Plasma TV fans get more bad news as Panasonic eyes exit

panasonic plasma tv

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Plasma television is continuing is slow march toward obscurity, despite its beloved status among some TV enthusiasts.

The latest crippling blow may come from Panasonic. Citing unnamed sources, Japan's Nikkei newspaper reports that Panasonic may shut down plasma production at its main plant in Japan in 2014, as the company downsizes its TV business. Panasonic has already halted development of new plasma TVs, the report says.

Officially, Panasonic hasn't announced any plans to exit the plasma business, and included plasma models among its CES announcements in January. The company told Reuters that it's “considering a number of options regarding our TV business,” but hasn't made a decision yet.

The end of Panasonic's plasma business wouldn't be a huge shock; the company would follow a string of other TV makers who have abandoned plasma over the years. Sony got out of the business in 2006, and Vizio followed three years later. Pioneer, which had been a major purveyor of plasma displays, exited the TV business entirely in 2009.

As it stands, the availability of plasma TVs is fairly thin at major retailers. Best Buy, for instance, sells only 28 plasma televisions—mainly from Samsung and Panasonic—compared to 88 LCD models and 225 LED-backlit LCD models.

That echoes an iSuppli report from last year, which found that plasma accounted for only 13.3 percent of televisions available at U.S. retailers. “Despite a brief resurgence in popularity during the second half of last year, the U.S. plasma business is undoubtedly a market on the decline,” IHS analyst Edward Border said then.

Tech advances continue

TV enthusiasts praise plasma for its deep blacks, fast response time, and high refresh rates. Although plasma was once plagued by low power efficiency and screen burn-in, these issues have been greatly improved upon over the years as well.

panasonic plasma tv
A Panasonic plasma TV model.

Still, LCD TVs, particularly those with LED backlighting, have gained ground in contrast levels and response times. They also tend to be thinner and lighter, and the technology is more practical in smaller televisions than plasma. And while plasma has traditionally been cheaper in larger screen sizes—a big reason for its resurgence a couple years ago—this isn't always the case anymore.

For those who still think plasma has no peer, it's not all doom and gloom. Between 2011 and 2012, plasma accounted for 40 percent of televisions with 40-inch displays or larger, according to Quixel research. And while plasma as a whole is declining, revenue for plasma TVs with 60-inch displays and larger actually grew by 53 percent. In a statement, Quixel Research principal Tamaryn Pratt said “the reality is that the plasma TV category is still very much alive and staying in the game.”

In the United States, however, that game may soon belong entirely to Samsung.

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