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Why Plasma Still Trumps (Most) 4K TVs… For Now

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Samsung F8500 plasmaGary Merson, the HD Guru, has a new piece up this week that’s completely in line with my thinking on the current state of TV technology. Titled “Will 2013 Plasmas Appear Sharper Than UHD TVs?” the piece lines up nicely with my article from CES, “It’s Official: I No Longer Care About OLED… For Now,” but takes that train of thought one step further and explores all of the reasons why Samsung and Panasonic’s 2013 slate of plasmas — with their rich blacks and yummy contrast levels — may actually look better than most of this year’s UHD TVs.

Note that I said most.

The problem, as Gary explains it, is that aside from Samsung’s colossally expensive 85-inch S9, which is fully backlit, all of the other jumbo-sized UHD TVs coming out this year are edge-lit LED models. And even with smaller models, LEDs shining from the side of the screen struggle to light the image evenly. Not to mention the fact that so-called local dimming, when it’s coming from the edge of the screen, isn’t really effective at delivering a richly contrasted and consistent image. But contrast, above all else, is crucial to delivering an image that’s perceived as sharp and well-defined, no matter how many pixels a display is throwing at your eyes.

Plasmas, on the other hand, are capable of dimming on a pixel-by-pixel basis, and that fact — combined with new phosphor technology and better filters — is part of what makes this year’s Samsung and Panasonic plasmas so richly, deliciously contrasted.

Sayeth the Guru:

We’ve seen the production model of Samsung’s F8500 series and its contrast ratio and black level are outstanding (see top unretouched photo). Ditto for Panasonic’s soon to be released VT60 plasmas and it best ever HDTV the ZT60, scheduled for May release.  Based on our observations and knowledge of the edge lighting tech they’ll beat out any UHD LED LCD in real world contrast and black levels based on the  production or prototype models we’ve seen to date.

Bottom line, we fully expect the 2013 Samsung 51-inch PN51F8500, 60-inch PN60F8500 and 64-inch PN64F8500 as well as Panasonic’s 55, 60 and 65-inch VT and 60 and 65-inch ZT plasmas will appear sharper than their UHD counterparts due to a better contrast ratio and deep blacks as well as black uniformity.

And having seen most of those myself, I concur.

Note, of course, that we’re talking about TVs here, not projection systems. Nobody is saying that 4K is dumb across the board. But as far as this year’s slate of TVs go, if you’re looking for the sharpest, best-defined image from a flat panel display, and don’t have the $40K to drop on Samsung’s S9, a plasma is probably still your best bet.

Read: [HD Guru]

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