What ever happened to plasma TVs?

A plasma TV on a gray wall.
Semisatch/Shutterstock.com

Once considered for their picture quality, plasma TVs have no place in the market anymore. But what led to the disappearance of this TV technology? And if you are looking for a plasma TV replacement, what should you buy?

How did a plasma TV work?

Before we talk about why plasma TVs lost favor with manufacturers, here’s a quick refresher on how they worked.

Plasma TVs had small gas pockets that gave off light when charged with electricity. Most of this light was ultraviolet, which is invisible. But when it hit the phosphor cells, it became visible and was used to produce the image you saw on the screen. Each pixel in a plasma TV had three phosphor cells: red, green, and blue, and these primary colors were combined to make the desired color for the TV.

So essentially plasma TVs were self-emitting and didn’t require backlighting. This helped them have a superior contrast ratio, as they could turn off the individual pixels when they needed to produce deep blacks, resulting in excellent image quality.

In addition, the plasma TVs also had a fast response time, a very high refresh rate and great viewing angles. All these features helped plasma TVs to convince consumers.

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What went wrong?

Panasonic 152-inch plasma TV
Panasonic

While plasma TVs had several positives, they were far from perfect. For example, they couldn’t get very bright and were best suited for viewing in the darkroom. Even the best plasma TVs could only achieve just over 100 nits of peak brightness in a 10% window test. By comparison, the best modern LED-backlit TVs can provide over 1000 nits of peak brightness.

Plasma TVs were also prone to temporary and permanent image retention or burn-in. But it became less of an issue as plasma technology matured.

Another disadvantage of plasma TVs was their power consumption and heat generation. They needed a lot of power to run and would require multiple internal fans to keep them cool. And finally, even though these TVs were lighter and thinner than CRT TVs, they were still heavy and thick.

Despite these drawbacks, plasma TVs continued to find buyers because the competing CCFL backlit LCD TVs shared some of the drawbacks of plasma, such as high power consumption and a thick chassis, while having poorer picture quality.

But with the advent of LED backlighting, everything changed. The LED backlit LCD TVs (LED TVs) were thinner and required much less power to operate. Sure, the initial LED TVs lagged behind plasma in terms of picture quality and viewing angles, but when compared to LED TVs, the disadvantages of plasma TVs outweighed their advantages.

The final nail in the coffin of plasma TVs was the arrival of OLED and 4K TVs on the market. Plasma TV manufacturers realized that it would take significant investment to make 4K plasma TVs, and it wasn’t just worth it. In addition, OLED TVs offered most of the picture quality benefits of plasma TVs without many drawbacks.

By 2014, TV manufacturers had pretty much abandoned plasma TVs and focused on LED-backlit LCD and OLED TVs, both of which are the major TV display technologies on the market at the time of writing in 2022.

The best alternative to plasma TVs

LG C1
LG

OLED TVs are the spiritual successor to plasma TVs and their best alternative as both have many features in common. For example, OLED TVs have self-emitting pixels like plasma TVs. So they can achieve an almost infinite contrast ratio, something that is not even possible with plasma TVs. While plasma TVs can produce deep blacks due to their ability to knock out individual pixels, there is always a bit of charge in the plasma, leading to a residual glow. As a result, a plasma TV cannot produce perfect blacks.

Like plasma TVs, OLEDs also offer excellent viewing angles and fast response time. In addition, they can be much brighter and are significantly thinner.

Unfortunately, burn-in is also a problem for the OLED TVs. However, thanks to advances in OLED technology and the various protections built into the TV, burn-in is no longer a big problem for people who watch varied content.

All in all, if you’re looking to upgrade from a plasma TV, OLED TVs are your best option. However, they tend to be more expensive than their LED-backlit LCD counterparts. So if you’re short on cash, you can also go for an LCD TV. Unlike the LCD TV of the plasma era, the many modern LCD TVs offer an excellent contrast ratio and a fast response time thanks to Mini LED backlighting and full array local dimming.

An excellent alternative to plasma TV

LG C1 65-inch OLED TV

LG C1 is one of the best OLED TVs on the market. It is offered in sizes ranging from 48-inches to 83-inches.

RIP Plasma TVs

Plasma TVs were the undisputed kings of TV picture technology at the turn of the century. But unfortunately, when competing TV technologies emerged, plasma TVs had far too many drawbacks to survive. Thankfully, OLED TVs have stepped up and successfully took the throne and continue to excel, thanks to exciting advancements like OLED Evo and QD-OLED.

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