So, you've decided to take the plunge and get yourself a sparkling new big-screen TV? Congratulations: you're in for a real treat. There's nothing quite like the first time you watch a move in high def on your new jumbo-sized crystal-clear screen, and plasmas, one of two types of HDTV along with LCD TVs, will get you the best HD picture money can buy. Plus, now that they've come down in price, you won't have to shell out too much green at all.
There are a handful of terms that you'll run into many times in your search of plasma perfection. Here are the major ones and what they mean:
* '''Screen Depth and Size''': The term "flat-panel" refers to screens with a thin casing, no more than a few inches, found in LCD and plasma televisions. Widescreen displays offer a fuller viewing experience. They were originally designed to mimic movie theater screens. Widescreen displays are 16:9, meaning that for every 16 pixels (blocks of color) across, there are nine vertically. Old displays, which are more square-looking, are actually 4:3--four pixels across for every three vertically.
* '''Contrast''': Contrast is the amount of difference between the light and dark elements of the picture. The contrast ratio is the statistic that represents a TV's ability to adjust this quality. The higher the number in the ratio, the more difference between light and dark images displayed on the screen. With a high contrast ratio, the TV will produce a clearer, sharper, and more accurate viewing experience. Therefore, a TV with a 100,000:1 contrast ratio, if correctly adjusted, will produce a much better picture than one with a 25,000:1 contrast ratio. LCDs use variable backlighting to enhance their contrast. For dark scenes, the LCD will turn down the backlight to achieve a darker shade of color, and for bright scenes, the backlight will become higher intensity to make the image brighter.
* '''R&R''': Sadly, we're not talking about rest and relaxation. The first R of televisions is '''resolution'''. Resolution refers to the number of pixels on the screen and is given in vertical pixel measurements. For example, "1080" represents the resolution 1920x1080, which means that the screen has 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels. More pixels means more detail and sharper images. Some common signals that TVs can display are 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. We'll talk about these more a little later, but note that not all TVs can display all of these signals. You may also notice that there are letters after all the numbers. Those letters refer to the signal's '''scanning''' type. There are two types of scanning: interlaced (i) and progressive (p). Interlaced scanning has been around for a long time and is a sytem where alternate lines of the image are re-painted successively. In other words, the odd-numbered lines of an image will be updated, followed by the even-numbered, and followed again by the odd-numbered. Progressive scanning is smoother because all lines of the image are constantly refreshed. The second R is '''refresh rate''', which is a measure of how frequently the television updates the image. This depends on the signal that you are receiving, but TVs usually refresh at either 60 times per second (60Hz) or 120 times per second (120Hz), though some very classy models have higher refresh rates still. Combined with your knowledge of scanning, it should make sense to you that interlaced signals are, in a way, half the refresh rate of progressive signals. 60Hz on an interlaced signals means that each line will only refresh 30 times per second, since the lines are only updated alternately. On a progressive signal, 60Hz means that the whole image updates 60 times per second.
* '''Picking up on the signals''': Alright. We promised that we would talk about those five TV signals we mentioned earlier. 480i is the classic signal that your non-HD television is receiving right now, also known as "standard definition." 480p, of course, is the same resolution but with progressive scanning, and is also not HD. The first variety of HD is 720p, which features a much clearer, higher-resolution picture and progressive scanning. This signal is found in many high definition broadcasts and video games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. A second version of HD is 1080i, which is higher resolution but is interlaced instead of progressive. Some channels are willing to make this trade-off and broadcast in the higher resolution signal but without the better scanning type, and some video games use this as well. Lastly is "full HD" 1080p, the highest resolution available with progressive scanning. Channels are as of now unable to broadcast in this high-density format, as television providers don't have the proper equipment infrastructure for it. Plans are in place for TV companies to begin offering this in the near future, however, and you can still find 1080p content like in some PS3 games and downloadable videos, as well as in Blu-Ray movies.
How to Hook Up
Okay. You've become an expert on the screen jargon. Let's move on to connections. Don't worry, you've learned almost all you need to know!
* '''Composite''' cables should be very familiar to you: they have three connectors, red, white and yellow, which provide sound and picture in 480i.
* '''S-Video''' is another standard-definition cable that carries only video.
* '''Component''' carries audio on two cables and video on three for a total of five.Component supports all forms of high definition, even 1080p, as well as higher-quality digital audio signals.
* '''HDMI''', the acronym for the High Definition Multimedia Interface, is the absolute best connector available. Not only is it a single cable that connects audio and video, but it is the highest quality cable for both. High definition sound will be clearest with this cable, and the picture quality of sources up to and including 1080p are unmatched using this cable. The more HDMI ports your TV has, the more devices you can connect with the best signal. Having many HDMI ports is a luxury feature that might cost you extra, but for the experience it provides you, it's worthwhile to have as many of your electronic devices as possible hooked up with HDMI.
* '''VGA''', stands for Video Graphics Array and may also be labeled in some places as a PC input. The blue multi-pinned connector is found very commonly on the back of computers. Use of this port will allow you to display video from your computer on your TV as if it were a monitor. You'll need a separate cable for sound, however.
* '''DVI''', short for Digital Visual Interface, is similar to VGA in that it carries video from a computer to a TV to be used as a monitor. DVI, however, is higher quality than VGA.
* '''Antenna/Cable''', or Radio Frequency (RF), is the familiar coaxial cable that can be used to plug in certain types of cable boxes, antennas, and satellite dishes.
* '''Memory Card Readers''' are built into many new TVs and will let you read from memory cards. This is an easy way to view files on a digital camera or camcorder. Memory card readers read different types of cards, so check to see what type of memory cards you own and what the TV's reader is compatible with.
* '''Bluetooth''' is a wireless technology common in portable devices like cell phones. Models with bluetooth can access file, like photos or videos, on one of these devices.
* '''IEEE 1394 (Firewire/i.LINK)''' is a connection type for many electronics, such as digital storage devices.
* '''USB''' ports are extremely common as a way of hooking up devices to a computer, and many TVs have them as well. It's a great way to connect, for example, iPods or other MP3 players.
* '''Ethernet''' jacks and wireless networking cards allow some TVs to connect to the internet for widgets or media streaming from sites like YouTube. You can also connect to a home network to play files from your computers.
Advantages of Plasma TVs
Plasma has some distinct advantages over LCD:
* '''Screen Size''': You can get a bigger plasma screen than LCD TV. All but extremely expensive LCDs top out at around 50 inches, while plasmas continue upwards past 60 inches and can be placed in larger rooms. You should, however, expect to pay a hefty price for these huge screens.
* '''Black Level Performance''': Plasma TVs produce the deepest blacks, and dark objects will look appropriately shaded versus light ones. Plasmas also have superior contrast. Black level performance affects picture quality whether you're playing a video game or watching TV, but is extremely important if you plan to use your TV as part of a home theater, where deep black production will really make the picture pop.
* '''Viewing Angle''': On plasmas, the image can effectively be viewed from any angle up until you are horizontal with the TV, so every seat is the best seat in the house. Keep in mind, however, that the viewing angle is still limited to the screen--don't expect to see much if you're sitting behind the TV!
If you're unsure about which type of TV to buy or have more questions in general, check out the guides to HDTV and LCD TVs.
Picking the Perfect Plasma
There are several features that set plasmas apart from one another. Read up to find the right one for you.
* '''Anti-glare''': Plasmas achieve their deep black levels with glossy screens. The drawback is that these screens become like mirrors, so you'll be able to see reflections in them during dark scenes and they'll get a lot of glare in a bright or well-lit room. Some manufacturers add anti-glare coatings to their screens to lessen this problem and preserve your picture quality.
* '''Burn-in prevention''': Some plasmas have issues with burn-in, which causes ghosted images to become imprinted and last on the screen for an inordinate amount of time. Usually they go away within a day, but sometimes they can be permanent. TVs with special settings designed to reduce burn-in can eliminate this flaw.
* '''Movie Mode''': Some televisions feature a special mode for movies that changes the TV's refresh rate and color settings to more accurately reflect cinematic scenes. If you plan to watch a lot of DVDs or Blu-Ray movies, look for a TV with a film mode setting.
* '''Picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture''': Picture-in-picture (PIP) and picture-by-picture (PBP) both allow you to display two separate sources or channels at the same time on the same screen. PIP will display one image full size on the screen with the second image in a smaller box in one of the corners, while PBP will display the two images equal size, side by side. Check with your TV service provider to make sure that they support PIP or PBP if you expect to use it.
* '''Speakers''': An often-overlooked facet of the TV-buying experience, don't forget about sound! The audio can be just as important as the picture quality in giving you a satisfying entertainment experience. Some TV speakers provide very good sound, while others may be mediocre enough that you should consider investing in a home theater system.