Are we nearing the end for plasma TVs? That's the question we're asking today after Panasonic reportedly announced that it would stop making and selling plasma sets. (We've contacted Panasonic for confirmation and to answer a few questions, and we'll update this post when we hear back.)
Though not exactly a surprise—reports of the company's exit surfaced earlier this month—many TV fans are disappointed, as proponents of not only plasma TV in general but of Panasonic's models specifically, which have typically ranked near the top of our TV Ratings in all size categories 42 inches and larger. In fact, eight of the top 10 TVs in our Ratings of TVs 60 inches or larger are plasma models, and five are from Panasonic. The Panasonic ZT60-series sets were probably the best overall TV we tested this year, with the exception of the Samsung KN55S9C OLED TV.
In a statement issued in Japan, Panasonic said it would stop making plasma panels in December of this year, and it will stop selling plasma TVs in March 2014. The company's approach had been to focus on plasma TVs in larger screen sizes, and LCD TVs for smaller and medium-sized sets. But the company said that the rapid develpment of larger-sized LCD TVs and severe price competition, compounded by flagging demand for plasma, forced it to make the decision for business reasons.
According to the market-research firm DisplaySearch, plasmas accounted for just 6 percent of overall TV sales worldwide, compared with 87 percent for LCDs.
With Panasonic's exit, that leaves only LG Electronics and Samsung as major brands selling plasma TVs—and LG's hold seems tenuous, given that this year it reduced its plasma TV lineup to a single series. However, in response to our question, LG said it's already previewed its 2014 line for key retailers and it plans to introduce new LG plasma HDTVs at CES in January. We've also reached Samsung for comment, and we'll update this report if we hear back. Periodically some secondary brands may offer a plasma TV series, but typically one of the major brands is the source of the plasma panels they use.
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It's not clear what Panasonic's overall approach to the TV market will be for the next few years. It recently announced its first Ultra HD TV, and the company could just continue to sell LCD TVs, though the LCD market is crowded with brands—major and secondary—and fierce pricing competition as a result.
So the big question for most of us is whether to rush out and buy a Panasonic plasma TV while they're still available, presuming the company will continue to maintain parts and service for all the sets it has sold. LCD TV technology has certainly improved over the past few year and addressed some of the technology's shortcomings, such as motion blur, though some issues (viewing angle, lack of backlight uniformity) remain.
This year, whenever I've been asked for advice by a friends shopping for a new TV, I've steered them toward the Panasonic ST60, which I believe offers the best combination of performance, features and price of any TV sold this year. I'm not going to change that recommendation, but I think I'll be needing a backup. It's my belief that by the fourth quarter of the year, you might have a tough time finding one of these sets at a local retailer.
—James K. Willcox
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