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Call it a comeback: Plasma HDTV sales continue to increase after near extinction

Despite most critics favoring their picture quality, plasmas were at death's doorsteps a couple of years ago, with Pioneer and Vizio abandoning the technology as LCD sales surged. But after slashing prices, the remaining plasma manufacturers -- LG, Panasonic, Samsung -- have resuscitated the market for the sets, which generally deliver better black-level performance and are cheaper than LCDs at larger screen sizes.

Despite most critics favoring their picture quality, plasmas were at death's doorsteps a couple of years ago, with Pioneer and Vizio abandoning the technology as LCD sales surged. But after slashing prices, the remaining plasma manufacturers -- LG, Panasonic, Samsung -- have resuscitated the market for the sets, which generally deliver better black-level performance and are cheaper than LCDs at larger screen sizes.

While LCDs still dominate HDTV sales, plasmas are no longer seen as that dying technology that people are avoiding in droves because they fear burn-in and huge energy bills. According to the Plasma Display Coalition, the NPD Group reports that plasma sales were up 25 percent in the first quarter compared to Q1 of 2010, while LCD sales growth over the same period was just 2 percent.

Part of that growth is owed to the low prices on 720p HD plasmas, which usually sell for under $1,000, even 50-inch sets. Getting the most screen for the dollar seems to trump the desire for having full 1080p HD resolution, as the Consumer Electronics Association says that 720p sets account for more than two thirds of plasma sales.

Plasmas have also benefited from the introduction of 3D to the HDTV market, as the big roll-out of 3D last year was kick-started by plasmas from Panasonic and Samsung. They also are far more energy-efficient than in the past, and manufacturers have worked to lessen plasma's old bugaboos -- burn-in and screen glare -- even if many consumers are still unaware of the progress that's been made.

In addition to overcoming those persistent buyer worries about plasma technology, manufacturers still need to increase market share for 1080p sets, which have to compete against more LED-backlit LCDs that deliver image quality closer to plasma's, while being a more energy-efficient option. It's doubtful that plasmas will ever be more than 15 percent of the market (they're about 7 percent of the global market in Q1 of 2011, according to DisplaySearch), but there's a definite niche of buyers out there that is happy plasmas are still around to buy and don't look to be going away anytime soon.

Do you own a plasma? Are you considering buying one? If not, why wouldn't you purchase one? Let us know in the Comment section.