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Choosing Your Plasma TV - Features to Look for When Purchasing a Plasma Television

By Andrew Ghigo

What to look for when buying a Plasma Television

As with all big screen TVs, the choice of a plasma television is in reality a function of finding the right trade-off between screen size and supported features for your available budget.

This budget issue is even more important when it comes to plasma TVs. It is true that we are seeing more and more of the so-called cheap plasma TVs in the sub-$2000 price tag, yet as one starts stretching the screen size over and above the 42-inch entry-level mark, price increases drastically.

Before you start shopping around for your plasma display, it is important that you make a prioritized list of the features that are most important to your needs; this should include:

  • Screen Size
  • Display resolution
  • Support for HDTV
  • Connectivity
  • Appearance

When evaluating your options, keep in mind that plasma's are expensive - hence the end approach is a trade-off between the desired features and price in order to match your budget.

Ultimately , it is your budget that will drive your purchase - hence you may have to scale-back accordingly.

Always start with Screen Size

Plasma TV screens range in size from typically 37-inches to the latest 70-inch and 80-inch big screen giants.

Screen size is a big factor in plasma pricing and is the most important feature you need to decide on. You can always find smaller screens in the 37-inch to 42-inch domain, for $2,000 to $3,000. Some bare-bones models from major manufactures like Panasonic and Samsung, are even selling at slight less than $2,000.

Therefore, the best way to start choosing your plasma TV is to select the screen size you want, and then evaluate your options.

This is not an issue where if you can afford it, buy it! Here there is a very important aspect to take into consideration when deciding on your Plasma TV screen size - you need to choose one that fits your room. This does not simply mean a screen size that will fit your wall or available cabinet space only. Even more important is the need to match the chosen screen size with your available viewing distance. (More on this can be found in our detailed article on TV Viewing Distance and Screen Placement in the home theater.)

Many argue that TV viewing distance is a matter of personal preference. To a certain extent, this is true, but there are a few guidelines worth considering if you want to enjoy the best possible viewing experience. In essence, a 42" EDTV plasma television would require 10 feet between you and your screen - you may get close to 9 feet for a HDTV plasma TV of the same screen size. However, try not to get closer than this as you may start seeing the pixel build-up structure on the screen - which can be extremely annoying.

Display Resolution and Support for HDTV

The native resolution of a plasma display is another important factor to take into consideration when choosing your plasma TV.

Although generally, picture quality from a plasma TV is very good irrespective of the set resolution, yet higher resolution plasmas will be able to display certain video content better.

This becomes an issue especially when watching an HDTV signal on your Plasma TV. A 720p HDTV signal supports a resolution of 1280 pixels by 720 lines while 1080i/p supports 1920 pixels by 1080 lines.

This means that to be considered true HD, the plasma display must have a native resolution of at least 1024x720. Normally HDTV plasma displays in this category will support a resolution of 1024 x 768 though some come with a higher resolution of at least 1280 x 768 or 1366 x 768. These higher resolutions will enable the respective sets to display a full 720p HDTV image without any re-scaling.

Plasma TV sets with a lower resolution will still be able to display a high definition video signal if they have the necessary electronics - by re-scaling the image. This re-scaling process means disposing of some of the information in order to fit the set native resolution. These plasmas tend to have a resolution of 852x480 and are referred as EDTV plasma TVs.

This resolution is actually what progressive scan DVDs and Digital Television are in and looks as good as any plasma with a higher resolution when displaying these signals. The only visible difference between plasmas with a resolution of 1024x720 (or higher) and 852x480, is when watching true HD material.

A few words about Digital Television and HDTV: While HDTV offers a clearer picture than regular television, yet not all setups allow you to take full advantage of HDTV. It all depends on the quality of your HD source. If your source is a compressed signal e.g. TiVo, then you cannot take full advantage of the quality supported by HDTV.

It is also important to remember that HD still represents a small portion of all available TV content.

Connectivity and Features

Inputs: A plasma TV should include the inputs you need to plug in the various video components. These should include composite, S-Video, component video, DVI, HDMI, and RGB. Preferably, look for a model that would also provide you with a set of front or side-panel A/V inputs for convenient camcorder or video game hookup.

RGB is a standard 15-pin computer input. Composite video is a single line video output that is typical on VCRs, cable/satellite receivers, and DVD players. The next step up in quality is S-video. This can be found on DVD players and most cable/satellite boxes. Component video, which is of a higher quality than S-Video, divides the video signal into red, green, and blue; it is mainly found on progressive scan DVDs and some newer cable/satellite boxes.

DVI and HDMI are purely digital connections; the main difference between the two is that HDMI carries also the audio on the same interconnect used for the video. Both interfaces are capable of supporting up to 1080 lines of picture resolution. In order words, they both can handle HDTV.

Additional Features: Supported connectivity and additional features all add up to the final product price. If you can afford to add a little more to your available budget, you can normally find models with additional features that support a wider range of video inputs, better control options, and support for HDTV.

Final Advice

Keep in mind that price does not equate to performance. It may mean a bigger screen size but not necessary a better picture. Hence, if you are still uncertain as to the best way to go, your primary consideration here should always be - how good the picture will look on your big screen plasma TV.

(c) 2004/2005 All rights reserved.

Andrew Ghigo - A Telecoms/Electronics engineer by profession.
Editor and publisher of - a comprehensive home theater guide to home theater systems, product reviews and home theater design.

This article is an excerpt from a series of informative guides appearing under the Plasma TV Guides section of the site.

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