Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventures in HD part X: 50" Plasma

So, last weekend, bought a 50" plasma. Five years ago, I'd have finished that sentence with "Boo-yah", and invited half the neighborhood over. But, well, it's not quite what you think it is. How much did it cost? About $500.

Yep, that's right. $500. And, functionally, I think it's a little better than my stepdad's 47" 1080p LCD. Bought a year ago, for about twice the price.

It's a Samsung Series 4+ 450. PN50C450. Has a USB port, but you can only view JPEGs with it.

Why so cheap? Well, in fairness, it was a display model. But, on the other hand, I saw Wal-mart has a $500 Plasma set with roughly the same specs right now, so it wasn't out of whack. Part of it is deflation - yes, I'm aware headline inflation is quite high right now, but actually, outside of a handful of admittedly important commodities, prices are plummeting, as people aren't willing to spend money on stuff any more. The grill I got for $250 three years ago costs around $150 new today. Apple isn't selling the new iPad at the same price as the old. And don't mention housing. Unless oil and/or food is a significant part of the cost of an item, you bet it's cheaper today than it was a year ago.

$500 buys you a low end 50" plasma, specifically a 720p non-networked version. It doesn't buy you an LCD at that price and size, and generally the 50" LCDs start around $200 more, and are 1080p. Why do they cost so much more? Because they're better, that's why.

Now, that statement probably takes some explanation, so let's do it. I'm going to cover a few points about both technologies, explode a few myths, and annoy a few people while I'm at it.
  • Myth: Plasma's better than LCD, because unlike the latter, it can display "true black". Reality: Unless you're in a pitch black room, the amount of ambient light is going to be several magnitudes higher than the "black" of any modern LCD panel. Realistically you will not see a difference.
  • Truth: Plasma is a fragile technology. You realize this when the guy from Best Buy warns you not to lay the TV down in your van (plasma screens are fronted by a big sheet of thin glass. A little undue pressure in one spot, and no more screen.) Despite the claim that modern sets don't "burn in", the manual for my new set was peppered with warnings. And, believe me, unless you like stretchovision, or you only ever watch 16:9 content and simply refuse to watch anything else, you will run into situations where burn-in is a risk.
  • Truth: Best Buy (or Wal-Mart, or Target, or...) is not the best place to compare plasma and LCD. Because of the aforementioned burn-in issue, plasma sets usually ship with settings that look great in a livingroom, but washed out and dark under fluorescent lights. LCD, on the other hand, can be as bright as the manufacturer wants, and usually are shipped and set up in stores with settings that make the colors really "pop". Plasma really does look great in real world settings, but looks just awful in TV showrooms.
  • A definite plus: there's no wrong angle at which to watch a plasma TV. LCD TVs generally have a little bit of range after which it starts looking ugly, though nothing like as bad as RPTVs (whose owners, in my experience, seem to be in denial about the whole thing, under the impression LCDs haven't changed since they bought calculators in the mid-eighties.)
  • Comment: Power consumption and/or heat output is not an issue in practice... today. It's not that plasma screens are as efficient, it's just there's so much electronic crap in the average set that you're as likely to get a power-hungry LCD set as a, uh, power hungry plasma. Plasma owners seem to have taken recent surveys to mean that there's no problem with plasma - well, there is, and if TV makers ever start having a race to produce the most efficient sets, then plasma's going to lose. But, right now, especially with large screen 720p plasma sets being normal on the low end...
Why do I think LCD is better? Because you can get a high contrast 1080p set for much, much, less than a plasma with the same specs with pretty much no downside beyond a slightly restricted (slightly) viewing angle range, and because they're resilient and don't suffer from burn-in issues - you don't need to watch 4:3 content either cropped or in stretchovision.

As far as the Samsung goes, we're still in the process of moving into the new house, so we haven't had a chance to spend a lot of time with it. Sound is good. Was glad to read it has a stereo passthrough for HDMI audio to a receiver, which'll help when housesitters are over (right now we have to give a long complicated set of instructions on what to switch to what.) We watched a few shows on a rabbit ears antenna, which got a good ION signal, so was able to watch a few 1980s movies in HD, and, well, it looked good, very good, I can't complain about that at all. Also nice is the fact apparently there's a thriving third party firmware for the TV - I can't imagine using it, I don't want to risk bricking the thing, but, well, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the firmware.

Love the TV. If I had unlimited funds, I'd have gone for a good network-connected LCD, but, frankly, this is more than good enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Replies are welcome, but be aware comments are moderated. Be friendly, on-topic, and all of the things I'm not!