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Debunking myths about plasma television burnout (USA Today article)


While consumer enthusiasm for those sleek, sexy, portrait-thin plasma televisions has ramped up steeply, according to manufacturers and e-mail from home users, so has a general feeling of anxiety over rumblings that plasma sets don't enjoy a very long life. Word on the street has it that plasma televisions often betray pixel dropouts and that they lose much of their brightness within a couple of years.


But spokesmen for two of the leading makers of plasma sets say all that stuff is just meaningless hearsay and uninformed gossip left over from the technology's formative days of a decade ago.


"I sometimes hear things like that, too," said Randy Moore, plasma product manager for Zenith, "and it typically comes from people who really have no first-hand experience with plasma television as we know it today. I assure you, these are misconceptions and folklore. Our specialty dealers, at the high end, report plasma sales are doubling every month. They simply wouldn't be supporting a product that was bringing them grief from unhappy customers."


Plasma television sales are indeed booming, and not just at geek-oriented shops. Sears has made space for plasma sets at its stores around the country, and prices are tumbling. Still, 42-inch wide-screen sets that cost $10,000 little more than a year ago can be found for $4,500 and even as low as $3,500 at some Costco outlets.


Pixel failure


And yet many potential consumers are troubled by shadowy information, some of it bearing the weight of the press. One concern is that the tiny picture elements (or pixels) that make up the plasma image — and there are about 1 million of them in a high-definition set — begin to fail after relatively short use.


But David W. Fink, director of training for plasma display at Fujitsu General America, the pioneering developer of plasma technology, says pixel failure is not only untrue but impossible. "A plasma television isn't like your laptop computer or any other liquid crystal display, in which pixels can fail," Fink said. "With plasma, if pixels are good when they go onto the panel, they're good permanently. Now, a whole board — a row of pixels — can fail, but that's rare. It just doesn't happen to individual pixels."


That's not to say the plasma television you bring home may not have a few inoperative pixels scattered over the display. "In anything that has a million or more tiny points making up the image, you'll find a few bad ones," Fink said. "What really matters is, can you see them? And the answer is no, not from a proper viewing distance. You'll see a picture that looks perfect."


As for the plasma picture going prematurely dim, both Fink and Moore debunk that idea, citing industry tests that show plasma illumination matching the performance and longevity of rear-projection and direct-view sets alike.


But this is a subject that requires some perspective. The industry's way of describing the decline of picture brightness — on any television — can make the matter sound pretty dire. The standard reference is to the number of hours a television can operate before losing half its brightness: 30,000 hours, or approximately eight hours of use every day for 12 years.


This fall-off, however, is very gradual — so gradual, Fink said, that the eye doesn't even perceive it happening. Adds Moore: "Every television, representing any technology, eventually loses its brightness. Suddenly, one day, you look at that picture and decide you really need a new television. But we're talking 10 years or more, maybe 15. And this is no less true for plasma."


Questions about yield rates


Some readers have cited another concern about the ruggedness and dependability of plasma — that the failure rate is said to very high coming off the assembly line. Here, bless 'em, the industry actually uses a more positive term, referring to the yield. Every time I hear that word, I think back to the beginnings of the compact disc, in the mid-1980s, when the yield of perfect (meaning salable) discs was notoriously, stunningly low, around 10%.


One recent newspaper story noted that in the early '90s, fewer than two out of 10 plasma televisions came off the line in any condition to be sold. A reader asks, what about that? Well, in the rocketing evolution of plasma technology, that grim statistic is ancient history. According to industry analysts, by 1999 the plasma yield rate was up to roughly five out of 10, and today nine sets in 10 pop off the line good to go.


The dramatically improved manufacturing process has played a crucial role in bringing down the cost of plasma television. Another bright spot is more successful shipping of these delicate instruments. The first plasma set I got for review, a couple of years ago, came encased in a wood crate that weighed more than the television. And still breakage in transit was reputed to be common.


"Packaging has improved tremendously," said Zenith's Moore. "Now we ship these things all over the country in a cardboard box, and the incidence of damage is very low."


And to make sure your eye-popping new plasma works properly the first time you turn it on, Fink recommends having it delivered and set up by folks who work with these sets for a living.


"They're fairly heavy and they're fragile," he said. "I wouldn't try to install a big window in my house. Most people probably shouldn't try to hang a plasma television on a wall. I'd have an expert do it."
 

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Well I don't know about myths but my NEC MP3 worked fine for a couple of months until a green pixel started flickering all of a sudden. NEC ultimately replaced the unit and I got a brand new one.

The second unit actually worked fine for 4 months until it started to exhibit strange sync loss with certain DVD's. NEC sent someone to take a look and after replacing a board (which didn't help) decided to get me yet a 3rd new unit. This one has been working fine for a few months now :)

Ronnie
 

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Why didn't they address the issue of recharging the gas?
 

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Ronnie your killing me.Just about convinced buying the pioneer 433cmx will change my viewing life and you show up with this.Have other people had such dramatic problms with plasma?Is this an inherited nec problem? should I just try to fall back in love with my 32 wega crt and put the plasma dream behind me?
 

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Mattg: Very few of us have encountered any serious problems. I have encountered a large number of non-serious problems, but nothing serious like failure.
 

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Before investing in our first plasma I read this forum extensively and have to say that the information here is excellent - opened my eyes to many potential issues.


It appears that some of these 'myths' are not cropping up so often, so I assume (in my limited knowledge) these early issues are now addressed in new plasmas, I certainly hope so.


After much agonising (and demos) I decided and go for the new 50" Panasonic PHW5.


It arrived last month...no dead pixels (I've looked hard)...no buzzing whatsoever (in fact when you turn it on it gives out a little 'purr' - honest!). Completely satisfied and it's the sexiest bit of kit in the house...slap...ouch...apart from my wife of course :eek:
 

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Didn't mean to discourage anyone...

I still think that the nec mp3 is an awesome display and so long as you go with a company that supports its products you should be fine.

In any case (as probably anyone here can testify) you will have to go through the nerve recking 'bad pixel' hunt when you first turn it on...

Ronnie
 
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