Last Updated: June 25, 2013
Best Plasma TV Sets for 2008
Premium Plasma HDTVs for Home Entertainment
More than just Picture Quality
Plasma HDTV sets have become significantly better and cheaper than ever. For the informed buyer, plasma still represents the best big screen option for home entertainment.
Choosing a premium plasma television from the vast selection of HDTV sets available on the market is not easy. In this article, we discuss some of the best plasma TV sets presently available from top TV makers. We hope that the information presented here will help make your choice a bit easier.
Panasonic VIERA 55-inch TC-P55ST60
...first HDTV to ever gain a 5-Star rating
in a Cnet review!
If the ST50 from 2012 did prove to be the HDTV to deliver the best value for your money, this new 2013 TV from Panasonic is even better - delivering a picture you would generally expect from a more expensive flagship model. Though its 3D picture is not among the best, the ST60 is capable of amazing picture quality at a price that is well within reach of the average budget.
Despite big improvements in LCD technology, the best plasma TV sets still have an edge when it comes to picture performance. In particular, the deep shade of black a premium plasma TV can produce, and plasma TVs response to fast action movement, have yet to be achieved by the best LCD HDTVs. The irony is that this edge in performance comes at a lower price than corresponding LCD TVs especially at 50-inch and up.
What we present here are some of the best plasma TVs. These sets are getting the best ratings in reviews; it is therefore no surprise that these are the sets that are proving to be among the top-sellers within their category.
Best Plasma TV Sets:
Practical HT Guide Selection of Premium Plasma HDTVs
Products covered in this 'Best Plasma TV' roundup:
Pioneer KURO and Elite KURO
Best Plasma TVs for picture quality
Best plasma TV for overall value
Best picture to price deal
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Definitely, Pioneer is the world leader here and with its KURO and Elite KURO lines of plasma HDTVs, Pioneer has once again confirmed its dominance in the field.
The extremely expensive Elite KURO represents Pioneer flagship range. However, plasma TV reviews published elsewhere state that apart from some high-end features and the more advanced set of picture controls found on the flagship range, the step-down Pioneer KURO plasma TVs are capable of very similar picture performance.
The new 50-inch Pioneer
Unfortunately, even the KURO step-down range comes at a rather expensive price tag. A case in point is the new 50-inch 1080p PDP-5020FD Pioneer plasma HDTV. Despite being the company's cheapest 50-inch flat-panel plasma HDTV for 2008, at its present reduced price tag of $3,000 online, it is still one of the most expensive 50-inch plasmas around.
At this price level, you could easily get an equally valid premium 58-inch plasma from Samsung or Panasonic. Just take the Samsung PN58A650 58" 1080p plasma HDTV - a plasma characterized by its unique touch of color design and impressive feature set; this massive plasma is selling online at $3,100.
Nonetheless, this expensive price tag is probably the only real issue one can complain about.
The Pioneer KURO PDP-5020FD design is almost identical with last year PDP-5080HD 720p plasma HDTV - an exceptional good performer that often served as a reference benchmark in various plasma TV reviews. The new 1080p Pioneer even comes with the same removable speakers option found on the 5080HD and an equally effective anti-glare screen coating.
The KURO PDP-5020FD has an interesting feature list. The set superb connectivity is complemented by four independent HDMI ver. 1.3 inputs with Deep Color Support (x.v.Color expanded color space), an Ethernet port and a dedicated PC input. There is also an advanced picture-in-picture mode with a side-by-side option. Included is a room light sensor to control the set brightness level automatically for optimum setting and improved energy savings.
Burn-in management features come with various options to combat burn-in. These include a pixel orbiter, a scrolling white bar to wipe out retained images, and a special mode that is designed to optimize the respective picture settings to alleviate image retention.
Pioneer has also added its Home Media Gallery to the 5020FD. This lets the TV interface with a USB drive or your home network via the set Ethernet port to view photos, or play music and video files on the TV without the need for an additional media player. This Pioneer 'media player' implementation does not include the same level of media-rich content as found on the Samsung Series-7 plasma and LCDs, but it still offers a valid DLNA option and support for a wide range of file formats.
Interesting is the new menu system, which instead of sitting on top of the picture, just shrinks the live image into a small window on the left section of the screen to fill the remainder with menu text and on-screen help.
Performance wise, this Pioneer plasma HDTV set has consistently emerged in a number of plasma HDTV reviews as one of the best plasma TVs for picture quality. The KURO PDP-5020FD is capable of producing excellent shadow detail and the deepest shade of black ever measured from a non-CRT TV. Black-level performance is a most important aspect in picture quality as it helps improve the realism of dark scenes while making colors look richer and more saturated. This renders the Pioneer as the best plasma television for those who want to enjoy the most in home theater image quality.
Color decoding is also extremely accurate and its 72Hz mode for 1080p/24 sources works perfectly well.
Apart from the expensive price tag, the only few complaints we encountered about the KURO PDP-5020FD relates to its primary color accuracy and temperature control. The Pioneer slightly less-than-perfect color accuracy is due to a minor inaccuracy with the green and red primary colors. It also lacks the more advanced user-controls available on the Elite KURO for fine color temperature control. But these issues did not prevent this Pioneer from earning the highest praise in a plasma TV review published by CNET Reviews for its rich saturated colors and excellent all-round picture performance with both standard and high definition content. All in all, this is one of the very best plasma TV sets around.
The 2008 Pioneer KURO 20FD line also includes a 60-inch version, the KURO PDP-6020FD'; it is selling at amazon at just under $4,100. Apart from its screen size, this giant plasma shares the same specs as the 50-inch; we therefore expect the PDP-6020FD to perform similarly.
Pioneer Announcement: In late April 2008, Pioneer announced that it will be pulling off the plug on plasma panel production though it still plan to continue selling plasma TV sets using panels purchased from Matsushita. This means that second generation of Pioneer KURO HDTVs will use display panels manufactured by Panasonic. This decision came as Pioneer plasma TV sales continued lagging behind major rivals - including Matsushita's Panasonic brand.
Best-Value Plasma TVs: Panasonic and Samsung Plasma TVs
While Pioneer is king with its top-performing plasma KURO HDTVs, yet if what you are after is a best-value plasma, then you have to look elsewhere as Pioneer Plasma displays are relatively expensive.
Plasma HDTVs from both Panasonic and Samsung offer better value for your money. Generally, sets from both brands do very well in plasma TV reviews. Samsung plasma TVs often rate as best for overall value, while Panasonic plasmas rate as best in overall picture performance with blacks that are almost on par with those of the Pioneer.
Samsung PN50A550 50" Plasma HDTV
The PN50A550 Samsung plasma HDTV forms part of Samsung Series 5 line of plasma sets.
According to Samsung, these plasmas are designed to provide the user with a limited home theater budget, a powerful plasma capable of top picture quality and higher-end feature set.
As with the Pioneer featured above, the new Samsung PN-50A550 design is almost identical with last year's FP-T5084 we review on our site way back in November 2007. At the time, the 2007 model also proved to be one of the best plasma TVs all round.
But resemblance with the 2007 model stops there! To start with, it comes with a newly designed backlit TV remote that incorporates larger buttons; the use of large backlit buttons makes the remote extremely functional. The menu system has also been redesigned; it is more intuitive and user-friendly, using bigger highly visible text than that found on the FP-T5084.
It boasts full 1080p HD capabilities and one of the highest rated contrast ratings we ever encountered for an HDTV (1,000,000:1 for dynamic contrast and 30,000:1 for on-screen static rating). Admittedly, such high contrast ratings do not impact picture quality in a manner that these large numbers seem to imply but... (More in our article The Contrast Ratio Game!)
Unlike the Pioneer featured above, this Samsung includes plenty of picture controls - including several advance user adjustments, fine color temperature settings, custom color space control, and a seven-position gamma control. In addition, the PN-50A550 also has three adjustable picture modes that can be set each independent per input; this leads to a lot of versatility.
While the numerous picture settings would let more advanced users zero-in on the best picture, CNET reports that the default Movie picture setting mode is pretty spot-on. For those who would find the numerous controls on the Samsung a bit confusing, using the Movie picture auto setting is a sure and easy way to enjoy the best picture performance.
It also comes with a comprehensive connectivity base. This includes 3 HDMI inputs, a dedicated PC input supporting a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, and a USB2.0 port on the side to which you can connect a USB mass storage device to view digital photos (jpg) and listen to MP3 music.
Other features include a solid collection of aspect ratio controls, picture-in-picture, and a swivel tabletop stand. All is packed in a stylish design with hidden bottom speakers and a piano gloss black finish.
This Samsung 1080p plasma HDTV is without doubt one of the best plasma TVs around within its category, yet its picture-in-picture feature is in our opinion extremely limited in use as it will only allow you to watch the analog TV channels in the sub-window (preview window) when you are using one of your external video sources as your main input. It would not work the other way round - this apart from other limitations such as to switch the main window with the sub-window channel would require you to go through a whole series of menu buttons. An equally important limitation is the fact that this analog channel limitation would render the PIP redundant after February 2009 once the digital TV transition is complete.
Still, with a reduced on-line price of approximately $1,660 at amazon, this 1080p Samsung plasma TV has managed to strike the right balance between picture quality, feature set, and price. It is thus no surprise that the Samsung PN-50A550 is turning out to be one of the best plasma TVs in terms of plasma TV sales at major stores.
But this success is not just a matter of a reasonable price tag. This Samsung 1080p plasma HDTV is also one of the best plasma TVs around with a deep level of black. While its black level is not on par with that from the best Pioneers or Panasonic plasma TVs, yet it is close to the point that it is practically indistinguishable for most users. CNET even reports that detail in shadows is excellent - same as the Pioneer - with the Samsung exhibiting a more natural rise from black than the Panasonic.
Many reviewers and users alike agree that the Samsung overall picture quality is above average. Colors are accurate - better than the Pioneer - while video processing is clean and free from noise. Overall, it is able to stand up against the tough competition from major brands like Panasonic and Pioneer.
CNET - in their plasma TV review for the Samsung PN-50A550, complained of a not so-effective glare-reducing screen. Samsung uses a new anti-glare technology - termed FilterBright - on this plasma HDTV. It is designed to block external light from washing out the blacks while reducing glare when using this HDTV in a brightly lit environment. According to CNET, this did not turn out to be as effective as the anti-glare coatings used on Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas during a side-by-side comparison.
However, this anti-glare issue did not prevent this Samsung plasma HDTV from earning an excellent overall rating from the CNET editors because though glare can be a nuisance, if you want to enjoy the best picture, you will have to watch your TV under controlled lighting. This applies irrespective of brand or model.
In addition, the Samsung PN50A550 plasma HDTV accurate colors, above-average noise-free video processing, excellent overall picture quality, the large selection of user-controls, and its intuitive menu structure, set this superb plasma apart from the rest within its class - a best plasma TV for overall value.
Samsung features a slightly larger 58-inch model in this same series, the Samsung PN58A550 1080p plasma HDTV. Except for the different screen size, both the 58-inch and the 50-inch featured above come with an identical specs set; these are therefore expected to perform very much the same.
Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800U
Panasonic line for 2008 includes five distinct Viera series: Panasonic flagship series PZ850, the PZ800 premium line which includes the 50-inch Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800U featured here, step-down 1080p series PZ85 and PZ80, and Panasonic entry-level PX80.
All except for the PX80 are 1080p plasmas. In addition, all 2008 Viera plasma HDTVs come with new panels, improved contrast ratios, SD Memory card slots, a Game Mode, multiple HDMI connectors, increase luminosity for improved performance under brightly lit environments, and Viera Link. The latter allows multiple Viera Link devices to be controlled by a single remote.
The Panasonic Viera PZ800 series of 1080p Panasonic plasma HDTVs includes fours screen sizes, the 42-inch TH-42PZ800 (approx. $1,600), the 46-inch TH-46PZ800 (approx. $2,130), the 50-inch TH-50PZ800 (approx. $2,270), and the 58-inch TH-58PZ800 (approx. $3,700).
What makes the PZ800 stands out from the rest is that this Panasonic line of 1080p TVs meets the THXTM Certified Display Specifications. This signifies the highest standards for quality and performance, thus ensuring that content is presented with the correct color and luminance levels. Obviously, this THX certification comes at a price - at least a couple of hundreds.
The Panasonic PZ800 series also features an improved contrast ratio of 30,000:1, four HDMI connections, and Panasonic new 'one sheet of glass' design concept which basically consists of a big pane of glass that covers the whole set.
You would not get the extensive line of picture controls found on the Samsung; no gamma setting and color temperature adjustment is just a three-preset setting. However, this Panasonic plasma TV still incorporates enough picture controls to let the user tweak the picture for best performance. It is also significant that all picture modes - including the THX Movie Mode, are user adjustable, while the Custom mode is independent per input. The Panasonic 50PZ800U also offers a complete range of aspect ratio controls for both HD and SD sources.
As with most 2008 plasma TVs from various brands, this Panasonic offers a set of burn-in management features - which the company calls 'image retention' - to help prevent any possible occurrence of burn-in. Admitted, with the latest improvements in plasma display technology, burn-in is not really an issue with proper use. At the same time, it is always reassuring to have some additional remedy at hand in case the need arise.
Interesting is that despite this Panasonic plasma HDTV does not include a power saver mode, yet on first start-up, it asks whether you are in a store or home environment. Choosing the home environment engages the 'Standard' picture present by default across all inputs; this saves almost 100W over the more energy demanding Vivid mode.
Lacking is a picture-in-picture mode. Equally lacking is a USB, but then connectivity options are still among the most complete with four HDMI, computer input and memory card slot.
Performance wise, the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U is capable of producing a deep shade of black with excellent shadow detail. In their plasma TV review, the CNET editors say that while the black level of this Panasonic is not exactly on par with Pioneer KURO plasma HDTVs, yet the difference is almost negligible. Not only, they added that its color and uniformity is better than that of the Pioneer.
Image on the Panasonic is clean and relatively free from false contouring and noise, especially in THX mode. Color accuracy is better than that of the Pioneer KURO PDP-5020FD and on par with that of the Samsung PN50A550. Additionally, during a side-by-side comparison, CNET reports that the deep blacks of the Panasonic yielded better saturated colors than those present on the Samsung PN50A550.
Grayscale tends to shift towards red, but this slight inaccuracy is surely not enough to tarnish an overall excellent picture quality - something which renders this Panasonic one of the best plasma TVs for overall picture performance. Furthermore, the TH-50PZ800U is one of the few plasma HDTV sets that can do a fine job even with good quality standard definition material.
Overall, the 50-inch Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800 is capable of delivering superb picture detail. But this is not due to its higher 1080p pixel count but rather to its deep shade of black and accurate grayscale. The 1080p native resolution would help scale 1080i content better in that it is 1:1 ratio. But other than this, at this screen size, it would be hard to enjoy the full benefit of a larger pixel count under normal viewing distances.
Instead, the benefits of a 1080p pixel count would start to show up on the larger screen of the 58-inch TH-58PZ800 model in this same series of Panasonic 1080p plasma HDTVs.
In a separate plasma TV review of the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U published by Sound & Vision Magazine, the editor states that, '...with the TH-50PZ800U, Panasonic continues its evolutionary progress toward making an ideal plasma TV. This set's THX picture mode delivers exceptionally natural-looking color without making you jump through lots of picture-adjustment hoops, and its deep shadows will make even fans of Pioneer's Kuro plasmas stand up and take notice.'
This Panasonic is truly the best plasma TV for overall picture quality to price deal. After all, for just under $2,300 Panasonic gives you the possibility to bring home an outstanding TV for significantly less than an equivalent Pioneer KURO.
Note: For a detailed guide to the full Panasonic plasma TV lineup or 2008, please refer to our 2008 Panasonic Plasma TV Product Guide.