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

News and Comments

  • Well…projectors can be great without banning TVs
    I agree with you Art that these kind of bans have to be very widespread to have effect.

    Still, I quietly ask myself….
    are you guys in the ‘Free America’ or are you wannabees to join our Bureaucratic ban-loving EU? 🙂

    Either way,
    Governor Schwarzenegger is shooting himself in the foot!

    1. Taxation is better for everyone, if politicians really believe that targeting these products gives any worthwhile energy savings.
    TV set taxation based on energy efficiency – unlike bans – gives Governor Schwarzenegger’s impoverished California Government income on the reduced sales, while consumers keep choice.
    This also applies generally,
    to CARS (with emission tax or gas tax), BUILDINGS, DISHWASHERS, LIGHT BULBS etc,
    where politicians instead keep trying to define what people can or can’t use.
    Politicians can use the tax money raised to fund home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc that lower energy use and emissions more than remaining product use raises them.
    Also, the energy efficient products can have their sales taxes lowered.

    2. Product regulation, bans or taxation, are however unwarranted:
    Where there is a problem – deal with the problem!

    Energy: there is no energy shortage
    (given renewable/nuclear development possibilities, with set emission limits)
    and consumers – not politicians – pay for energy and how they wish to use it.

    It might sound great to
    “Let everyone save money by only allowing energy efficient products”
    Inefficient products that use more energy can have performance, appearance and construction advantages
    Examples (using cars, buildings, dishwashers, TV sets, light bulbs etc):
    For example, big plasma TV screens have image contrast and other advantages along with the bigger image sizes.

    Products using more energy usually cost less, or they’d be more energy efficient already.
    Depending on how much they are used, there might therefore not be any running cost savings either.

    Other factors contribute to a lack of savings:

    If households use less energy,
    then utility companies make less money,
    and will just raise electricity prices to cover their costs.
    So people don’t save as much money as they thought.

    energy efficiency in effect means cheaper energy,
    so people just leave TV sets etc on more, knowing that energy bills are lower,
    as also shown by Scottish and Cambridge research

    Either way, supposed energy – or money – savings aren’t there.

    Why energy efficiency regulations are wrong,
    whether you are for or against energy and emission conservation
    Politicians don’t object to energy efficiency as it sounds too good to be true. It is.
    –The Consumer Side
    Product Performance — Construction and Appearance
    Price Increase — Lack of Actual Savings: Money, Energy or Emissions. Choice and Quality affected
    — The Manufacturer Side
    Meeting Consumer Demand — Green Technology — Green Marketing
    –The Energy Side
    Energy Supply — Energy Security — Cars and Oil Dependence
    –The Emission Side
    Buildings — Industry — Power Stations — Light Bulbs

  • David

    As I understand it, the lcd TV has made huge strides in last 3 years, analogous to how dlp used to be contrast champ.

    With the gap narrowed, the pain of plasma loss is mitigated.

    I largely agree with your sentiments, however.

    Similarly Canada is forcing CFL bulbs which contain mercury, unfortunately right before the cusp of when LED lighting will take off.

  • Lance

    If frig’s power consumption is regulated, then why not TV? Yes, I think it would be bad in short-term for Cal, but business won’t walk away from big market like that. Frankly, I don’t know what they would do for the Plasma, but 500W for a 54″ Plasma is just too much and 180W is unreasonable.

    • Hi, well, anything is possible, but the Plasma is in trouble. Funny thing is, I believe most plasmas are more efficient than standard CRTs if you compare by screen area.

      Someone emailed me, saying he had a house with solar panels, essentially draws nothing from the grid, so who’ss business is it to tell him what to buy, when he has his own, “pollution free” power plant, so to speak. I agree.

      I will be most impressed, and rather surprised if any plasmas can hit the efficiency target in time for the 1/1/2011 first deadline. -art

  • Chris

    I hate to hear this. Not because I’m a huge fan of plasma, though I definitely understand why they have a following, but because it’ll almost surely evolve to include other technologies.

    I think these regulations are more about politicians having control and power rather than any real concern for the environment. If they really cared about the environment, those pushing for these regulations wouldn’t be able to maintain such inconsistent positions regarding population growth (gasp! immigration) and a few other issues which dwarf whatever impact an energy sucking plasma TV might have. But most folks will blandly accept this and move on, most likely.

    Hopefully other states won’t follow suit, but most likely they will. Why anyone would want to follow California off the cliff, I don’t know, but apparently they’re the model for the rest to follow. Which state has the highest unemployment percentage in the nation again?

  • Ryan

    For what it’s worth, my 50″ Panny 720p plasma (50PX80U) draws between 90-180 Watts depending on what is being displayed. 140-150 W is the typical power draw. This measured with a Kill-a-watt.

    • Hi Ryan,

      That’s well and good. Do you know the max draw, at say, power-up. The number that counts is that max draw number, for whatever standard they use. YOu know, it’s like the government MPG standards, they may be dramatically inaccurate, but it’s apples to apples. If it’s rated 250 watts then it’s toast, even if it rarely or never draws more than 180. -art

  • Plasma TVs still have much better contrast ratio compared to even the best LCD television ::

  • i think that plasma tvs are more expensive than LCD tvs and they are a bit heavier too .-~