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Plasma Television Buying Guide
 by: Microtek Lab Inc





Calculating the Correct Distance

In setting up the environment for your plasma TV, a primary consideration is to determine the screen size to match the floor plan or available space where the plasma will be displayed.

Plasma monitors are measured diagonally across the screen, just like any other television set. You can typically choose from the following sizes: 32", 40", 42", 46", 50", 61", or 63". Bigger is not always better, and a certain distance must be maintained between the plasma TV and the viewing area for optimal viewing experience. Sitting too far away diminishes the overall impact. Sitting too close, however, could also present its own problems - as when you start seeing the screen's "structure"; i.e., the dots or pixels that make up the plasma display.

In determining the appropriate TV size for you, you should also consider the space required to install the unit itself. When recessing a plasma display unit, allow at least 3 inches of open space at the top of the unit and adequate ventilation space of at least 2 inches behind it as well. Remember, too, that most plasma displays do not have built-in speakers, so you'll need to allow space enough to attach speakers.

What You Can Watch on Your Plasma TV

You can choose between HDTV (High Definition TV) and EDTV (Enhanced Definition TV) for your choice of plasma display. Which type you prefer depends on the kind of material you intend to watch on the plasma.

EDTV is the perfect entry point into digital television, with a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and an image resolution that is 200% better than today's analog televisions. On the other hand, HDTV has up to four times the resolution and colors compared to EDTV, offering the ultimate visual and sound experience.

At present, only a limited number of programs are broadcast in true high-definition format (all major networks broadcast HD counterparts to their regular analog-signal broadcasts). In fact, if you plan to use a plasma HDTV for regular TV programming, you may be surprised to find that regular TV programming may even appear slightly worse, as the big screen exaggerates the flaws in standard TV programs. DVD images from most of the currently available DVD titles on the market today also do not fare as well on true HD plasmas. In fact, these DVD images appear better on EDTV plasma units, because the image resolution of a widescreen DVD (nominally 740 x 480) more closely matches the actual resolution (852 x 480) of the EDTV plasma display.

Why bother with a High Definition TV at all, you may ask? Because HDTV, paired with a true High-Definition or high-quality source, can produce truly stunning images. With a progressive-scan DVD player paired with, say, any of the recently released HD-DVD or forthcoming Blu-ray DVD titles (encoded in true HD format), your plasma HDTV can come to spectacular life and bring out unrivaled image quality. And as more TV programming becomes available in High-Definition format with the looming of the FCC deadline for switching to all-digital broadcasting, plasma HDTV sets will have more TV content to show. One thing's for sure: Your HDTV won't be obsolete anytime in the next few years.

Plasma TV

Specifications When comparing plasma TV sets, it's important to know what to look for to make sense of the specifications you're presented with. Below is a quick rundown on the necessary specs that you need to weigh before making that all-important purchase decision.

Resolution: Resolution is a determining factor in selecting a plasma TV. Do you want HDTV or EDTV? HDTV, with a resolution of at least 1024 x 720, is the ultimate visual and sound experience, but what is available for viewing on HD is currently restricted to a few HD channels on cable, as well as the newly emerging - and necessarily few - DVD titles from the HD-DVD and Blu-ray DVD formats. On the other hand, most of the currently available DVDs actually play better when viewed on EDTV, because the image resolution of a widescreen DVD (nominally 740 x 480) more closely matches the actual resolution (852 x 480) of the EDTV plasma display. Choosing the type of plasma TV that you want, therefore, is a question that should be considered along with the type of content you frequently watch or will be watching on your plasma.

Inputs: A plasma television should work with any existing video component with standard A/V, S-Video, or Component Video outputs. In addition, most plasma TVs have DVI or HDMI connections for use with high-definition sources. Some plasma TVs also have VGA input connections that allow them to be used as monitors for a PC. At the minimum, look for the following specifications on a plasma connection: DVI-I or DVI-D, Component, RCA or Composite, and S-Video. Take into consideration your current component set-up - such as your satellite system, cable box, DVD player, and external stereo components - and see what kind of inputs or connectors they use.

Tuner: Check your plasma to see if it is HD-ready or HD-integrated. An HD-ready plasma TV is essentially a monitor that needs an external tuner source before it can function as a TV. An HD-integrated panel has a tuner built into the set and is ready for use. If you receive your HDTV programming via cable or satellite instead of over-the-air, you may not need a tuner at all, as you will be using the set-top boxes provided by your cable/satellite service to receive HDTV programming. Check with your cable or satellite providers for more details. Some cable/satellite companies do away with set-top boxes and provide their subscribers with cable cards instead. Check with your cable/satellite provider if they provide cable cards and the cable-card type that they offer, and then check the specification on the plasma for cable card slots.

Contrast Ratio: Contrast ratio is the measurement that determines the variation between the whitest and darkest parts of the image. This is an important specification, since plasma TVs with a low contrast ratio will make dark images look muddy and gray while making light images look washed out. A good measure of contrast ratio is 1,000:1 or higher. Anything less than 1,000:1 - especially on a set that is 42" or larger - may not provide optimal viewing experience.

Brightness: Without sufficient brightness, your image will look muddy and soft - even in a dark room. Viewing distance, screen size, and ambient room light will also affect the need for more brightness capability. A brightness rating listed at 550 cd/m2 or higher is good, but don't get bogged down with the technical number listed. Instead, make sure that the screen is bright enough for your needs as you conduct your own visual inspection.

Panel Life: Look for a minimum of 60,000 hours of panel life in your plasma specifications. This is the rating on how long it would take before your panel has half the brightness compared to when it was new. A 60,000-hour spec translates to approximately 20 years of viewing at 8 hours per day. (This approximation may vary, depending on the source and type of content, settings, environment, and use of your plasma TV.)

Anti-burn-in/Pixel Shift: Burn-in refers to the remnants burned on to the screen after a static image has been left on the plasma for a long period of time. To minimize or prevent burn-in, determine if the plasma panel utilizes burn-in protection, such as power management settings, full-time picture or pixel shift (both vertical and horizontal) technologies, or automatic screensaver functions.

Speakers: If you plan to use an external surround sound system, you won't need audio speakers, but most plasma TV sets include speakers that rated anywhere from 7-12 Watts Pre-amp - which is much better than that of conventional TVs and sufficient for most viewing. Check your plasma's specifications to see if it comes with speakers and if the speakers are removable.

Universal Remote: A universal remote can take the place of having one remote, so that it controls all the various components of your TV system, such as the DVD player, audio, cable/satellite etc. If you plan on buying a universal remote, check to see if it's supported by the plasma set of your choice to make sure the plasma accepts universal remote devices.

Power Consumption: Power consumption for plasmas range from 240 watts to over 500 watts, If you're concerned with how much energy a plasma set may use, check its specifications to determine power consumption. Units tend to have higher wattage requirements as the screen increases. A good rule of thumb is to compare similar-sized units together; units with higher wattages tend to use inferior components as a rule.

About The Author

Microtek Lab Inc. is a consumer electronics company focused on scanners, plasma and lcd televisions, digital projectors, lcd monitors, digital cameras, home theatre equipment, and accessories. You can view their online store at http://store.microtek.com Use of this article is permitted provided that the article is used in its entirety.

This article was posted on November 16, 2006

 


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