Is Panasonic exiting the plasma TV business?

Speculation continues that it will stop making plasma sets next year

Published: October 10, 2013 10:00 AM
Panasonic plasma TVs, including the Viera TC-P60ST60, are consistently recommended models.

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Like a Whac-A-Mole game played with rumors rather than rodents (OK, insectivores), reports of Panasonic exiting the plasma TV business have once again resurfaced, with a Reuters article suggesting the company will shutter its remaining plasma-panel factory by next spring. That report resulted in speculation that the company would leave the plasma-TV business in the same time frame.

The company's official response to us was this rather noncommital sentence: "The content of the report released overnight is not something that was announced by Panasonic."

Panasonic plasmas have a strong track record, with sets consistently topping our TV Ratings. The company's new ZT60-series flagship model was the favorite conventional TV of 2013 among several of our testers and editors. And a number of models in Panasonic's ST60 series are CR Best Buys, delivering excellent high-def picture quality and lots of features at relatively low prices for a major brand. (The $9,000 Samsung KN55S9C OLED TV was the best TV we tested this year.)

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Clearly, Panasonic is in the midst of a reorganization and hopes to stem losses from unprofitable areas of its operations—and TVs are notoriously low-margin products. An earlier report suggested that Panasonic was suspending plasma research and development after the debut of the ZT-series sets to focus on emerging technologies, such as OLED.

What's more, plasmas' share of the TV market continues to decline. According to DisplaySearch data cited in the Reuters article, plasmas accounted for just 6 percent of overall TV sales worldwide, compared with 87 percent for LCDs. (Panasonic, LG, and Samsung are the only major brands still selling plasma TVs.)

It's worth noting that Reuters article actually says that Panasonic will stop producing plasma TV panels, not that it will stop selling plasma TVs. That means the company could continue to sell plasma sets made with panels sourced from other suppliers, adding its secret sauce—electronics, chipsets, and processing circuitry—to differentiate its products from those of its competitors.

—James K. Willcox

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