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Mythbusting Plasma TV Performance

by September 01, 2005

Published by IDC, sponsored by Pioneer

IDC Opinion

The digital television market is rife with misinformation and inaccurate perceptions of the performance capabilities of different display technologies.in particular, plasma televisions. Through extensive testing, IDC generated quantitative data on the video capabilities of current generation plasma TVs, LCD TVs and microdisplay (MD) rear projection TVs. The objective was to show the strengths and weaknesses of the technologies in real-world viewing environments. The results show that commonly voiced concerns regarding plasma picture quality and viability were not found to exist in a sampling of current products. Plasma picture quality was, in fact, very well suited to common viewing situations.


IDC, in partnership with Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), independently purchased (through nationwide electronics retailers) and tested a total of nine current model televisions from seven different major brands in June and July 2005, including three plasma, three LCD and three microdisplay rear-projection TVs. In addition, a CRT monitor was used as a reference point for certain tests. The TVs were meant to be a sample of products from each category and the test results were averaged for each category.

The video tests were conducted in California and Florida by ISF technicians with 10+ years of experience in installing and calibrating video systems. They used identical instrumentation to perform the video tests:

  • New Minolta CS-200 Chroma Meter used at its widest angle of view
  • Sencore VP-403 test pattern generator

Each of the nine sets, as well as the reference CRT, was fed both high brightness (100 IRE) test signals, indicative of watching bright content like sports, as well as lower brightness (20 IRE) tests signals, akin to watching a movie. Test signals used were pure white, pure black, and separate red, green and blue. In addition, because very few people are able to sit directly in front of the TV when watching at all times, the different content types were tested from different viewing angles.

The TVs were initially calibrated on brightness, contrast, and sharpness using common THX tools found on many movie DVDs prior to its 4 weeks of continuous playback (the equivalent of two hours a day for almost one year). Measurements were taken and the TVs were returned to factory settings. Image retention testing was then done by leaving the menu from the game Half-Life 2 on the screen for 48 hours, replicating what would happen if someone accidentally left a static image on their TV while they went away for the weekend.

Executive Summary

Today's couch potatoes are finding their brains a bit mashed when the subject turns to upgrading their favorite news/entertainment delivery device. In fact, buying a new TV has quickly become one of the most confusing and challenging purchase decisions that consumers now face. Between the transition to digital TV and HDTV programming, and the overabundance of TV types, technologies, and terminologies, it's no wonder modern TV buyers can't separate fact from fiction. Most television vendors sell TVs using several display technologies so that they're able to offer consumers the widest variety of TV sizes, shapes and.most importantly.price points.

One of the most bewildering aspects of the buying process involves the technology used in generating the image on the screen. Specifically, the qualities and characteristics of plasma TVs are poorly understood and subject to a great deal of misinformation. Commonly held beliefs about plasmas include:

  • Screens are subject to permanent image retention (commonly referred to as "burn in")
  • Lifetimes are short
  • Black levels are less than CRTs (and other technologies)
  • Viewing angles are no different than TVs using other technologies
  • Screen brightness is worse than TVs using other technologies
  • Color accuracy is the same as TVs using other technologies

IDC & ISF undertook a rigorous set of tests using real-world products purchased from retail stores to determine the veracity of these claims. The goal was to determine whether they are accurate or simply myths that need to be dispelled to more accurately reflect the capabilities of today's plasma televisions.


About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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