Plasma Burn-In: Is It Still a Cause for Concern?

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Plasma Burn-In: Is It Still a Cause for Concern?

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"Break in" Your Plasma TV
I'm going to steal a great quote from my colleague Geoffrey Morrison in his CNET article about burn-in: "Think of the phosphors in a plasma like kids. Once you get them riled up, it takes a bit for them to calm back down. Also like kids, as they age, they calm down much faster. As a plasma TV ages [after 100 hours or so], it becomes far more difficult to burn in." In other words, during the first 100 to 200 hours of watching your new plasma TV, be more mindful about what you watch and how long you watch it. Avoid leaving static images - like network logos, sports/news tickers, and game/computer graphics - on the screen for an extended amount of time. Don't watch a marathon of your favorite SDTV show with black sidebars. (Most plasmas now let you choose gray sidebars instead of black ones to help age the phosphors more evenly, but I personally find gray sidebars to be very distracting.) Enjoy watching the TV, but keep the content varied while the phosphors age. Many experts suggest that you set the contrast control even lower - under 50 percent - during this break-in period. Of course, you can speed up the aging process by running constant video on the screen; just make sure there's nothing static within the video, or you will create the very problem you're trying to prevent. Imaging Science's Joel Silver recommends that you age a plasma TV for 200 to 300 hours before having it calibrated, because color shift and burn-in can occur more easily during that time. 

Turn on the Pixel Orbiter
Most new plasma TVs have a feature in the setup menu called Pixel Orbiter that very subtly shifts the image to prevent static images from sitting in one spot for too long. In Panasonic's 2013 models, this feature is turned on by default, but in older plasma TVs, you usually need to enable it. The Pixel Orbiter doesn't give you a license to still (yes, I'm rolling my own eyes at that one); it's not guaranteed to prevent burn-in, but it can be helpful with smaller static images, like channel logos or score boxes. The Pixel Orbiter won't help as much with 4:3 or 2.35:1 bars that take up more screen area.

Screen Savers and Shutoff Timers Are Your Friends
Make sure the screen saver is enabled in source devices like DVRs and media players so that, in the event you pause a show, walk away, and unexpectedly get hit by a bus, the static image won't sit on your screen during your entire hospital stay. Likewise, almost every plasma TV (and source component) has some type of automatic shutoff feature that will turn off the device after a designated amount of time. This feature is designed for energy savings and is often found in the TV's Eco sub-menu, but it's also a good way to ensure that your TV is not left unattended with stationary images. If your kid is playing a video game or watching TV and decides to leave the room with all the equipment still on (something kids are prone to do), then the automatic shutoff feature makes a good safety valve.

Understand When Plasma Technology Is the Wrong Choice

Just because we've picked a plasma TV as our display device of the year and all your videophile friends have told you that plasma performance is superior doesn't mean that you should absolutely buy a plasma for your specific viewing needs. It's our nature to want things to be stated in black-or-white, right-or-wrong terms - "XYZ is the best TV on the market and the one everyone should buy" - but the real world isn't that neat. Both plasma and LCD technologies have their own strengths and weaknesses that suit them for different purposes. 

When someone asks me what TV he or she should buy, the first thing I do is ask how and where the TV will be utilized. I have used a plasma TV as my primary display device for years and never had a problem with image retention of any kind, but here's the thing: I only watch my theater-room plasma display for a couple of hours in the evenings, usually in a dim to dark room in a calibrated Movie mode that doesn't need to be excessively bright. It's rare that I leave my plasma TV on all day or watch a single channel for hours on end. It's unlikely that I would even watch multiple 2.35:1 movies in one sitting, and I don't play video games. Truth be told, my living-room TV is the one that gets extended daytime use, in the form of all-day football/ESPN watching or long sessions on a kids' channel where a static logo might sit for hours. That TV has always been an LCD. Why? Because LCD is a better fit for my bright living room, and it's also the safer choice for those types of extended viewing sessions. (By the way, LCD/LED TVs can also suffer from burn-in, but it's even harder to accomplish.)

How do you plan to use the TV for which you are currently shopping? Is it going to be located in a bright viewing environment, where you'll be tempted to crank up the panel brightness and/or contrast to get maximum light output all the time? Is it a family room where your kids are going to play a lot of video games or watch Cartoon Network eight hours a day? Are you looking for a TV that can pull double-duty as a large-screen computer monitor? Do you still watch a lot of SDTV with 4:3 sidebars? If so, then a plasma TV is probably not the ideal choice. If, on the other hand, the TV will generally be used for a few hours at a time for movie and TV watching, then you likely have nothing to fear in the burn-in department.

If you don't want to worry about image retention, if you don't want to have to monitor how long images are being left on your screen, it's okay to say no to plasma. We won't shun you. On the flip side, don't blindly dismiss plasma because you've heard that image retention is a major problem, when it might not be a problem at all for you and your viewing habits. Make an informed decision, and you'll save yourself a lot of worry (and perhaps money) in the long run.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more plasma HDTV news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore reviews in our HDTV Review section.

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