Goodbye Plasma TVs – It's been a Great Run

7 Reasons for the Death of Plasma TV

A recent interview at CES 2014 reveals the worst; plasma TVs are gone for good. Following, we analyze the reasons and hope to provide some insight as to why this tragedy happened.

It's a technology that we have enjoyed for 13 years.

"Panasonic has a hard time getting out of its own way."

Plasma TVs have obtained our top ranked picture quality ratings other than much more expensive new 4K or OLED TVs for the past 10 years in a row without exception. Granted, picture quality comparisons have gotten closer over the past couple years. Except for the very best LED TVs, Plasma Televisions have trounced LED and LCD TVs in black level, processing speed (Hz rate vs sub field drive on plasma), side angle viewing quality and contrast, and color saturation and rendition. Basically, all of the most important picture quality attributes. The one picture quality trait that is a bit less important is brightness/peak whites with LED TVs dominate in. This last trait does make a difference when viewing the TVs at the store, but not in your living room.

The Panasonic VT60 recieved our highest picture quality rating for a plasma TV in 2013

Indeed almost all of the “new” technologies coming from LCD and LED manufactures over the past 10 years have been to try to make up the vast divide in picture quality that separated plasma TVs from LCD technology based TVs.

Samsung's F8500 series plasma TV from 2013 was the best plasma displays they ever produced

For example, following is a write up of Panasonic's Demonstration room at CES 2014:

An all blacked out room demonstration of the “Studio Master Drive” feature showed what I was afraid of – Panasonic's plasma TVs of the past couple years are better than their new 4K LED TVs. The demonstration pitted the 2013 TC-P65ZT60 reference plasma against the new 2014 4K LED offering to show how the black levels and color saturation has improved in the 4K LED offerings. They also had a 4K LED from 2013 in the room for comparison.

While the new 4K offering beat last years 4K LED handily in both black saturation and color rendition (which showed light bleed in several areas of the screen), it did not beat the plasma. To my (very trained) eye, the TC-P65ZT60 beat the new 4K LED in black saturation, light bleed, color rendition and especially dark shadow detail. When I mentioned this to the Panasonic technician showing the display, he said, 'but it's getting closer.” OK, I'll give them that much...

Panasonic's 2014 4K LED TV offering just isn't up to snuff compared to plasma display technology, but it's certainly not unwatchable

But then let's think about this. We're taking a technology that is clearly better than LED and scrapping it and producing something close (the 4K LED) that will cost thousands more. Who loses in this scenario? You, the consumer.

Why did this happen. Why give up a great technology like Plasma:

#1) Money. Mass production has brought down the cost of the LCD panel (and LED backlighting) to a competitive level with Plasma TVs. So manufacturers of LED TVs see more potential $ signs there.

LG's 2014 OLED TVs are certainly showing off the excellence of the OLED display tech, but they don't come at the value plasma TVs did...yet

#2) Panasonic and Marketing. Panasonic has a hard time getting out of its own way. How else can you describe having the best picture technology with very reasonable prices and not being able to out sell your rivals who have inferior products. It all comes down to marketing. Samsung and LG do a much better job of hyping and marketing and are willing to take some “unorthodox” and possibly unethical marketing angles when they deem it necessary to get the upper hand.

Panasonic's marketing of plasma when LCD TVs (then Sharp) started making their way into the market in early 2000 was abysmal. LCDs were far inferior, but Panasonic did not quash the threat. They just never knew how to effective market at the store level or on the Internet.

As a result only professional reviewers and aficionados knew that plasma TVs maintained the best quality and price.

#3) Consumer Perception. This is again influenced my marketing efforts and on-floor sales people. A great example is power consumption. Does a plasma TV use more power. Yes, generally. How much more? Around a $1 a month for comparable 55” models. Is that enough to make you purchase an inferior product?

#4) Consumer Perception. Yes, a repeat of CP. This time it's the brightness of the TVs when you walk in the store. That super “Dynamic Store Mode” of the LED TVs has the consumer fooled. Never mind that it will look terrible in a medium light room in your house and give you a headache as well. It looks so much brighter on the wall at the store than the plasma.

A properly calibrated ST60 boasts an amazing picture and was a terrific value for the price

#5) Competition. Again the battle between Panasonic and Pioneer was lost to Samsung and LG. Samsung and LG continued to produce plasma TVs even at a loss, and would not give up a technology monopoly to Panasonic for fear that they would begin successfully marketing the technology as better. All the while, Samsung and LG have been dominating the LED space.

#6) Weight. It may sound trivial but it's not. Even though Panasonic has been able to make plasma TV thin in depth, they are still heavy and require a metal backing. This makes a big difference as sizes of TVs have gotten bigger, but ultimately this just relates to shipping costs even at the 50” size. It costs much less to ship the LED/LCD (to the US or other destinations) so there is more profit in it.

#7) Size. As LED TVs have outstripped plasma TVs in size finally, there is an advantage to LED TVs in the super large category. Prices are also reasonable for the super large LEDs and plasma TVs just cant keep up there. Demand for 60”, 70” and even 80” TVs is a trend that really hurt plasma TVs prospects over the last couple years.

Sharp has really been pushing the limits when it comes to large screen sizes. Now they are entering 4K territory

We received official word from Panasonic that they have already closed down the 3 billion dollar plasma panel factories. With Panasonic stepping out of plasma TV manufacturing, we anticipate Samsung and LG to do the same even though we have not received official comment from those companies. It seemed so obvious that we forgot to ask...

Having reviewed and written about Television Technology for over 10 years, Anthony never tires of researching the newest qualitative trends related to the technology. Most people do not get excited about possibilities behind the latest video engine...