Panasonic Plasmas Not So Smart?

In a story last week, CNET broke the news that Panasonic has admitted to problem with rising black levels on some Viera models of their plasma HDTVs. Apparently there have been many consumer complaints about the increase in black level over time on these sets. Black level is important because it is perhaps the key factor in display contrast, and a higher black level can make the whole image look washed out and lifeless. The differences reported are small in comparison with normal room light levels, but can be a noticeable problem for people who watch their sets in a darkened room (which is the preferred conditions to take advantage of a plasma set’s strengths).

According to a statement sent to CNET from Panasonic, the changes to the black level are automatic and occur over time to “achieve the optimal picture performance throughout the life of the set.” The message refers to making the adjustments in responses to changes to “internal material characteristics” that will stabilize after several years of use, at which point the automatic changes are no longer required.

The statement also indicates that newer Viera models are designed to make these black level changes in smaller increments so that the change is less noticeable. As the CNET article pointed out, the statement did not indicate whether or not a fix would be available for the older models with the problem.

This is not a great situation for Panasonic, as it remains the standard bearer for plasma HDTV technology. (Other companies still offer plasma products, but none have made the commitment to plasma production that Panasonic has made.) Bad press for plasma could do real damage to the core of Panasonic’s HDTV business.