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Before You Buy a Plasma Television


Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Network Plasma TV - Photo of Front View

Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Network Plasma TV - Photo of Front View

Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Plasman flat panel televisions are quickly becoming quite commonplace on store shelves and in consumers' homes. Plasma flat panel televisions, with their decreasing price points and large sizes are becoming a desired alternative to the standard CRT and Projection television. However, before you jump at the latest "great AD deal" on a Plasma flat panel television, there are some useful tips to take into consideration.

Find a place to put your Plasma television

Since Plasma TVs are thin, they can be wall or table mounted. For a wall mounted plasma, avoid placing over a functioning fireplace. The heat from a fireplace may affect the performance and longevity of the set. If you use a table mount, take a tape measure to the dealer with you so you can make sure that the entire width of the set will fit in your space. Plasma TVs generate heat - make sure you leave one or two inches on each side, the top, and back, for ventilation and connection access.



Plasma TVs come in two types: EDTV and HDTV.

EDTVs typically have a native resolution of 852x480. 852x480 represents 852 pixels across (left to right) and 480 pixels down (top to bottom) on the screen surface. This is higher than standard TV, but is not HDTV resolution. Plasmas classified as HDTVs have a native resolution of 1024x768 or higher.

Check to see if a Plasma is an EDTV or an HDTV. Most Plasma Televisions are now HDTVs, but there are some exceptions in the bargain price range. If the Plasma TV you are considering has a native resolution of 1024x768, 1366x768, or 1920x1080, you are looking at a true HDTV.



Scaling is a process where the plasma's viideo processor will match the resolution of the incoming signal to its native resolution. Lower resolution signals will be upscaled, but the processor will downscale higher resolution signals so that they can be displayed at the TV's native resolution, such as with an EDTV plasma.

Poor scaling can result in artifacts, such as jagged edges and inconsistent detail. It must also be noted that results also depend on the quality of the incoming signal.


Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio, or the degree of variation of the whitest and darkest parts of the image, is a very important factor to note. If a Plasma TV has a low contrast ratio, dark images will look muddy and gray, while light images will look washed out. Look how well detail is shown in darkened scenes and how white the whites are, without being overblown.

A good contrast ratio on a plasma is 5,000:1 or higher. Anything less than 5,000:1, especially on a set that is 42-inches or larger, may not provide the optimum viewing experience. Don't get seduced by inflated contrast ratios, such as 1,000,000:1. Check for contrast ratio specifications listed as Native, be wary of Full On/Off or Dynamic ratio specifications.



Without sufficient brightness your image will look muddy and soft, even in a dark room. Viewing distance, screen size, and ambient room light will affect the need for more brightness capability.

A brightness rating listed as 550 cd/m2 or higher is good, however, don't get bogged down with the technical number listed, just make sure the screen is bright enough for your needs upon your own visual inspection.


    Viewing Angle

    Make sure you can view the image on the Plasma from the sides as well as the from the prime viewing area. Plasma TVs typically have a good side-to-side viewing angle, with many going as wide as 160 Degrees, or about 80 degrees from the center viewing spot.

    If you find that the image begins to fade or becomes unviewable within 45 degrees from either side of the center viewing spot, then it may not be a good choice where you have a large group of viewers sitting in different parts of the room.


      Tuner Considerations

      Almost all Plasma TVs have built-in NTSC tuners and, since 2007, also have built-in HDTV tuners for over-the-air HDTV reception. Some also have QAM tuners, which allow viewing of unscrambled HD-cable signals without a cable box. However, some Plasmas are Monitors Only, which means that they require an external tuner to receive any and all television signals.

      If you receive your HDTV programming via cable or satellite, instead of over-the-air, the need for a built-in tuner is negated as you will be using the settop boxes provided by your cable/satellite service to receive HDTV programming.


      Connectivity with other Devices

      A Plasma television made for consumer use will work with any existing video component with standard AV, 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.


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