Sharp burn in bottom

HD Guru continues to receive reader email asking whether modern plasma panels have “burn-in” problems. Given the amount of misinformation still spewed by uninformed salespeople, let’s take a fresh look at the issue.


“Burn-in” and Image Retention

Though often used interchangeably, “burn in”and “image retention” are two different plasma panel phenomena. Image retention (IR) refers to a faint ghost image of previously viewed content, easily induced, for example, by displaying a SMPTE color bar test pattern (photo below) for fifteen minutes or so and then switching to an all white screen (called a “full white” raster pattern). Faint areas or color will appear superimposed on the white screen.

color_bars 420

This example is extreme and one of the few ways a retained image can be seen; most normal image content masks IR, which is caused by a residual charge within the pixels that normally dissipates within fewer than five minutes.

Because it is difficult if not impossible to see other than by using test signals wherein a continuous white screen follows deeply saturated stationary colors (though snow covered mountains can show it), most plasma owners have never seen IR and therefore they should not be concerned.

IR is always temporary and causes no plasma panel damage. An interesting phenomena? Yes. A problem? No.

“Burn-in”, a more serious problem, refers to a faint outline of a previously viewed image caused by uneven phosphor wear. Plasma panels produce images via an electrical charge that causes gas within the panel to emit spurts of ultraviolet light (UV). When exposed to the UV light, the phosphors within the individual sub-pixels glow red, blue or green.

Early plasma panels required high energy levels to drive the phosphors sufficiently hard to produce light, causing relatively fast phosphor wear. By comparison, today’s panels use far less energy to produce far higher light levels and far less phosphor wear. So much less wear that average panel life is now 100,000 hours (defined by the industry as being when the panel outputs half its original brightness).


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Creating Plasma “Burn-in”

Attempts by the HD Guru to create “”burn-in”” (uneven phosphor wear) on 2008 and 2009 model year plasma panels by freeze-framing an image for 10 hours and then switching to a white screen have been unsuccessful. No “burn-in” occurred. We also checked out demo plasma HDTVs at retail stores and found no “”burn-in”” on any of the models tested. This is particularly significant since floor models are traditionally set to “showroom” mode (usually listed in the user menu as Dynamic or Vivid) in order to produce maximum brightness.

A number of advances by plasma panel makers, including how phosphors are driven, have significantly improved resistance to “burn-in”.  Broadcasters and cable providers have also helped by changing their logos (known as “bugs”) usually located in the lower right hand screen corner, from opaque to translucent, which significantly cuts down on the brightness and color differences between the “bugs” and the content, thus minimizing the possibility that the “bug” will burn into the screen.

What About Gaming?

Today’s plasma panels are equally immune to “burn-in” from video games as they are to burn in from TV programs. In fact, their superior motion resolution makes them preferable to LCD for game play. In addition, most plasmas (and some LCDs sets) have a game mode that improves response time.

Is Plasma “Burn-in” Possible With Today’s Plasmas?

Yes, but you need to really work at it. For example, if we were to put a full white 100 IRE  square in the center of the screen, set the user mode to Vivid and max out the contrast (picture) control we are confident after a number of days running the set continuously that uneven phosphor wear would eventually occur.

However, we are equally confident, that by using the energy saving “Home” mode settings (set upon the initial activation of the plasma after unpacking) you would need to leave a static image on day in and day out for possibly weeks, to produce uneven wear.

In other words, it is possible, but extremely unlikely to occur with normal use. The worst case scenario we came up with is 100% viewing of 4:3 content with black side bars, or exclusive viewing of 2.35 aspect ratio movies (without using one of the zoom modes to eliminate the black bars)  and leaving it on that way continuously for weeks. If burn-in does occur, however unlikely (who leaves their HDTV with a static image or in exclusively in 4:3 with black side bars day in and out), what can you do to fix it?

All the 2009 plasmas tested to date have a white wipe mode that can even out the wear and eliminate the “burn-in”.  It is a vertical white bar that sweeps across the screen. Plasmas also have an “orbit” mode that moves the image imperceptibly very slowly to avoid sharp transitions of bright (higher wear) areas to darker areas.

Bottom Line

“Burn-in” is for all practical purposes a non-issue with current plasma HDTVs. Simply set the TV to the “home” mode and enjoy all the benefits of plasma: wide angle image for excellent off-axis viewing, high contrast, deep blacks and perfect motion resolution, along with the bargain big screen prices (42″ and larger) available this holiday season.

To learn more about choosing an HDTV please click this link.

For a list of the Best HDTVs under $1000 please click this link.

For a list of the 10 Best HDTVs please click this link.

Edited By Michael Fremer. If you’re looking for great music to play on your home theater/audio system, check out Michael’s website (link)

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