On Tuesday, I, along with a handful of tech journalists, was invited to attend a briefing by Panasonic in New York to show off their latest line of plasma televisions. The emphasis was on the technical capabilities of Panasonic's plasma technology relative to the latest LCD with LED backlighting. Some things I learned:
- Never have a Japanese engineer who doesn't speak fluent English give a marketing presentation to journalists. Yes, there was a lot of technical detail included, but the fundamental reason Panasonic was doing the briefing was to spin the technical detail, otherwise they would have just provided a white paper. While the presentation itself was pretty good, it was agonizingly slow going in parts, and key points just weren't made well.
- Plasma's burn-in issues are a thing of the past. Non-issue with current sets. Now, the legal guys haven't gotten the message, so you still see a warning in the manual not to allow static images to linger on the screen, but some of the sets are deliberately marketed as better for gaming (which they are). The manuals need to be updated and this issue needs to be taken off the table.
- Plasma is actually brighter than LCD over smaller areas. This is irrelevant overall - the sample images on the LCD during most of the presentation jumped out at you in a way that plasma does not. Ergo, consumers prefer LCD at retail. (It's more balanced on calibrated sets in a home environment, but on bright images, LCD is superior, and on dark images, plasma rules.)
- Plasma has markedly better color than LCD, especially off-angle. Sadly, this is basically impossible to see in retail environments with uncalibrated televisions.
- Maximum energy usage on a plasma is still high if you display white fields all day long, but Plasma and LCD are pretty close in terms of energy consumption on real-world program material. LCD is still better (and has a much better number on the energy use sticker), but it's not a reason to disqualify plasma any more.
- Plasma is much, much better for resolving high definition when there is motion in the image. This is a key fact that Panasonic should be marketing hard, especially since the LCD competition charges more for sets that try to compensate by speeding up refresh cycles, and they are still noticeably worse on test patterns and real world content.
- How a TV is set up at retail is critical: the LCD set they had on hand for comparison showed more stars in a starfield, and none of us cared that the gamma of that set may have been off - there were far more stars visible on that TV than on the plasmas. And we actually know what gamma is - the average consumer never touches picture controls when they get their TV home.