Virtues of plasma TV

It's not exactly Bloods vs. Crips, but there's a little turf war going on in the HDTV world. What do you like, plasma or DLP? Or maybe LCD?

Jim Palumbo wears plasma's colors, even if he doesn't own a plasma TV. After spending more than 30 years as a Sony executive, he now presides over the Plasma Display Coalition, a group founded by television manufacturers Hitachi, LG, Panasonic, Pioneer and Samsung.

That makes him a candidate to discuss the myths and truths of plasma:

Question: First thing people ask about plasma sets is burn-in. Should people still be concerned?

Answer: Burn-in, or image retention, is a lingering myth about plasma that simply is not true. Today's plasma HDTV sets can be viewed the same way you would any other television. The Plasma Display Coalition recently put our members' sets through rigorous series of tests, and after 24 hours of testing with intense static images, there was no image retention, or so-called burn-in. (For more details on the test results, go to www.plasmadisplaycoalitionorg.)

Q: Half-life of new plasmas is typically rated at 60,000 hours. Can people expect a plasma to last that long?

A: Yes they can. You are right - plasma set s generally are rated to last 60,000-plus hours before reaching half brightness, but that means the owner is getting over 26 years of viewing at six hours a day. I don't know of too many households that are watching a 26-year-old TV. This is almost three times the life of a typical tube, or CRT-based, rear-projection TV.

Q: What's good plasma hygiene? Keeping contrast levels low?

A: Treat your plasma the way you would any other TV. But make sure you don't drop it, and be sure you fasten it to the wall. Always follow the manufacturer's instruction manual.

Q: And speaking of contrast: Contrast ratios, the difference between the lightest and darkest part of a picture, seem to be more myth than fact. Why do manufacturers inflate this figure so much?

A: I wouldn't say contrast ratios are inflated, but there is not an industry standard for measuring contrast ratio. What is important to know is that plasma's high contrast ratio renders the range of gray steps between black and white that delivers the most natural flesh tones and color of any new display technology on the market.

Q: Purists tend to favor plasma over LCD, but LCD is gaining. At bigger screen sizes, comparable resolution, can LCD beat plasma?

A: The purists are right. Plasma HDTVs deliver the best in big-screen home entertainment: high contrast ratio and black level, wide range of color reproduction, no motion lag or drag, powerfully efficient with long life.

Q: How about three buying tips for a consumer heading out to buy a plasma set this year?

A: First, do your homework, and determine what room you will place the TV in, what kind of programming you watch and what features you want. Second, be sure it's a high-definition plasma so you get the full benefits of HDTV programming. And be sure it is from a major manufacturer purchased at a reputable dealer with outstanding customer service.

Q: Black used to be the favorite color of plasma TV manufacturers. Now there's a lot of silver. Assuming wood grain is out, what's next?

A: Plasma HDTVs can be considered design statements, slim and sexy, and it would be a natural design evolution that manufacturers would be offering plasma in designer color options to match decors of homes among other design treatments.