Sales of plasma HDTVs have been on the decline for some time now. Although plasmas are generally cheaper than comparably-sized LCD models, their picture isn't as bright; as a result, their images often appear dark and washed out under the bright, fluorescent glare of the local big box store. However, plasmas are often favored by home theater buffs, who savor the display technology's fast refresh rates and often superior reproduction of black and dark tones.
Plasma has another problem: It's traditionally been an energy hog. And that's really bad news in light of the California Energy Commission's ruling Wednesday to ban power-hungry TVs. The Golden State will soon apply a new standard that requires new 58-inch or smaller TVs to consume 33 percent less energy by 2011, and 49 percent less by 2013.
The ruling effectively makes California's energy-efficient TV regulation the de facto standard for all of North America. "There's no way that manufacturers are only going to make something for one state," says Eric Haruki, a TV market analyst for IDC. "They have a hard enough time making (products) for one country or region. So any efficiency innovations they'll make will definitely go through the whole country."
"The bottom line is that the whole industry is going to have to become more innovative and energy efficient," Haruki adds.
For makers of LCD TVs, the new California rules are certainly doable. The industry has already begun migrating to energy-saving LED backlighting, which not only conserves power but also allows for thinner HDTV designs. (Traditional backlights using fluorescent tubes.) Research firm Display Search predicts that LEDs will control 78 percent of the LCD backlight market by 2015.
What Can Plasma Do?
The California regs are "going to cast a continued negative light on plasma," Haruki says. Indeed, it remains to be seen how much more efficient plasmas can get.
To its credit, the industry is trying to do better. Panasonic, one of plasma's biggest backers, announced its NeoPDP technology at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. NeoPDP enables brighter plasma sets that use one-third the energy of the 2007 models. But can Panasonic devise an even more power-saving plasma that uses one-third to one-half the juice of today's sets? (Calls to Panasonic weren't returned by post time.)
There may be one ray of sunshine for plasma fans. Remember, the California rules exempt sets with screens that are bigger than 58 inches--a move designed to help small businesses that sell high-end, gargantuan sets to well-heeled clients. This exemption may allow plasma sets to evolve into boutique, pricey displays built primarily for home theater setups.
Me, I'm buying an LCD.
This story, "California Bans Power-Hog TVs: Death Knell for Plasma?" was originally published by PCWorld.