Before jumping head first into buying a plasma TV, you may want to consider understanding the plasma TV features, and decide which of them are important or useful for your particular needs. It will help you not only save some money by not paying for features you don’t need, but also, this knowledge will help get the best plasma TV for your particular needs. The features are categorized by how useful they are. There are features that give you great benefits and others depend a lot on your particular habits and expectations.
Very Useful Features
Anti-Glare / Anti Reflective Screen
If you intend to watch your plasma TV in a lit room, this is definitely one "must have" feature. Many plasma TVs don’t look as good in a lit environment as they do in a dark one. The main reason for that is because most plasma TV panels reflect light. That means you will experience either discomfort due to a very powerful light reflection (the panel will reflect the light from a light-bulb or from the window like a mirror) or, you will notice the colors are faded compared to when you are watching in dark. A plasma TV with anti-glare screen reduces a lot the amount of reflected light and you will experience a much better picture quality and watching experience than compared to a regular plasma TV. Even if the plasma TV has an anti-glare screen, don’t expect miracles; it will still look a lot better when watched in complete darkness (this is the case with any type of display).
If you will read a plasma versus LCD TV type of guide, you might find there that one of the advantages of LCD TVs over plasma TVs is that they can look better in a lit environment. That is true if we are considering a regular plasma TV without anti-glare screen. However, a plasma TV with anti-glare screen will perform just as good as an LCD does (or at least close enough).
If you happen to watch your plasma TV only in darkness or in very dim light this feature won’t bring you any advantage what so ever. However, since many of us watch TV during daytime and maybe we don’t want to close the blinds or we don’t have blinds, this is a very welcome plasma TV feature.
Ah, the so feared burn-in. I have read so many plasma TV buying guides that tell you to fear the evil burn-in. I have read consumer comments complaining about their expensive plasma TV that "developed" burn-in. I have also documented myself enough to know that, probably without exception, burn-in is caused by the user who abused the screen and used it extensively in a way it wasn’t made to be used and they didn’t took the recommended precautions to prevent the burn-in.
The older models of plasma TVs did have a problem with burn-in. You had to be careful not to leave static content on the screen for a long period and the break-in was something that you had to do to protect your screen from problems. Playing a game for hours and hours or watching the same TV channel all day long meant you had all the chances to burn-in your plasma TV.
Fortunately, today’s plasma TVs no longer suffer from permanent burn-in (in worst case you and up with a temporary image retention that goes away after some time of normal usage). One reason is the technology improvement – manufacturers developed plasma screens that are more resistant to burn-in. The other reason is the active anti-burn-in features. So let’s describe shortly the most common ones:
Pixel orbiter is a function found in some plasma TVs, that in order to reduce the risk of burn-in moves the whole image. This movement is very fast so the human eye does not notice it (otherwise it would probably be extremely annoying). What happens when you activate the pixel orbiter is that the image, and most importantly, static parts of the image (for example a channel logo) are moved a bit instead of being displayed in the same place. This feature doesn’t reduce the possibility of burn-in but instead it makes it blurred and less noticeable if it does occur.
This is an anti-burn-in feature to be used after you start noticing signs of burn-in or temporary image retention. What it does is that it displays a white bar (rectangle) on the screen and moves it from one side to the other – much like an windshield wiper – and by doing so it "fires" the phosphors in the screen at maximum brightness. Because of that the screen pixels get equalized and the visible burn-in is reduced or eliminated completely. Note however, that this feature should be used with moderation because it wears up the screen at a faster peace than by normal usage.
Ultimately You Are the Best Anti-Burn-In Feature
Remember that! Knowing how to configure and use your plasma TV and knowing what can produce burn-in is the best protection you can get. Make sure you also read the break-in guide to learn how to extend your plasma TV life, benefit from the great picture quality for a longer time and prevent burn-in.
Possibly Useful Features
Many plasma TVs don’t come with speakers, but most manufacturers offer you the options to buy integrated speakers that get mounted very easy on the sides of the plasma TV or beneath it. If you don’t intend to buy a separate home theater audio system, getting your plasma TV with speakers is a highly recommended idea (otherwise you will have no sound). If however you have plans to buy a separate audio system, the integrated speakers are totally useless. If you are unsure whether to buy a home theater audio system or go with the integrated speakers I highly recommend buying a good home theater system. Though some integrated speakers are pretty good, they don’t even get close to a good 5.1 home theater audio system.
Integrated ATSC / HDTV Tuner
The ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) tuner is a device that allows reception of ATSC digital television programs broadcast over-the-air by TV stations. An increasing number of plasma TVs now come with this device integrated into them. The ATSC tuner is useful if you wish to receive digital broadcasts over-the-air only. If you intend to use a DTV tuner from your cable provider or a HDTV satellite receiver, then the ATSC tuner will have no value for you because it only works with over-the-air broadcasts. In conclusion, depending on your specific needs, the ATSC tuner may be an useful feature or it could be just as well a useless one. One more important mention is that the ATSC standard has been adopted only in North America and South Korea. The majority of the other countries in the world have adopted a different standard called DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting).
Electronic Program Guide
An electronic program guide is a feature that for each channel displays the current and future program. It is a feature you could easily live without but sometimes is nice to have. Luckily, these days the electronic program guide is a feature that you can find in most plasma TVs.
Memory Card Reader
Again, a feature you can live without but some of you might find it nice to just insert the memory card of your digital camera and see the photos on the large screen. Some plasma TVs come with an integrated multi-format (e.g. 6 in 1) card reader. Some plasma TVs also have USB connectors so you can plug a card reader you already have and obtain the same thing. Keep in mind however, that not all plasma TVs that have USB connectors support card readers. If the plasma TV doesn’t have a card reader nor an USB connector but you really want this functionality, don’t worry, you can still buy a card reader built specifically to work with any regular TV. Many digital cameras even have support for displaying the pictures on a regular TV.
Some people pay a lot of money to have their plasma TV installed in such way that no wires are visible. WiFi enabled plasma TVs are great for those of us who hate the wires. The plasma TV will still need one power cable to operate but that’s it. All the other cables you normally need to hook up the plasma TV to the audio system or other set-top boxes are gone. You make all the connections with the plasma TV wireless A/V center that you can install in your A/V equipment rack. "Wificadabra, kadum, badum, babadum" and the wires are gone. Hurray!
A Digital Video Recorder or DVR (also named by some "Personal Video Recorder – PVR") is a device that records video in digital format on a hard-disk drive or some other type of medium. Some plasma TV manufacturers are now offering these devices embedded inside the plasma TV itself. For those of you not familiar with what a DVR is good for let me explain briefly. You can record what you are watching, you can record your favorite TV show while you are at work so you can watch it when you come back home and lots of other cool stuff. It’s a device that, if you don’t get it integrated into your TV is useful enough to buy separately. If the presence of a DVR inside the plasma TV affects your buying decision you may want to go one step further and see what kind of functionality it offers. With that knowledge in mind (or on paper) you can start comparing the features of the integrated DVR with the features of stand-alone DVRs on the market. The idea is to see if it’s better to buy a stand-alone one, or if the integrated DVR is really good and with enough features.
Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
As it is the case with integrated DVR, some plasma TVs come with integrated HDD. It’s pretty much the same functionality as explained for DVR. You have the possibility to record what you are watching, you can time-shift, you can use the electronic program guide to schedule a recording, and so on.
Features You Might Like (Or Not)
Ambilight is a technology developed by Philips. It illuminates the sides of the TV in a smart way so that it enhances the content you see on the screen. By doing that it enhances the spatial sensation. Presumably, it also reduces eye strain. I can’t tell you if it’s a useful feature because ultimately you are the only one who can decide that. Some people love it while others hate it. So go in a "brick and mortar" plasma TV store and see with your own eyes if you like it or not.
This is the complementary feature of Ambilight. While Ambilight enhances your viewing experience, Ambisound was made to enhance your hearing experience. As in the case of Ambilight you should check it yourself before deciding if it’s a feature to have or not. For more details regarding Ambisound and Ambilight see www.ambx.com.