by Jessica Quandt
Regardless of the merits of either technology, few in the display industry (or among consumers, for that matter) would argue that in the war for market dominance in the large, flat-panel-television market, liquid-crystal-display (LCD) TVs have trumped plasma TVs in the marketing, PR, and retail battle. According to market-research-firm DisplaySearch, in the second quarter of 2006, LCD TVs accounted for 22% of the worldwide TV market with a record 9.4 million units shipped, while plasma TVs owned 5% of the worldwide TV market with 2.2 million units shipped in Q2 '06.
To help close the gap in market share, the world's five largest plasma-TV manufacturers – Hitachi, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Samsung, which control approximately 77% of the global plasma-TV market, according to DisplaySearch – teamed up in late 2005 to form the Plasma Display Coalition (PDC) to promote the growth of the plasma-TV market in the U.S. and to encourage the understanding of the benefits and advantages of plasma TV in home entertainment. Having invested more than $10 billion in plasma technology, the PDC's member companies are anxious to see a greater return on their collective investments, and clearly believe that the coalition will help get the word out on why plasma should be Americans' television of choice.
The PDC's initial efforts in this regard entail dispelling what it terms persistent myths about plasma-display technology that range from the misconception that plasma panels leak gas to the impression that they consume massive amounts of power. In June, the PDC released a series of test results its members are hoping will help banish those misunderstandings once and for all.
"This is still a relatively new technology, and in some cases it's very poorly understood," explained PDC President Jim Palumbo. "The responsibility of the coalition is to the education of all the benefits of plasma and, along the way, to suspend some lingering myths."
To accomplish this, the PDC partnered with Roam Consulting to conduct three and a half months of testing on five new, late-model 50-in. plasma TVs selected randomly from new warehouse stock – one from each of the Coalition's five-member companies, who collectively funded the testing. The test results are summarized in a brochure that the PDC released in June and is available on its Web site. The tests focused on consumer-design factors, i.e., picture quality, and customer-satisfaction factors, such as image retention and power consumption, Palumbo said.
"Customers need to be satisfied with their purchase (of a plasma TV), particularly because it's on average a $2300 investment," he explained. "This is the first product in the industry that solves the big-screen viewing-angle problem, the big-screen hotspot problem, and the motion-blur problem all in one. The key here is that you get very deep blacks, you have off-axis viewing, and, combined with a wide range of color, you have an opportunity for outstanding picture quality."
The plasma TVs tested delivered a contrast ratio of as much as 3000:1, resulting in deep blacks at viewing angles of up to 157¼ and color reproduction of up to 90% of the REC 709 full-high-definition color specification. The Roam study also concluded that the tested plasma displays have reduced image smearing or lag, as well as image retention or burn-in, to the point that with normal video use, consumers will not experience problems in these areas.
Lifetimes have also improved, thanks to the technology's conservative use of lighting, according to Panasonic Corp. of North America Vice President for Technology Policy, Government and Regulation Peter Fannon. The PDC brochure touts that plasma TVs are rated to achieve 60,000 hours (or 27 years at 6 hours of viewing per day) before the display reaches half of its original brightness, the industry-standard measurement of longevity. This represents three times the useful life of old cathode-ray-tube (CRT)-based rear-projection televisions, according to the PDC.
Fannon added that reports of exaggerated power consumption in plasma TVs also are false. "Plasma is making the biggest strides (vs. LCDs in terms of power consumption) because the lights aren't always on," Fannon explained. "We're finding that the efficiency is improving and therefore the total power consumption, despite the size growth, is improving. Each of the five companies is working to reduce total energy consumption, and the combination of electronics and the gas illumination and the ability to improve the efficiency of the electronics themselves, make further energy reductions possible."
Moving forward, the PDC will focus its efforts on getting the new brochure and the group's message out to the media and electronics retailers, Palumbo said. The Coalition will continue its testing and update the results as necessary through 2007, the end of its currently scheduled run. Whether or not the PDC will live on after that time remains to be seen.
"The members thus far are happy with what the response has been, but there are still many areas to cover, especially in reaching the retail sector," Palumbo said. "We'll just take it one year at a time."
The test results and the associated brochure, along with more information on the PDC, are available at www.plasmadisplaycoalition.org.