Plasma HDTVs are likely to stick around for as long as it takes manufacturers to figure out a cheaper and better option. That might end up being OLED TVs, which offer the benefits of a plasma screen and a thinness to beat that of LCD. But for the foreseeable future, OLED is going to be hard to mass-produce and sell cheaply.
"They make 10, and then throw nine in the garbage can," Gary Merson, editor of HD Guru, told TechNewsDaily.
OLED TV technology offers even blacker blacks than plasma TVs and the same wide viewing angles (170 degrees) as plasmas. With an LCD TV, the picture still fades and becomes distorted a bit the farther away you sit from dead center. (LCD includes so-called "LED TVs," which are really just fancier LCD sets with an LED instead of a fluorescent backlight.)
However, the technical superiority of plasma displays has not been enough to prevent most TV buyers from choosing an LCD. HDTV buyers move in one direction, and that's forward. LCD, with its thinner display, was perceived as an advance over plasma. And even though plasma manufacturers were later able to make thinner TVs, there was no going back.
Around 15 percent of the 233 million TVs sold last year were plasma TVs, according to a report from industry analyst firm NPD.
However, plasma TVs remain the favorite of home theater enthusiasts and industry experts, including Gary Merson. OLED TVs aren't likely to replace plasma or LCD any time soon; a main reason for this is because most OLED panels come off the assembly line with manufacturing flaws that make them useless, Merson said, and therefore, cost prohibitive.
Despite promises made at the Consumer Electronics Show last January — and the January before that — no large-size OLED TVs have been released in the United States. LG managed to release 200 55-inch OLED TVs in its native South Korea, but the $12,000 price tag is way too high for most TV buyers, Merson said.
LG this week said it will begin shipping new curved-screen OLED sets in May — again, only in South Korea and for $13,550 apiece.
"Until they can perfect OLED TVs and get them into mass production, there's a market for plasma," he said.
And that could take years. Industry analyst firm DisplaySearch forecasts only 7 million OLED TVs will be made globally in 2016, and OLED will continue to be a luxury goods product sold by only a few retailers — "the Ferrari of TVs," as Paul Gray, head of TV research in Europe for DisplaySearch, described them at an industry news conference earlier this month.
But you can buy an exceptional TV for a reasonable price today. While testing 2013 models from major manufacturers, Merson found a surprise winner.
"We just tested the middle-of-the-line 2013 plasma TV from for Panasonic , and it's the best TV I've ever seen," he said. The $998 50-inch Panasonic ST60 comes with all the frills, such as Internet channels and 3D.
And if that's too pricey for you, see our guide to buying a cheap TV .