Some Asian news organizations published stories earlier this year that Panasonic was leaving the plasma TV business, leaving the plasma panel business, getting out of the TV business entirely, or just getting out of the panel business and buying panels from outside to put into its TV sets.
None of these stories were or are true.
It was one of the first questions I asked at the Panasonic line show held in New York last week. Far from avoiding the question, Satoshi Kitamura, Bill Schiller, and others gathered around to give me the clearest possible, “No, Panasonic is not exiting the plasma business.”
Schiller started by reminding me of an earlier statement from Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga, who said (approximately): 1) there is no plan to exit plasma; 2) there are no plans to close an additional plasma panel fab; and 3) the sources for the stories were never substantiated.
Everybody in the industry knows that the market share of plasma TV is in the single digits and has trended downward over the last several years, and nobody predicts that plasma will last forever. Still, sales have not declined this year, and Panasonic’s plasma TV team would surely agree with Mark Twain’s, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
One indicator of commitment to a technology is how much the company is willing to invest in further development. In this, Panasonic is persuasive.
The companies plasma TVs have a new red phosphor this year, and the premium models have more color gradations and faster image update. A touch pen is available for the premium plasma sets. The pen consists basically of a photocell, said Schiller. Because of the sequential pixel scanning of plasma panels, a signal from the pen indicates exactly when the scan has reached the pixel it is pointed at. With that information, the set can determine where the pen is pointed, and any of the usual pen and touch functions can be implemented, including writing on the screen. Schiller observed that the panel requires no modifications whatsoever to enable this feature.
Really impressive was a dark-room, side-by-side comparison of one of the last Pioneer Kuro plasma TVs and a model from Panasonic’s new top-of-the-line ZT Series. The Kuro, famous for its inky black level, remained just barely blacker than the ZT, but the ZT was dramatically superior in other major categories.
The company’s 3000Hz focused field drive (FFD) compares with last year’s high-end 2500Hz and the 600Hz sub-field drive (SFD) typical of plasma panels in recent years. The result is extremely fluid motion that was subjectively free of motion artifacts during the time I spend with the set. The Kuro, suffering from being designed in what was clearly a different era, showed serious motion artifacts.
The new subfield technology also allows the panel to express 30,720 gray levels, compared to the 6144 levels in conventional PDPs (such as the one in Panasonic’s own value-oriented S series). The comparison here between the ZT and the Kuro was dramatic. In a close-up of the fur of a black cat, complex patterns in the fur and individual strands were easily seen, although the entire image was in dark levels. The Kuro cat’s fur was largely undifferentiated. Both the 3000 FFD and 30,720 gray levels are also available on the VT – the next series down in the range.
A new red phosphor, combined with a front surface filter redesigned so that it would not interfere with the purer red, allows the ZT and VT to produce color gamut that covers 122% of the ITU standard and 98% of the DCI standard.
In the ZT only, the front picture filter is laminated to the plasma panel to further reduce reflections. The filter contains louvres that help the set produce good images even in moderate ambient light, which was not the case with early PDPs.
The day after the line-show, I received this “clarifying statement” from Panasonic’s press rep:
Panasonic calls the ZT a “reference monitor” and prices it accordingly. But, as Hauser hints, high-end technologies have a way of migrating down the model series structure, sometimes quite quickly.
Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Posted by Ken Werner, April 18, 2013 3:28 PM
About Ken WernerKenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.