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How Long Do Plasma TVs Last?

Update: January 2006
Reviewer: Robert Wiley

The second question that I get from friends or family when discussing plasma TVs is, "Plasmas don’t last as long right, they burn out faster (than other television technologies)? The short answer to this question among top tier brands is, "No, plasma is the equivalent of LCD in longevity as a technology, though there is variation among brands and models".

FYI: The first question is, invariably, "Which is better, LCD or Plasma (TV technology). See our article: Plasma TV vs. LCD.

Plasma TV life span expectancy has long been a hot topic and rightly so. Most early plasma monitor models from 1999 and early 2000 have already been delivered to the electronics graveyard. Manufacturers were doing well to deliver a plasma product that fired up. An early adaptor could purchase a plasma TV that was 6" in depth, was hot enough to fry an egg on, and had fans that sounded like it was going to take off and fly through the roof - all for a modest $10,000.

However, improvements in the longevity of plasma TVs and displays have been rapidly effective. The green phosphors are claimed by some manufacturers as the reason behind the incredible increase. Lower power usage and motion adaptive anti burn-in technology are also contributors.

In fact, many plasma manufacturers boast a life span of 60,000 hours to half life! This is a longer life than a tube based television. The specification is somewhat suspect since the process of determining longevity of the product is based on deductive mathematical calculation of phosphor dissipation, and does not take into account the electronic components and the myriad of problems that can occur. Panasonic was the first to claim the 60,000 hour life span, up from a previous 30,000 just a year prior.

Within months after Panasonic announced this new life span, other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon announcing that their plasma television is now rated to 60,000.

So how long will a plasma last? The long and short of it is that it depends upon your daily hourly usage as well as how you use the monitor. 12 to 55 years is my new short answer.

One practical example I will cite here is the Panasonic Tau units being used by video rental company, In Motion Pictures at major airports around the country. Most of the earlier Tau models have now been replaced by a newer model, but these plasma displays were used for 5 years and were the first generation of plasma displays to go a considerable distance. In Motion displays images on them from 6AM until 10PM daily (16 hours). By my estimates, these early plasma displays by Panasonic were in use by In Motion for around 30,000 hours or more. They never fail to catch my eye as I pass by in one airport or another to see if they are still in use. If they have lost some of their brightness level its hard to tell. This use equates to 18 years for a home owner that watches 3 hours television per day.

And this is the old model!

Manufacturer figures for longevity are closely guarded but I have added some here for your review:

Panasonic: States in new specifications that new plasma TVs and monitors are good to 60,000 to half life.

Sony: Now out of the plasma market. Does not list a figure for LCD lineup.

Samsung: Lists 60,000 hours for plasma lineup.

Pioneer: States 60,000 hours of use in their new 2005 models.

Sharp LCD panels: States 60,000 hour life.

For consumer use these numbers should be comforting. Plasma Displays are now about equivalent in longevity to LCDs, which typically state 60,000 hours. Consider that these figures are a great amount more than old CRTs, which regularly post life span to half brightness at 25,000 hours. Let's put these hours in perspective. The average U.S. household watches 4 to 6 hours of television per day. Staggering. Taking a mean time manufacturer stated longevity of 50,000 hours of usage, times our average 5 hours per day, calculates to over 27 years of usage.

Now, there are varying degrees of phosphor ignition along the way (the same way a CRT fades). Dissipation begins the moment you turn the set on. After 1000 hours of usage a plasma monitor should measure around 96% of its original brightness, which is barely noticeable to the naked eye. At 15,000 to 20,000 hours the monitor should measure around 80% brightness, or to state is technically, 80% of the original phosphors (gases) are being ignited.

There are steps you can take to ensure longer and better life from your plasma display panel:

1) Never leave static images on the unit. Plasma phosphors have become more resilient to burn in, but still its better to be safe. Do not leave a static image on the plasma screen for more than 7-10 minutes. This can cause a ghosting effect which will "wash" out by use. Watch the unit in full widescreen format as much as possible to avoid differentiation between the side bars of the unit. While this does not actually decrease the longevity of the phosphors it does cause an annoyance to have to play a gray static image to "erase" the temporary burn in.

2) Use Brightness and Contrast levels that are necessary for viewing - not excessive. In a brightly lit room you may need to view the plasma TV at a higher contrast and brightness, which will decrease the life of the unit. However, there are memory setting adjustments available on most recent plasma displays that allow the user to choose a memory setting to suit viewing needs. At night, or in a lower light room use lower contrast levels and extend the life. Do not use your plasma display on 100% contrast (often disguised as the picture option in the menu). In rooms with normal lighting you should not need to use the contrast setting on more than 60% of contrast.

NOTE: Plasma manufacturers routinely ship plasma TVs with the contrast (picture) setting tweaked to 80 to 100% of contrast. Therefore, you will need to make this necessary adjustment yourself.

3) Keep the monitor/TV in a well-ventilated area. The cooling system in the plasma will not have to work as hard.

4) Buy a good brand. First tier brands are typically better built and engineered and will last longer. My first question when someone tells me about a plasma that pooped out on them is, “What brand and model was it?” Most of the time, it’s an “off” brand.

5) Turn the plasma off when not in use.

6) Keep the unit out of reach of small children.

7) Do not mount the unit face down from the ceiling. (Philips are you listening?)

So how do the manufacturers know how to calculate the figures? The manufacturing facilities in Japan/Korea test plasma panels at 100% white image light and measure down from that point with meter readings. A series of mathematical deductions takes place. It takes months to find that 50% mark - between 40,000 and 60,000 hours. What a job that would be… to watch the white light…

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