Should I Buy a Plasma HDTV to Replace My Rear Projection TV?

My friend Ralph Guarrieri has a rear-projection standard definition television, wants to upgrade to a new HDTV set, and asked me, "Which HDTV set should I buy to replace my Rear Projection TV?" Like practically everyone I talk to, he had already heard about plasma televisions and asked if I thought buying one was a good idea.

Plasma TVs may be the coolest looking High Definition sets on the market. I tend to see them installed in newly-constructed houses and in houses that have undergone significant additions or renovations. They are capable of displaying images with unbelievable brightness and excellent contrast. They are also extremely thin and light enough to be wall mounted.

My immediate reaction to Ralph's question, however, was to say that plasma televisions are not necessarily the right choice for every home theater for a number of reasons. Here are a few reasons why you may want to consider other technologies:

  • Brightness degradation: Plasma TVs are eye-poppingly bright when they're new, but become gradually less bright over time. Most people I know who have conventional picture tube TVs expect them to last for years with little change in picture quality.
  • Power consumption and heat production: Consumer Reports warns that plasma sets "use a lot of power and generate a lot of heat". I live in an area with relatively high electricity rates, so I would think twice about buying a plasma set.
  • Reflections possible in brightly lit rooms: If you plan to put your HD set in a naturally lit room, plasma TVs sometimes have problems with screen reflections.

Alternative technologies include traditional cathode-ray tubes designed for HDTV use. They are big and heavy, with most large screen sets weighing over 100 pounds. I helped install a 34-inch Sony HD set in a home theater last January and I thought the picture was excellent. Another option is liquid-crystal display technology (LCD). These TVs are thin and light like plasma sets, but become more expensive than plasma at the largest sizes, and can have poor contrast.

I like the Panasonic TH-42PX50U Plasma HDTV if you are in the market for a 42-inch screen. If you have the money to spring for a 50-inch model, you'd be hard-pressed to find a model better than the Pioneer PDP-5050HD.

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