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Plasma TVs make a blockbuster first impression. A scant 6 inches thick or less, these sleek, flat panels display bright images on screens measuring about 3 to 5 feet diagonally. With more models 50 inches and larger now available, plasma TVs have become a viable alternative to rear-projection sets for anyone seeking a jumbo screen.
A plasma screen is made up of thousands of pixels containing gas that's converted into "plasma" (ionized gas) by an electrical charge. The plasma emits ultraviolet light that causes phosphors to glow red, green, or blue, as dictated by a video signal.
Because of improvements in plasma technology, the best sets have excellent picture quality. They also offer a wider viewing angle than most LCD TVs and rear-projection sets, with deeper blacks and smoother motion than you typically get with LCD sets.
But the shiny screen of a plasma TV can produce annoying reflections, especially in bright rooms. Many plasma sets look best in low light. Like projection TVs using CRT (cathode-ray tube) technology, plasma sets are vulnerable to screen burn-in, although new screen-saving technologies minimize the risk.
Plasma TVs with 1080p resolutions are just starting to arrive. Panasonic has a 50-inch, 1080p plasma set that sells for about $3,000 and a 42-inch model for about $2,000. Plasma sets are relatively new, so their long-term reliability is still a question. Survey data we have collected regarding the first year or two of use show few repair problems for many leading brands.
Among the leading brands in the plasma TV category are Panasonic, Hitachi, Philips, Pioneer, and Samsung. Sony was a leading manufacturer but has stopped making plasma TVs to concentrate on LCD sets. Prices have dropped …