Plasma displays are bright (1,000 lux or higher for the module), have a wide color gamut, and can be produced in fairly large sizes—up to 150 inches (3.8 m) diagonally. They have a very low-luminance "dark-room" black level compared to the lighter grey of the illuminated parts of an LCD screen (i.e. the blacks are blacker on plasmas and greyer on LCDs). LED-backlit LCD televisions have been developed to reduce this distinction. The display panel itself is about 6 cm (2.5 inches) thick, generally allowing the device's total thickness (including electronics) to be less than 10 cm (4 inches). Plasma displays use as much power per square meter as a CRT or an AMLCD television. Power consumption varies greatly with picture content, with bright scenes drawing significantly more power than darker ones – this is also true of CRTs. Typical power consumption is 400 watts for a 50-inch (127 cm) screen. 200 to 310 watts for a 50-inch (127 cm) display when set to cinema mode.
Most screens are set to 'shop' mode by default, which draws at least twice the power (around 500–700 watts) of a 'home' setting of less extreme brightness. Panasonic has greatly reduced power consumption ("1/3 of 2007 models") Panasonic states that PDPs will consume only half the power of their previous series of plasma sets to achieve the same overall brightness for a given display size. The lifetime of the latest generation of plasma displays is estimated at 100,000 hours of actual display time, or 27 years at 10 hours per day. This is the estimated time over which maximum picture brightness degrades to half the original value.
Plasma display screens are made from glass, which reflects more light than the material used to make an LCD screen. This causes glare from reflected objects in the viewing area. Companies such as Panasonic coat their newer plasma screens with an anti-glare filter material. Currently, plasma panels cannot be economically manufactured in screen sizes smaller than 32 inches. Although a few companies have been able to make plasma Enhanced-definition televisions (EDTV) this small, even fewer have made 32in plasma HDTVs. With the trend toward large-screen television technology, the 32in screen size is rapidly disappearing. Though considered bulky and thick compared to their LCD counterparts, some sets such as Panasonic's Z1 and Samsung's B860 series are as slim as one inch thick making them comparable to LCDs in this respect.
How plasma displays work
A panel typically has millions of tiny cells in compartmentalized space between two panels of glass. These compartments, or "bulbs" or "cells", hold a mixture of noble gases and a minuscule amount of mercury. Just as in the fluorescent lamps over an office desk, when the mercury is vaporized and a voltage is applied across the cell, the gas in the cells form a plasma. With flow of electricity (electrons), some of the electrons strike mercury particles as the electrons move through the plasma, momentarily increasing the energy level of the molecule until the excess energy is shed. Mercury sheds the energy as ultraviolet (UV) photons. The UV photons then strike phosphor that is painted on the inside of the cell. When the UV photon strikes a phosphor molecule, it momentarily raises the energy level of an outer orbit electron in the phosphor molecule, moving the electron from a stable to an unstable state; the electron then sheds the excess energy as a photon at a lower energy level than UV light; the lower energy photons are mostly in the infrared range but about 40% are in the visible light range. Thus the input energy is shed as mostly heat (infrared) but also as visible light. Depending on the phosphors used, different colors of visible light can be achieved. Each pixel in a plasma display is made up of three cells comprising the primary colors of visible light. Varying the voltage of the signals to the cells thus allows different perceived colors.
A plasma display panel is an array of hundreds of thousands of small, luminous cells positioned between two plates of glass. Each cell is essentially a tiny neon lamp filled with rarefied neon, xenon, and other inert gases; the cells are luminous when they are electrified through "electrodes".
The long electrodes are stripes of electrically conducting material that also lie between the glass plates, in front of and behind the cells. The "address electrodes" sit behind the cells, along the rear glass plate, and can be opaque. The transparent display electrodes are mounted in front of the cell, along the front glass plate. As can be seen in the illustration, the electrodes are covered by an insulating protective layer. Control circuitry charges the electrodes that cross paths at a cell, creating a voltage difference between front and back. Some of the atoms in the gas of a cell then lose electrons and become ionized, which creates an electrically conducting plasma of atoms, free electrons, and ions. The collisions of the flowing electrons in the plasma with the inert gas atoms lead to light emission; such light-emitting plasmas are known as glow discharges.
In a monochrome plasma panel, the gas is usually mostly neon, and the color is the characteristic orange of a neon-filled lamp (or sign). Once a glow discharge has been initiated in a cell, it can be maintained by applying a low-level voltage between all the horizontal and vertical electrodes–even after the ionizing voltage is removed. To erase a cell all voltage is removed from a pair of electrodes. This type of panel has inherent memory. A small amount of nitrogen is added to the neon to increase hysteresis.
In color panels, the back of each cell is coated with a phosphor. The ultraviolet photons emitted by the plasma excite these phosphors, which give off visible light with colors determined by the phosphor materials. This aspect is comparable to fluorescent lamps and to the neon signs that use colored phosphors.
Every pixel is made up of three separate sub pixel cells, each with different colored phosphors. One sub pixel has a red light phosphor, one sub pixel has a green light phosphor and one sub pixel has a blue light phosphor. These colors blend together to create the overall color of the pixel, the same as a triad of a shadow mask CRT or color LCD. Plasma panels use pulse-width modulation (PWM) to control brightness: by varying the pulses of current flowing through the different cells thousands of times per second, the control system can increase or decrease the intensity of each sub pixel color to create billions of different combinations of red, green and blue. In this way, the control system can produce most of the visible colors. Plasma displays use the same phosphors as CRTs, which accounts for the extremely accurate color reproduction when viewing television or computer video images (which use an RGB color system designed for CRT display technology).
Plasma displays should not be confused with liquid crystal displays (LCDs), another lightweight flat-screen display using very different technology. LCDs may use one or two large fluorescent lamps as a backlight source, but the different colors are controlled by LCD units, which in effect behave as gates that allow or block the passage of light from the backlight to red, green, or blue paint on the front of the LCD panel.