What to look for when Choosing a Plasma TV

Are you planning a Plasma Television purchase? Plasma televisions have become extremely affordable; in particular, the latest budget class 720p plasma HDTVs are among the cheapest HDTVs around.

Yet a plasma HDTV is one of the most expensive items in the home theater. Proper planning of your flat-panel TV purchase is thus essential if you want to enjoy the best results while avoiding costly mistakes.

In this plasma television buying guide, we discuss the issues you should consider when making a plasma television purchase.

What to look for when purchasing a Plasma TV

As with all big screen TVs, choosing a plasma HDTV is a matter of finding the right trade-off between screen size and features for the available budget.

This budget issue is even more important when it comes to big screen plasma TV since as one starts stretching the TV size over and above entry-level 50-inch HDTVs, price increase becomes significant. Before shopping around for your plasma HDTV, it is therefore important to make a prioritized list of the features most important to your needs.

Most important considerations should include:

Screen Size: 42″, 50″, or larger?

Display resolution: 720p or 1080p?

HDTV Support: This should complement the available HDTV sources at your end

Connectivity: In particular, the number of HDMI inputs, USB ports, and PC support.

Appearance: To what extend it is important to integrate your HDTV with the rest of your room decor?

When evaluating your options, keep in mind that plasma TVs can turn out to be relatively expensive. Even the so called cheap plasma TVs are not so cheap when considering that the latest 2012 entry-level 50-inch TC-P50XT50 720p plasma HDTV from Panasonic is selling at amazon for $800.

Hence, the end approach is a trade-off between the desired features and price to match the available budget. Ultimately, it is your budget that will drive your purchase, meaning that you may have to scale-back accordingly.

Mentioning the available budget, keep in mind that price does not equate to performance. It may mean a bigger TV screen size, a higher pixel count, or additional features, but not necessarily a better picture.

Always start with Screen Size

Screen size is a big factor in plasma pricing and is the most important feature you need to decide upon. Plasma TV screens range in size from 42 to around 65 inches. Entry-level 42-inch 720p plasma HDTVs are generally available at just over $500. Moving to the 50-inch screen size at 720p is equally affordable with popular 50-inch entry-level 720p plasma HDTVs selling at under $800.

Even at the 1080p HDTV category, 50-inch entry-level 1080p sets are selling at a relatively inexpensive price, with present 2012 models selling at around $1,000.

Cross the 50-inch boundary and prices start to shoot upwards. The 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55ST50 1080p 3D Plasma HDTV from this year lineup is selling at around $1,500. This is a mid-range 3D 1080p HDTV using the latest Panasonic Infinite Black Pro panel for deeper black levels; it also comes with Viera Connect for more Internet content on your TV and built-in Wi-Fi.

Move on to the massive 60-inch plus category and there you will find that you have to spend between $2,500 and $3,000 for a suitable model. Definitely, these are expensive plasma HDTVs but still affordable considering the massive screen size. At the same time, it is important that you do not just buy a plasma television that simply fits your budget.

When selecting your Plasma TV screen size, it is important to choose one that fits your room as well. This does not mean simply a screen size that fits your wall or available cabinet space. Even more important is the need to match the chosen screen size with the available viewing distance. More information on this subject is available in our TV Viewing Distance guide.

Some argue that TV viewing distance is a matter of personal preference; this is true but there are a few guidelines worth considering if you want to enjoy the best possible experience. As a rule-of-thumb, you need between two to three times the screen width as viewing distance; viewing HD content over an HDTV set would allow for a closer viewing distance than standard or enhanced TV content.

Still, do not be tempted to move closer than the recommended minimum viewing distance as detailed in our viewing distance guide for your TV screen size as you will start seeing the pixel build-up structure and video noise; this can make the whole TV viewing experience, extremely unpleasant.

Plasma TV Display Resolution and Support for HDTV

The native resolution of a plasma display is another important factor to take into consideration when choosing your plasma television.

This becomes an issue especially when watching HDTV content on your Plasma TV. 720p HDTV signal supports a resolution of 1280 pixels by 720 lines, while 1080i/1080p HDTV supports 1920 pixels by 1080 lines.

Earlier plasma used to come with lower resolutions, resolutions that were mainly intended to support standard definition TV. To-day, standard definition plasmas are no longer available. In fact, the most common minimum resolution found on entry-level 42-inch and smaller plasma TV sets is 1024×768 pixels. Note exactly true HD but it is still considered enough to display 720p HDTV at the smaller 42-inch screen size. It also represents a significant improvement over earlier EDTV plasmas that came with a native pixel resolution of 852×480 pixels.

Entry-level 720p 50-inch displays come with a typical native pixel resolution of 1366 x 768. At this screen size, this level of pixel count is generally more than adequate to display any HDTV content, including 1080p content. Most retail representatives argue that 1080p HDTVs deliver more in terms of picture detail in comparison to a 720p screen. This is true – but at this screen size, a person’s vision system would not be able to see the additional fine detail supported by a 1080p screen when viewing takes place from the recommended minimum distance.

A few words about Digital Television and HDTV: While high definition plasma TVs offer a clearer picture than regular television, keep in mind that not all setups allow you to take full advantage of HDTV. It all depends on the quality of your HD source.

Do not expect the best in HD picture quality from HD broadcast content, irrespective of whether this is cable, satellite TV or free over-the-air HD DTV programming; HD broadcast content comes with reduced resolution. To really experience the very best in high definition, you need to connect your HDTV to a Blu-ray source.

For an understanding of the different HDTV formats and resolution issues, please refer to our HD guide: Understanding HDTV formats.


A plasma television should include the inputs you need to plug in the various video components; these should include composite, component, multiple HDMI, RGB, and preferably S-Video. We say preferably because the latter has practically disappeared from the latest HDTV sets.

Look for a model that also includes a set of front or side-panel A/V inputs for convenient camcorder or video game hook-up; ensure that at least one HDMI and a USB2.0 ports are also accessible from the front of the TV set.

RGB is a standard 15-pin computer input. Composite video is a single line video output that is typical on VCRs, cable and satellite receivers, and DVD players. The next step up in quality is S-video. This can be found on some DVD players and most cable and satellite set-top boxes. Component video, which is of a higher quality than S-Video, divides the video signal into red, green, and blue and is on progressive scan DVDs and some newer cable and satellite boxes.

HDMI is a purely digital connection capable of supporting the highest quality HDTV resolutions – including 1080p HDTV. You will have at least two, preferably three or more HDMI connections on your plasma HDTV. Having multiple HDMI inputs has become a must as most of today connectivity comes in this form. Most HDTVs come with three to four HDMI inputs; the only exception here are entry-level sets which generally come with one to two HDMI inputs.

Equally important is the presence of USB connectivity; as a minimum, try to ensure that your plasma TV comes with at least two USB inputs.

Last but not least, consider an Ethernet port on your television for network connectivity. This has become more common with the advent of Internet connected HDTVs, also referred to by Samsung and LG as Smart TVs. Some HDTVs come with built-in Wi-Fi, thus simplifying network connectivity.

An Ethernet connection on your plasma HDTV—especially if supported by a DLNA-compliant (Digital Living Network Alliance) option—is a great way of integrating your home entertainment with your PC. This lets you use your TV to view photos, or play music and stream video files from your PC without the need for an additional media player.

Additional Features

Supported connectivity and additional features all add up to the final product price. If you can afford to add that little extra to your available budget, you can normally find models with additional features that support improved connectivity, and better picture and sound control options.

In particular, a very useful feature with today’s multiple input HDTVs is some sort of a second channel preview such as picture-in-picture preview. Unfortunately, this is becoming extremely rare; the only TV maker that is still including a limited PIP feature is Samsung. We say ‘limited’ because 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. Still, it is an added bonus over what you will find from other TV makers. The only TV maker that comes close is LG with its freeze frame function, but then this is not a PIP preview feature.

Important: Always ensure that when it comes to paying extra for additional features, you first research your plasma HDTV carefully to see if this or that feature do actually provide the functionality you are looking for. An easy way to research your product before buying is to download the product manual when available online; read carefully the various sections that deal with how to operate the set features. This should give you a pretty good idea of what is possible and what is not. Alternatively, go through the various customer reviews available on major stores to see what customers like and dislike about your particular model of interest.

For more information on available plasma television options, please check our Plasma HDTV Reviews section.

A Final Recommendation

You may have gone all the way to choose the best plasma TV for your budget. Now, you will definitely want to get the very best out of your flat-panel TV. But there is still one more thing you have to do: Adjust the various settings on your plasma TV for an optimum viewing experience. The best way to do this is to invest in a good set-up DVD.

Disney WOW: World of Wonder

Good calibration discs worth considering include Disney WoW and Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark. WoW is one of the easiest and most complete calibration discs for beginners and intermediate users; Spears & Munsil is more for the expect user.  More information on these calibration discs is available in our video calibration discs review page.

Information on how to use calibration discs is available in our Guide to Home Theater Set-Up DVDs.

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