Plasma TV “Burn-In”: Fact or Myth?

December 1st, 2009 · 63 Comments · News, Plasma

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)

Have a question for the HD Guru?

Copyright ©2009 HD Guru Inc. All rights reserved. HDGURU is a registered trademark. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission. The content within is based upon information provided to the editor, which is believed to be reliable. Data within is subject to change. HD GURU is not responsible for errors or omissions.


63 Comments so far ↓

  • J_A

    I have a 2008 Panasonic 42″ plasma and even at minimum brightness it has such horrendous IR when connected to a computer that it is totally unusable for gaming.

    Totally completely unusable due to extreme IR. There is no IR problem at all with TV broadcasts through Time Warner. Zero.

    Explain that.

  • ptkctc

    in response to Doloras Smith,

    I feel your pain, I pick up televisions for ewaste and either repair or part them out and recycle whats not useable. I see a bunch that have the caption burn, (plasma and both rear projection crt and direct view) and those are mostly unusable for another set unless its explained that its there. Most people will pass on the set once I tell them that, even on a r&r’d big screen that retailed for over $3k in the early 2000’s that I did and am asking only ~$50 for.

    I hate to say it, but it just a fact that the manufacturers know this can happen and discretely mention it somewhere in the manual with a disclaimer that “Continuous on-screen displays such as video games, stock market quotations, computer generated graphics, and other fixed (non-moving) patterns can cause permanent damage to projection television receivers. Such “PATTERN BURNS” constitute misuse, and are NOT COVERED by your warranty” -taken directly from a Hitachi rear projection big screens user manual. All other brands have a similar disclaimer somewhere that they can reference so no legal or BBB action can be brought against them.

    You will not win on this, I know enough to say this with confidence. The only way to warrant a set from screen burn when its guaranteed to happen (such as with heavy closed caption useage, screen bugs/logos, etc) is to purchase and keep up a separate insurance plan through a 3rd party. It will be expensive, as all custom warranty insurance plans are. I honestly wouldn’t know who to start with to get a policy like that, I just accept it as as is and deal with the burn however I can.

  • ptkctc

    The Cartoon Networks solid white and black “CN” logo is one of the biggest offenders in this respect, I have older CRT tv’s in the kids rooms now and you can almost see the “CN” burn with them off; its so evident with them on that they show up on any background, not just light ones.

    They had a 2008 “Soyo” (generic LG) 32″ plasma that was given to them as a gift. It died about a year after, they burned the CN logo into it in record time, like a days worth of watching, and after that, random pixels starting from where the CN was burned started fuzzing out, and it quickly took over the entire screen.

    For the sake of people with children, they need to either make the logo bug somewhat transparent (its solid now), or rotate it every commercial break. I doubt that would help in its current state, you would likely have 4 “CN” logos burned into the screen, one in each corner.

    The Soyo was a pos, I don’t attribute the “fuzzing out” of the whole screen to the CN burn, but you gotta admit that its strange that the issue grew from its exact location. I was more dismayed that the CN burned in after the first 12 hours (it was theirs, I had no say as to letting the tv soak for the first 500hrs properly, there was a BIG “NO!!!!” to any of that so it was their own doing).

    When people say “if you have kids, do NOT get a plasma”, they know what they are talking about and most likely have experience already with this issue to even bring it up. They aren’t just spreading paranoia.

  • Doloras Smith

    I have a Toshiba 57″ rear projection T. My husband is totally deaf and we must use the closed captions all the time. We’re quite disappointed, in that the salesman told us there would be no problems at all with using the CC. The TV is almost 11 years old & has always been covered under the Sears Master Protection Plan. During the last 8 months, we have begun having Burn-in from the captions. WE have about 7 lines all the way across the bottome and 3 lines across the top, which is quite annoying while trying to watch TV. I had never heard of “Burn-in” on a TV and the Serviceman didn’t mention anything about this, even tho he knew my husband is totally deaf. Sears refuses to cover this under my Master Protection Plan and also tell me that it cannot be repaired. Since I’ve paid on this Warranty coverage for over 10 years, I find Sears stand on this matter deplorable. If I am able to get a replacement TV from Sears, I plan to get it in writing that there will be no burn-in problems on the new TV. During the last couple of weeks, I’ve spoken to approximately 30 people, have been hung up on, been told they will call me back within 1 hour, only never to hear from them again. This has been the most frustrating experience I have ever had with a company like Sears. Are the rumors true I’ve heard that Sears is having financial trouble. Sounds that way to me.

  • Roberta

    Micah. You should check out the facts before making a silly comment. Samsung TVs are NOT made in “North” Korea.

  • Wolf Sullivan

    This guy is not a Guru. I have a plasma TV with burn in or image retention. But the so-called Guru here claims they don’t exist, cannot exist, and it’s a non issue. BS. Lies. Misinformation. Get off the internet with your lies, non-Guru.

    You should have read our article before you damaged your television, not after as we clearly state you can get burn-in if you do not take certain precautions.

    HD Guru

  • Micah

    I hear One big thing Here im not buying a Samsung tv in fear of burn in with there tv’s. And im not supporting North korea. Panasonic is the way to go i bought a Panasonic Tc-p50s60 best tv ever..

  • Manu

    I recently bought a samsung PN64E7000 plasma TV, and less than 2 months in, I have a WWE logo burned in to the lower left side of the tv, and the “pause” symbol from my DVR’s info-bar in the lower right side of the tv. Neither image has been on my TV for days straight, but the pause symbol is very visible.

  • misterbk

    Just a thought about Stroud’s problem. Perhaps the kids are watching Cartoon Network every day? This would put his TV in an unfortunate pattern of burn-in followed by partial healing followed by more burn-in. Maybe the logo doesn’t go away because it’s periodically being reinforced.

  • Wimer

    I have a 2009 Panasonic TC-P46G10 as well as a 2010 Panasonic TC-P50GT25. The 46 was from a Crutchfield demo display, while the 50 was ordered new. Both have seen extensive use with gaming (read: hours of Halo HUDs onscreen at a time), and while I did initially have some persistence, the white wipe mode took care of it in short order. Now that both sets are a bit older, I haven’t experienced any issues at all (lots of BF3 lately). If you really are having an issue with the Samsung, your set is probably an exception, most likely even among other sets of the same model.

  • Jamey Stubblefield

    I have a 2007 Panasonic 42PZ700u that had fantastic PQ before the screen showed signs of burn in. News logo still visible on the bottom left corner. I alo have other areas of the screen that is clearly damaged as the result of burn in. No fix for it except toss he whole set.

  • John

    Stroud, curious, have you tried running the “white wipe mode that can even out the wear and eliminate the “burn-in” mentioned in the article? I have a PN64D7000 since December 2012 and did not run any burn-in procedure and have not noticed any burn in on mine so far.

  • Str0ud

    I totally disagree. I own a Samsung PN64D8000 and have been very delicate with it. I was obsessive about break in to the point that it drove my family crazy. After a 200 hour break in period my kids watched about 2 hours worth of Cartoon Network. The TV had been calibrated at this point as was in movie mode with reasonable cell light and contrast settings. Within 2 hours the CN logo was clearly visible while viewing other channels. As a matter of fact that was 2 months ago and the logo is still visible. If you think IR / Burn-in is BS you’re mistaken.

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