Sound Advice: Plasma TV sets are better, cheaper

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2012 - 3:01 PM

Q If plasma TVs provide superior viewing quality, why are they consistently $300 to $500 less than LED-LCD TVs of similar size and brand names? That doesn't make sense.

A Plasma sets are less expensive to manufacture in larger screen sizes. Plasma sets typically start at about 42 inches.

It seems paradoxical that plasma is better than LED-LCD, as well as less expensive, but that's simply the way it is. "Plasma is the best" is almost universal among home-theater buffs and in home-theater magazines. Even Consumer Reports is on the plasma bandwagon, especially for 3-D sets.

Not many companies stuck with plasma to master the technology as Panasonic, Samsung and LG have. It's a shame, because modern plasma is so good.

Part of plasma technology is actually rather mature. Plasma uses phosphors to create the image, just like our old CRT TVs did. The phosphors emit light, which provides a wide viewing angle and creates accurate color and contrast. Once you are used to plasma, LCD and LED-LCD sets can look cartoonish.

Discussing CRT and phosphors reminds me of how far HDTV has come and how quickly.

A few months ago, I upgraded to a 55-inch Panasonic ST50 plasma set. Soon after it was installed, I realized that my first HDTV also was a 55-inch, a Mitsubishi WS-55859 projection set with a built-in tuner. I bought it in 2002 for $4,600. It was huge, weighed 300 pounds and had to be wheeled around on casters.

I looked at my ST50 and marveled at how far we have come in 10 years. The ST50 can be bought for less than $1,300, about a fourth of what my Mitsubishi cost 10 years ago. It weighs less than 100 pounds, has 3-D and wireless Internet, and is thin and light enough that two people can pick it up and move it easily. It can be mounted on a wall so it conserves space, and the picture quality is better than my old Mitsubishi.

It will also last much longer, almost 30 years to have brightness on the screen. One of my Mitsubishi tubes went out in seven years, and the TV was scrapped.

In perhaps what is a sign of the times, there is one desirable feature on my old Mitsubishi that is no longer available. The Mitsubishi had a FireWire connection that allows for the recording of high-definition TV on D-VHS tapes. (D-VHS is digital VHS, which looks just like a regular VHS tape but records four hours of HD video.) The content providers (at least in the United States) don't like home viewers to be able to record and archive on their own media, and as a result you don't find FireWire any longer.

Compare this to Japan, where home Blu-ray recording in high definition is common. I hope one day that we will have the same abilities as our friends overseas, but in the words of an industry rep I discussed this with, "Don't hold your breath."

Send questions to donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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