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Is this your last chance to get a plasma TV?

LG has announced that it will stop making plasma sets next month

Published: October 28, 2014 05:30 PM
The Samsung F8500-series TVs are our top-rated plasmas. Get one while you can.
Photo: Samsung

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We knew the end was coming, but with LG's announced exit from the plasma business, it's still a bit sad for the TV technology favored by many TV purists—including most of us here who test HDTVs for Consumer Reports.

That means that if you're shopping for a new set this year, this might be the last chance to buy a plasma, a TV type that has been prized for great black levels, accurate colors, and unlimited viewing angles. But it's a dying business, as the masses flock to lighter, brighter, and more energy-efficient LED-backlit LCD TVs, despite some of that technology's drawbacks, such as limited viewing angles, uneven backlight uniformity, and a tendency to blur during fast-moving scenes.

The news, first reported by Reuters, that LG Electronics will be winding down its plasma business next month doesn't come as a surprise. Panasonic, for years the leading plasma TV brand, threw in the towel last fall, and Samsung announced earlier this year that it would be shutting down plasma production at the end of November. That leaves no major-brand TV manufacturer in the business.

According to Korean news sources, only one company—Changhong Electric, based in China—will still be making plasma panels. It's unlikely that its U.S. arm—which right now sells TVs primarily via Newegg.com—or any other brand will step up to fill that void. Samsung was quoted in the Reuters article as saying that it plans to continue making plasma TVs, but in our conversations with executives here in the U.S. it seemed as if they'd be winding down plasma TV sales around the end of the year.

Shopping for a new television? Check our TV buying guide and Ratings for tips and advice.

Even as plasma TV expires, a new TV technology, called OLED, looks to replace it as the TV of choice for video enthusiasts. OLED TVs are bright, thin, and energy efficienct like an LCD TV, but their ultra-deep blacks, very high contrast, and unlimited viewing angles are more plasmalike. So far LG has been the most aggressive proponent of this new technology—we recently reviewed its 55-inch EC9300 1080p set, which costs $3,500—but other manufacturers are expected to follow suit. We are expecting the arrival of the first OLED TVs with Ultra HD screens shortly.

Is a plasma TV worth buying?

If you can't spring for an OLED, the question is whether or not it still makes sense to buy a plasma, knowing its days are numbered. We believe the answer is yes, especially if retailers cut prices even further to clear out existing stock. Right now you can buy the 60-inch LG 60PB6900 plasma set for under $1,000 at several retailers, while the LG 60PB6600, with the same screen size, sells for about $850. According to sources here in the U.S., Samsung will probably have enough F8500-series plasmas—what we consider to be the last great plasma TV—through the end of the year. The 60-inch Samsung 60PN8500 currently sells for about $2,000. A less expensive 60-inch PN60F5300 model sells for about $800. As major TV brands, both companies have said they'll back these TVs with service and parts.

If you're a fan of plasma TVs, this could be your last best chance to get a new one. If not, start saving for an OLED.

—James K. Willcox

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