The manufacturer shipment data reported for the second quarter of 2008 by DisplaySearch shows plasma units “surged” by 35%, largely on the strength of Vizio’s introduction of a 32″ plasma TV. This reprieve for plasma will be short-lived, however, as LCD models are available with better features at lower prices.
The conventional wisdom has been that LCD wins for anything under 50″ these days, and plasma faces a struggle to remain competitive. But earlier this year, there appeared to be a shortage of 32″ LCD panels developing. And Vizio saw an opportunity to steal some market share by creating a 32″ plasma set. (This size plasma, by the way, is selling like hotcakes in the Chinese domestic market.) So they cme out with the Vizio VP322 that has a list price of $650.
But the fact is that flat panel sales slowed a bit, and the LCD panel makers caught up with demand, and the 32″ LCD TVs appear to be doing just fine now, thank you. Even Vizio offers three LCD models priced the same or lower than their plasma model. So which is the better deal?
The LCDs win on resolution alone. The 32″ plasma has the requisite 720 lines for high-definition images, but it falls down on the horizontal resolution. Like many smaller plasma panels, it only has 1,024 horizontal pixels. This means that it cannot display the full detail of a 720p image; I call it “almost HD”. The LCD panels, on the other hand, have no difficulty in making small pixels. They have Wide XGA resolution, which is 1,366 by 768 pixel native resolution, which is more than enough to display the 1,280 by 720 required for 720p images.
Now, I’ll grant you that both of these pixel arrangements will have to scale a 720p image in order to fit it on the screen, but the plasma will have to throw away information where the LCD will be interpolating to fill in the gaps of an expanded image. Assuming equal quality scaling circuitry, I’ll take the solution that expands existing information over one that throws it away. For 1080p images, both the LCD and plasma will have to throw away information from the image, but the LCD will have throw away less.
I expect to see prices for 32″ LCD HDTVs continue to fall, especially if sales are slow in September, and I doubt that plasma will be able to keep up competitively. The small plasma models enjoyed a nice bump in the first half of this year, but I don’t expect them to remain as a significant part of the flat panel landscape going forward.