's optimism. Although I'm fully aware that LCDs are chipping away at plasma sales , I wouldn't jump to LCDs, if given the choice.

Being a plasma lover is indeed difficult in today's market. The vast majority of HDTVs with 42-inch and smaller displays are LCDs. So when I say that I won't abandon plasma, I should note that I'm staying true to plasmas in the 42-inch-and-larger range; for something smaller, LCD is an increasingly obvious choice.

In my testing of televisions, I've found (as have others) that plasmas generally have deeper blacks. Color reproduction is also generally deemed much more vivid and accurate. Since looking good from many angles is a real concern of mine, plasma is my choice.

More brands may support LCD technology, but vendors that offer plasmas are doing a great job. Before Pioneer got out of the plasma game, its panels were the best on the market, regardless of technology. Panasonic, the new leader in the plasma space, has been making great plasma displays for years. In fact, although the HDTV in my living room is a 50-inch Panasonic plasma I purchased in 2007, I feel that it is much better than most LCDs in today's market.

Sony is seen by many as the LCD manufacturer of choice--for good reason. In my testing of Sony's XBR-line of LCDs, I was generally impressed. Colors were accurate, and black levels were fantastic. Surprisingly, motion was handled well (most LCDs suffer from blurriness, when there's too much motion on-screen).

But for what I was getting--a high-end LCD--it didn't stand up to the second-tier plasmas from Panasonic. And it certainly couldn't match Pioneer's Kuro line. Worse, Sony's 55-inch Bravia XBR-series LCD is currently retailing at Best Buy for $5,500. Those Panasonic HDTVs are on sale for substantially less. Best Buy's price is $2,800 for the 58-inch model.

In my experience, HDTV preference is very much in the eye of the beholder. Some people don't watch sports, so having an LCD with its blurring of on-screen action won't matter. Others see LCD as an opportunity to invest in the future. I don't.

I'm looking for the best picture in an HDTV. Based on my experience (and basic research), that comes from plasma technology. So while everyone else is counting it out, I'm standing firm. Plasma isn't dying, it's getting better. And I believe that companies like Panasonic will continue offering better HDTVs for better prices. I couldn't be happier.

Correction: This column misstated the first name of LG Electronics USA's director of product development, as well as the country in which LG is based. HDguru.com published an interview with Tim Alessi, and LG is based in South Korea.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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