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Plasma HDTV Shopping Tips – An Unbiased Guide

Buy the Latest Model
Plasma TV technology is getting better every year. Each manufacturer has consistently improved picture quality year after year. There’s no good reason to buy last year’s model, if the new models are already out.

Learn Which Models Are New
This can be tricky. Crazy model numbers don’t make this easy. Most manufacturers announce their new product lines for the year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January. Various other announcements are released throughout the year.

New models (as of Aug. 2006)

Brand 42-inch 50-inch 55-inch 58-inch 60-inch and above
Hitachi 42HDS69 42HDT79 42HDX99 55HDS69 55HDT79 55HDX99
LG 42PC1DA 42PC3D 42PC3DV 50PC1DR 50PY2DR 50PB2DR 60PB2DR MW-71PY10
Maxent MX-42EPM20 MX-42HPM20 MX-42HPM30 MX-5020HPM
Panasonic TH-42PD60U TH-42PX60U TH-42PX600U TH-50PX60U TH-50PX600U TH-58PX60U TH-58PX600U TH-65PX600U TH-103PZ600U
Philips 42PF9631D 50PF9631 50PF9731
Pioneer PDP-4270HD PDP-5070HD PRO-FHD1
Samsung HP-S4253 HP-S4273 HP-S5033 HP-S5053 HP-S5073 HP-S6373

Choose a Size Based on Viewing Distance
Measure from the wall or the proposed plasma placement location to your seat.

Viewing Distance Recommended Screen Size
5-15 feet 42-inch
7-17 feet 50-inch
8-21 feet 60-inch
9-23 feet 65-inch

Don’t Get Blinded By Brands
Very good models are to be had across all brands. Even within a brand you’ll find variances in performance. New models are released all the time with improved technology and features, often displacing old favorites. Historically, Pioneer Elite plasmas have been considered by many industry professionals to be the reference standard. Panasonic and Hitachi are usually rated among the best plasmas. Followed closely by Samsung, Philips, and LG (in no particular order). The budget brands include HP, Dell, Maxent, V inc. (Vizio), and AOC.

Ranking Brand Market Share (Q1 ’06)
1 Panasonic 21.6%
2 LGE 17.8%
3 Samsung 14.0%
4 Philips 12.1%
5 Hitachi 8.0%
Other 26.5%

Source: DisplaySearch – June 2006
Understand the TV Formats

Spec Resolution Definition Type Quality
1080p 1920×1080 1080 progressive HDTV The Best
1080i 1920×1080 1080 interlaced HDTV Very Good
720p 1280×720 720 progressive HDTV Very Good
480p 720×480 480 progressive DVD Quality or EDTV Good
480i 720×480 480 interlaced Regular TV Average

As noted above, the “p” stands for progressive, and “i” for interlaced. Just remember the higher the numbers the better, and “p” is better than “i”. Need a technical explanation? Click here.

Know What Specs Are Important

Spec Typical Value What to look for
Contrast Ratio 10,000:1 The higher the first number the better. Manufacturers use different methods to arrive at their measurements. Since there is no industry standard, these values are somewhat useless for comparison.
CableCARD Yes/No Most consumers are not using this feature because it lacks the full capabilities of a cable box.
DCR Yes/No DCR = Digital Cable Ready. All plasma TV’s can be hooked to digital cable. It’s a confusing term used in conjunction with the CableCARD.
Panel Life 60,000 hours With average viewing of six hours per day, that’s over 27 years.
Inputs 2 or 3 HDMI HDMI is emerging as the new standard for digital connectivity. It combines high definition video and multi-channel surround sound into one cable for easy installation.
Integrated HDTV Tuner Yes/No This feature is useful for people who want to use an external antenna to receive local (free) HDTV stations. If you get local stations via cable or satellite, then you won’t need this feature.
Resolution 1366×768 The higher the numbers the better. 1920x1080p is ideal, but only a few plasmas are available at that resolution.
Viewing Angle 160 degrees A non-issue. All current plasmas look good from any viewing position
Warranty 1 year parts & labor One year is the industry standard. LG is the only company offering 2 years parts & labor. I don’t recommend buying extended service plans

Beware of Marketing Terms
Each term listed below is specific to each manufacturer. You really don’t need to understand them, but be aware each company made up the name to help convince you their technology makes the picture better.

Brand Technology
Hitachi PictureMaster Video Processor
LG XD Engine
Philips Pixel Plus
Pioneer Pure Drive Signal Processing
Samsung DNIE

Check the Resolution

Type Resolution Available Sizes Price Range Value Availability
HDTV 1920×1080 One 50 inch or 65+ inch models $10,000+ very expensive few models, high-end
HDTV 1366×768 Most 50-63 inch models $2,000-$10,000 exceptional to good value many models ,very popular
HDTV 1024×768 42-inch models only $1,400-$5,000 exceptional value many models, very popular
EDTV 852×480 42-inch models only $1,100-$3,000 budget value few models, being phased out

Unique Features to Know
Each feature listed below is only available from that brand. If its important to you, consider models from that manufacturer.

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Brand Unique Feature What is it? Our Thoughts
Hitachi Power Swivel Base Easily angle your TV towards any seat Why didn’t you sit in the center seat?
Philips Ambilight Casts a backlight corresponding to the current image across each side or around the TV — expanding the viewing experience. Supposedly eases eye strain Great for parties and to show-off to your friends.
LG Integrated DVR Pause live TV or Record TV shows to an internal Hard-drive Less wires and one less box to worry about, but the same functionality is available via cable or satellite set-top boxes

Does it Include Speakers?
This used to be a no-brainer, but not all plasma TVs come with speakers. If you don’t have a home theater speaker system, make sure speakers are included. If the plasma display is labeled a “monitor”, it may not include speakers.

Try to Narrow Down to a Few Models
Once you have a few models in mind you can begin to read the editorial reviews. Enter each model number into the search box to locate reviews and deals.

Compare the Bottom-line Price
Don’t be fooled by to-good-to-be-true offers online. When comparing deals make sure you compare the total price delivered to your door. Shipping charges can add-on $100-$300, and state taxes can add another few hundred dollars to the price.

Consider Buying Online to Save Tax / Shipping currently has many new models discounted 20% off with free shipping and no tax! You’ll have to add them to your cart to view the price. Also make sure it says, “Ships from and sold by” But Amazon doesn’t carry every plasma brand and model (at least not yet). Check’s plasma price comparison section. Other reputable online stores to consider include OneCall or Crutchfield.

Place Your Order!
You’ve done your research, you’ve chosen a model that suits your needs, and you located a great deal online. Add to cart… click… buy… done… enjoy!

Brian Mitchell
Founder & CEO

Editorial Disclosure: Philips is a current advertiser on No other manufacturer discussed in this article has purchased advertising.

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