Panasonic Announces Long Life Plasma HDTVs

Panasonic is “the Official HDTV of the Olympic Games”, according to their press release in which they announce that their entire line of 1080p Viera plasma HDTV models for 2008 now have a lifetime rating of 100,000 hours. If you figure on the typical 6.5 hours of viewing a day, 365 days a year, that works out to about 42 years. In other words, buy one today and you can expect to watch the Summer Olympics of 2048 on the set.

This announcement prompts me to make two observations. First, many people don’t understand the rated lifespan for a TV set. All TVs put out less light over time, even the traditional picture tube sets. The industry standard for rating a TV is to specify the average length of time until the light output is one half that of the set when it was brand new. Now, half the light does not mean that it appears half as bright. Human perception of light is logarithmic, which essentially means that something has to put out 10 times more light to appear twice as bright. So a set that only puts out half as much light will appear dimmer, but not to a drastic degree.

Rear projection models that use a replaceable projector lamp are typically rated for only 4,000 hours or so. There are rear projection models with solid state light sources, however, that are rated at lifespans similar to the typical LCD and plasma HDTVs, which are in the range of 50,000 to 60,000 hours.

And this brings me to my second point; how much lifespan do you need in a TV? What’s the oldest TV in your home that you still use on a regular basis? My guess is that few people have TV sets that are much older than 20 years. In the 80s, the average TV replacement cycle was about 15 years, with few sets lasting beyond 20 years of use. That average accellerated to about 10 years in recent years, before the transition to digital broadcasts help speed it up even more.

The bottom line is that the typical flat screen TV already is rated for at least 20 years of service, if not more. It is unlikely that most consumers are going to keep their TVs for this long a time; they didn’t back in the days of the traditional picture tube set, and I don’t see any reason for that to change.

So in the end, I view Panasonic’s announcement as a statement of confidence in their technology, intended to give customers a sense that the products are durable and dependable. But I discount any practical value of the extra 20 years of lifespan that these new specifications represent.