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TV manufacturers may have abandoned plasma technology, but not consumers

Most TV manufacturers may have given up on plasma technology, but the public has not.

Shipments of plasma sets jumped nearly 30% worldwide last year, to 19.1 million from 14.8 million the year before, according to research firm DisplaySearch.

The reason: price.

Plasma sets are “the most affordable large flat-panel TVs for many consumers,” said DisplaySearch in releasing its survey Thursday.

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Forty-two-inch HDTV plasma sets commonly can be found for less than $500 in retail outlets, and 50-inch models often sell for about $600.

The increase in plasma-TV shipments — which DisplaySearch said happened every quarter of 2010 — marked a turnaround for a technology that had fallen out of favor with the rise of thinner, highly energy-efficient LCD sets.

In 2009, plasma shipments were down for the year.

Prominent manufacturers such as Sony, Toshiba, Sharp and Vizio stopped making them altogether.

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But Panasonic, Samsung and LG kept the faith, and industry analysts said that many of the technological problems that dogged plasma in the past — burn-in, high energy consumption, heat generation and relatively thick cases — had been largely solved.

Prices on standard LCD sets — and the super-thin LED-backlit sets that are in the LCD family — have also been falling, DisplaySearch said, but not as rapidly as plasmas.

“For the screen size, you can’t beat the plasmas from Samsung, Panasonic and LG,” analyst Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group said as last year’s holiday shopping season began. “They’ve come down in price and they are a real bargain.”

In addition, many reviewers said plasma delivers better picture quality than standard LCD and LED-backlit technology.

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The one remaining significant drawback for plasma, experts said, is that its picture quality can be compromised when viewed in a brightly lighted room.

Besides price, another factor that boosted plasma last year, DisplaySearch said, was the aggressive TV-industry push for 3-D. Many reviewers and consumers found that plasma had better 3-D performance than LCD in regard to onscreen flicker, the research firm said.

Sales of 3-D sets of all types were not as high as the industry had expected last year, but if that technology does find a mass audience, it could continue to help plasma.

“With 3-D functionality, plasma can reposition itself as a lasting technology in the TV industry,” said DisplaySearch analyst Ken Park.

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Panasonic made about 41% of the plasma sets shipped in 2010, DisplaySearch said. Samsung was next with 34%, and LG had 23%.

Large screens are where plasma panels are seeing the bulk of their success, the firm said.

The share of plasma-TV shipments at 50 inches or larger hit 40.8% in 2010, up from 38% in 2009. Most plasma-TV makers have abandoned the 32-inch market because of low LCD prices at that size, DisplaySearch said.

nathan.olivarezgiles@latimes.com


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