The Plasma TV is Dead? Long Live the Projector! California Bureaucrats have decided!

Greetings, breaking news (yesterday), here from California.

Hmm, up for a rant?  I find this news about setting energy requirements for TVs to be most annoying so, here goes:  BTW, the CEDIA organization (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Assoc.) which pretty much covers the home theater industry, has been fighting this all along.

California is the land of the politically correct.  It’s also the land of too many restrictions, the land of too many lost freedoms,  and, probably, the #1  anti-business environment in the US.  As an added bonus we should  mention it’s essentially financially bankrupt from all the “good” it continues to legislate but can’t afford, since it drives away businesses, jobs and tax revenues.

Well those “good” folks running the state have come up with another gem.  (OK this is reading like a political rant, but there is a point…) And it affects us home AV enthusiasts!  Seems that California has just set final rules, that will likely kill the plasmaTV.

It will start here in California, but as with many “environmental laws” it will spread to other states, regardless whether it makes sense or not.

Let’s take a look at what just happened. The California Energy Commission, a typical bunch of uncontrolled bureaucrats, that while not as completely unreasonable as our California Coastal Commission, has decided to limit our choices in home “theater” equipment.  These are probably some of the same folks that brought california its last Energy crisis, of national, and Enron fame.

It’s this simple. They have put in energy efficiency requirements for all TVs up to and including 58 inches.  They kick in in 2011 (yes folks that’s less than 14 months from now, just barely one retooling for the manufacturers), and then tighter ones in 2013.

OK, more on that in a second.  The worst part is that they reserve the right to also include larger than 58″ into their conniving, at some point in the future.  That should really scare the manufacturers of larger sets to death.

OK, apparently about 25% of the LCDTVs on the market already would pass (barely), so I figure there won’t be too much upset in the LCDTV market. Sure, some manufacturers may have to scramble, and maybe one or two will just forget about selling many of their models (that means less choices), in California.

But, Plasma TVs have never been as electrically efficient as LCDTVs.  Not even close. I admit I haven’t done any recent checking, but I have seen numbers in some of the articles about the California rules.  That said, I do believe that with, say, a 42 inch size, a plasma will typically draw about 300 watts.  The new standards for 42 sets will be, best I can tell, a maximum of 185 watts on 1/1/2011.

Two years later, that would tighten to about 118 watts.

OK, perhaps a miracle might get a few 42 inch plasma models to improve efficiency by 40% in one year, but don’t get your hopes up too high.  And to slash energy requirements by almost 2/3 in 3 years, that would be something!

So, there’s a good chance we’ll be saying goodbye to the Plasma TV in california.

Truth is, Plasmas are just not as efficient as LCDTVs.

So at a glance, it doesn’t seem to be such a bad idea, right – good for the environment, ok.  But…

The But in this case, is that LCDTV’s and Plasmas are very, very different in performance.  Many folks consider plasma TVs to be simply superior in picture quality.  While I don’t pay much attention, I would tend to agree.  Last I looked (it’s been a while) plasma’s inherently had higher natural contrast ratios, translating into better black performance, which we projector folks all know about and appreciate.

Also LCDTVs roll off more from side viewing, with a nasty color shift, to boot.  For a lot of people a plasma, in their room, makes far more sense than and LCDTV just for that reason – because they may have some folks seating well off to the side.

There are also differences in performance in terms of image persistence.  If I recall, plasmas are better in this regard.  That’s probably a good thing for gamers, for example.

And so on. LCDTV and Plasmas may seem virtually indistinguishable to the average bureaucrat, but to enthusiasts, and even wise shoppers, they are not the same.  And either one can be a truly much better solution for a particular person’s needs (and wants).

And I see this as basically a major loss of choice for those people who’s requirements would have them choose Plasma.

So, how will this all play out?  Very good question.

I expect, the major Plasma players – notably Panasonic, will start planning to stop selling in CA.  Froma marketing standpoint, you will likely see them start to disappear from the Cal market well before next Xmas, as the move inventory, and marketing to other states.  I could be wrong, maybe the plasma folks can pull off a major increase in efficiency, but, I’m not hopeful.

Californians, fear not,  you’ll be able to still go online to any number of out of state resellers, and buy your plasma TV from Nevada, Florida, Oregon, NYC, wherever the deal is.  In the recent past, the relatively heavy weight and high shipping costs for larger LCDTV’s and Plasmas, has tended to limit any pricing advantage of online resellers.  But, with no local guys still selling plasmas, those who want, will simply buy out of state.

And bingo, more california jobs – down the tubes.  The local best buys and local dealers, will lose business to folks that want a Plasma TV.   As to the new regs,  I haven’t seen any details.  As a result,  I’m not sure if there is any penalty to you (other than owing the sales/use tax), if you import one.  Course this is California, they might send you to jail.  (Don’t worry, with the jail overcrowding, they’ll let you out quickly.)  On the other hand, they say some of our prisons are really nice, so you might get to watch a plasma while in there?

I’m more concerned, however with what may prove to be the loss of the consumer PlasmaTV industry in the US.  Afterall, what california starts, many copy.

Plasma fans, don’t loose all hope.  There’s another angle as well.  For the enthusiast, you may find that you can still buy “professional” plasma sets in the state.  (There are definitely commercial applications where plasmas are necessary.)  A pro set, simply won’t have a built in tuner, so they aren’t TV’s and are not being regulated.  NO big deal, most of us use a satellite or cable set top box as our tuners.  All of us projector owners do the same.

So, if you must have one, and want to buy in state (Califonia) you’ll just end up buying the Panasonic Pro series Plasma monitor, instead of the Consumer Plasma TV.     Back in the 70’s the US limited imports of TVs from Japan, or rather required that many be built here.  Sony and others, if I recall correctly, basically opened plants down in Mexico, on the border, in trade free? zones (or maybe they weren’t trade free), but, basically they added the tuners here in North America, solving the quota problem.  I mention this, because it’s similar, and because it just shows, that when governments pass controlling laws like these, there’s always the rule of “unintended consequences”.

Another example is that 58″ has been becoming a popular new size.

If my local newspaper (the OC Register) is correct, those 58″ sets are all covered in the new regs.  The slightly larger 60 inch units aren’t.

YOu can kiss the 58″ size goodbye.  Even the LCDTV manufacturers will move away from it.  You can bet that 60 inchers will become more popular, and if they aren’t afraid of thumbing their nose at the California Energy Commission, the manufacturers could just go to a 59″ size, and see how long it takes the CEC to change the rule to include 59 inchers.  Don’t worry though, they will get around to regulating the larger sizes.

Think this won’t affect us projector folks?   OK, projectors are a relatively very small market compared to the combined LCDTV/PlasmaTV.  But, bureaucrats, once on a roll, are ruthless.  They want to regulate everything.  It’s their nature.

So, one day, they might just decide that projectors need efficiency standards too.   For example, they might base their numbers on the larger market of biz projectors, where a 200 – 300 watt lamp ends up in a projector with up to 3500 lumens.  (But most home theater projectors use similarly watt consuming lamps to get only 500 – 1500 lumens (sacrificing the brightness for better picture quality).

So, they might decide – a projector must produce at least 15 times the lumens as it draws in watts. OK, that should eliminate every home theater projector on the market (I think).

But even if they are more logical and reasonable (iffy at best), they might still look at it the way they did LCDTV vs. Plasma (I assume they are actually aware of the fundamental differences, and are conscious of the impact on plasmaTVs.  If they do apply similar logic, they would think:

Hmm, LCD projectors are definitely more energy efficient than DLP projectors.  (I’ll get some arguments from some DLP manufacturers, but… generally that’s very true).  Most single chip DLP’s use 200 – 250+ watt lamps in the HT projectors, while in LCD space, its more like 160-200, for about the same brightness.  (there are always exceptions).  In the biz projector world the same is true.  DLP’s are known less energy efficient, and typically noisier than competing LCD projectors.  The differences aren’t quite as big as LCDTV vs Plasma, but they are definitely there.

So, the “good guys” in Sacramento, CA, might just decide – hmm, we’ll set the standard here.  No problem for LCD projectors, they’ll mostly be able to qualify in a year.  DLP projectors? well, they probably won’t qualify, but, hey, a projector is a projector, so who cares?   And then we wake up, and it’s 2012 or 2014, or whenver and no more Optoma, BenQ, Marantz, SIM2, Runco, etc. etc. DLP home theater projectors.

Now, that folks, would be a real loss.

So, sit tight – the commissions of california have decided to inflict their whims (regardless of how noble the cause) on us Californians, when it comes to flat panel TVs.

Let’s just hope they don’t decide that we projector folks also aren’t smart enough to make our own choices.

And I’ll leave you with one, last, thought?

I’m planning to move to a new house next year (the kid goes off to college).  Most likely my new house will be a bit smaller.  Also, I plan to add solar panels within a year of buying, with the goal of being energy neutral (selling extra in the daytime to the utilities, buying it back at night).

So, if I’m not a net user of electricity on the grid.  If I’m installing solar panels just like the same CEC (consumer energy commission) wants, then I ask:  Why should they give a damn if my appliances aren’t the most efficient out there?

That covers the plasma/projector rant.  Just felt like it, as things are getting ugly out here on the left coast.

Put it on your calendar.  If you want a plasma, and to buy it from a local dealer, for next Xmas, you might need get an early start on your shopping.  -art

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