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Podcast #727: So You Need to Replace a Plasma…

Whether you’re a plasma owner lamenting the day when you’ll need to replace or upgrade it, or you always wanted to be a plasma owner but missed your chance before they went extinct, there are options out there you may not be too bummed out about. We’ll admit, the Pioneer Kuro demo we saw at CES several years ago is still the single most jaw dropping television demo we’ve ever seen. But it may not have actually been the best TV we’ve ever seen.

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So You Need to Replace a Plasma…

Whether you’re a plasma owner lamenting the day when you’ll need to replace or upgrade it, or you always wanted to be a plasma owner but missed your chance before they went extinct, there are options out there you may not be too bummed out about. We’ll admit, the Pioneer Kuro demo we saw at CES several years ago is still the single most jaw dropping television demo we’ve ever seen. But it may not have actually been the best TV we’ve ever seen.


The History

While Plasma TVs were still an option for us, the big debate was between plasma technology and the competing flat panel tech, LCD. Eventually LCD came to include LED LCD in addition to the traditional bulb or CCFL based LCD sets. Let’s be perfectly honest, both had their pros and cons. We talked about it quite often on the show when the debate was hot. Sure, plasma was great, but let’s not rewrite history. It had its detractors. And as we all know, it ultimately lost the war.


Plasma Pros / LCD Cons:


  • Plasma has better off angle viewing. This has been helped tremendously on LCD sets with the advent of IPS or In-Plane Switching, but LCD remains no match for plasma in the off-angle viewing department.
  • Plasma has better color saturation. The colors on a plasma TV are more accurate than the LCD screens because plasma technology is better at controlling the relative light intensity for each individual pixel. Which also yields...
  • Plasma has better contrast ratios and black levels. Plasma technology is much better at producing those rich, inky blacks we all want to see. LCD is helped enormously by local dimming, but still not a match for plasma.
  • Plasma has better response times / refresh rates. Delays in refresh rates or slow response times produce what is known as motion blur on a television. This is when a fast moving object or scene loses clarity or definition as it passes by. LCD suffers from it, plasma does not.  


Plasma Cons / LCD Pros:

  • LCDs are brighter. Plasma may produce deeper blacks, but LCDs are far brighter. Plasma also tends to suffer from worse screen reflections, making LCD a far superior experience in bright rooms or rooms where it is difficult to control ambient light.
  • LCDs are lighter. Let’s be honest, plasmas are crazy heavy. LCDs are far easier to move, to mount, to install, to work with in general.
  • LCDs are more energy efficient. You’ll save a little on your electricity bill and feel like you’re giving back to the environment. While the gap was never as big in reality as LCD manufacturers would have led you to believe, LCD is a less power hungry technology.
  • LCDs emit less heat. Plasmas can really heat up a room. Depending on where you live, and the time of year, this may not be an issue, but LCDs emit far less heat.
  • LCD has better resolution. LCD is the only 4k technology of the two.

If you remove CCFL LCDs from the equation and focus only on LED LCDs, all of the pros and cons are the same, but the gap is far smaller. LCD is still better in the areas where it has always outperformed, even increasing the margin in some areas like energy efficiency. On the LCD cons list, they all remain, but LED narrows that lead significantly. LED TVs can produce very good blacks, have improved on contrast ratios and with increased refresh rates have dramatically reduced motion blur. Of course this has lead to the Soap Opera Effect, but that’s something else altogether.


Plasma vs OLED

The debate between plasma and OLED was rare. Plasma was available at a normal price, OLED was astronomical. By the time OLED started to drop, plasma had already died a lonely death. That didn’t stop a few of us from debating the relative merits of the two technologies during their brief overlap.  The debate was over quite quickly. OLED outperforms plasma in pretty much every category. It has a better color gamut, better black levels, better contrast, better brightness, better response times, everything is better.

Well, maybe not everything. At the time we were able to debate it, the plasma was still cheaper and available in larger screen sizes, so it had two wins in its column. Some claimed better off angle viewing, but only because they were comparing with curved OLED. Since we all know curved is a goofy gimmick, we can throw that one out. So at the time, plasma was an inferior display technology, but it was one you could actually afford, so it had that going for it.


The Decision

So the decision today is: do you replace a plasma with an LED TV or an OLED?  It’s pretty obvious that if OLED is a superior display technology to plasma, and plasma is better than LED, then it stands to reason that OLED is far better the LED. Now that you can buy a 4k OLED, there really isn’t any display technology category where LED has an edge over OLED. If picture quality is the only consideration, the choice is clear: replace the plasma with an OLED.

However, we all live in the real world, a world where picture quality isn’t the only consideration. We have budget considerations and screen size considerations, and those tend to map directly to finance and aesthetics committee considerations. LED TVs are still significantly cheaper, even in 4k resolution, and available in a much wider array of screen sizes. And for most of us, maximizing what we can get for our money is the biggest consideration. Any way you slice it, that will lead you back to LED.

This wasn’t meant to depress or confuse anyone. If you’re looking for the absolute best screen you can buy, a replacement for a Pioneer Kuro or a Panasonic Z series, that’s OLED. Hands down. If you’re looking for a great TV on a normal budget, or you want a really big screen, LED TVs are really, really good. And top that off with the 4k resolution and you should be quite happy for quite a while. When OLED drops to the same price for the same screen size, pick one up. And rest assured there will be another technology close on its heels that is even better, and even more expensive. Us plasma early adopters know that all too well.



Download Episode #727

Reader Comments (6)

Hey guy's, are you using wireless mike's? I have heard occasional static on the past few podcasts that you may not be aware of. I have been listening to today's podcast and so far I have heard at 8:45, 8:50 and 9:06. Just thought you would like to know. Keep up the good work, I never miss a podcast!

February 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

Besides the times Mitch noted, static at 17:54, 18:02, 24:45. Keep up the good work, and thanks!

February 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGene

I was just going to note the static bursts at 18:00 and 24:40. The funny thing about the one at 18:00 is that it's right after (and I mean immediately) Ara asks for help on this, while Braden is reiterating. So, Ara, if you thought everything was cool at that moment, it wasn't. I paused at the 24:40 burst to tell you so let's see if we can get to the end without more.

February 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRick K.

But what about motion judder problems on an OLED? I don't have this problem on my plasma. I hear a lot of reviews complaining about this. Care to comment...

February 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterALS

I think the static might be coming from a digital burst on a cell phone. Email or text, etc. Just make sure to keep some distance from the phones to the analog sound cables.

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Interesting the discussion about the static. I heard this over the past few months but as I get a bus to and from work I assumed it was the buses radio telemetry system causing it. Listening to it this morning it does sound a bit like cellular break thru..

February 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul W

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