Plasma TVs - Myths vs. Realities

What is a Plasma Panel and How Does It Work?

The screen of a plasma TV is known as the plasma display panel (PDP), or commonly called the "panel". It is made up of a sandwich of layers. The outermost layer tolerates dust and fingerprints, provides some protection from scratches, and provides shielding to help block the egression of electromagnetic noise.

Behind this outside layer is a sealed glass assembly containing a matrix of tiny, intricately formed cavities filled with an inert gas. This gas becomes "plasma" when it is excited by electricity. The plasma in a TV is not a liquid. Some have said that it has to be periodically "topped off" as you would with antifreeze in the radiator of your car – this is not true.

A plasma panel works similarly to that of a fluorescent tube lamp. When the gas in a fluorescent lamp is excited by electricity, the plasma gives off ultraviolet light which causes the phosphor coating on the inside surface of the glass tube to emit light. Now imagine if you could take one of these lamps and hypothetically shrink it down to the size of the head of a pin. Furthermore, imagine if you could spread about six million of these on a sheet of glass, and then individually exciting each one with electricity in such a way that a picture is produced. That’s basically how a plasma panel works.


Cleaning the Screen

You can dust it with a duster, or to get rid of fingerprints use a microfiber cloth and a liquid cleaning product specifically made for the job. Actually, any product should work as long as it does not contain alcohol or ammonia (as these may cause streaking).


Transporting a Plasma TV

The plasma panel is made of glass, so it is very, very fragile. When transporting a plasma TV it must be handled carefully. Treat the TV like you would a bedroom mirror. Keep it in an upright position, drape it with a packing blanket, and secure it from moving around during transit. You don't want it to bang up against anything, or have anything bang against it.


Can a Plasma TV Lay Down Horizontally?

Yes. TV technicians will often lay the TV face down on a padded table or workbench in order to service it. Just make sure the surface is flat, soft (e.g. covered with a blanket) and wide enough so that the TV does not hang too far over the edge. The point is to avoid applying undue pressure on one corner of the TV, either from its own weight or by lifting it by the corner. Any kind of twisting or flexing could cause a stress fracture in the panel. And if the glass cracks, the panel is completely ruined. This is the reason why many people recommend keeping it vertical because this will avoid the potential of applying undue stress to the panel.

When lifting the TV from a horizontal position, do not pick it up by only one corner because it could cause a stress fracture and break the glass. Lift it up along the bottom-edge (or along the top-edge, if the bottom has nothing protruding from the frame that could break). If it's a 50-inch (130-cm) screen or bigger, I suggest that you have someone assist you.


Can Plasma TVs Overheat

Plasma TVs generate heat, somewhat more than the LCD/LED variety. This is why some models have fans in them to help keep them cool. Most of the heat will rise and exit the TV via the perforated top portion of the cabinet. You can also feel the heat on the face of the screen. All of this is normal, and there is nothing to worry about. The effects of normal operating temperatures are taken into account in the overall design of the television. It is a myth that this normal heating will cause the glass of the panel to crack. The only scenario where this may be possible is if you just brought it in from a freezing cold environment, and then turned it on without giving the unit a chance to warm up (at least an hour). But there's more to this story - read Cracked TV Screens.


Do plasma TVs need to be periodically recharged?

Plasma TVs do not require any routine maintenance. When plasma technology first rolled out there was a misconception that the plasma was a liquid and that these TVs needed periodic refills of plasma. The truth is that there is no liquid in a plasma TV. The plasma is actually electrically excited inert gas, like that of a neon sign. See What is a Plasma Panel and How Does It Work? above, for more information.

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