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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Do I need to break in a new plasma TV? (Morrison’s Mailbag)

CNET Reader Mike Smith asks:

Is there some kind of burn-in procedure to run on new plasma TVs? I’ve read some crazy stuff online that says all sorts of things and I just don’t know what is real from what is nonsense. Please let me know. Thanks.

You aren’t kidding, there is some crazy stuff out there.

Plasma TVs, actually all phosphor-based devices, can suffer from something called image retention. This is when a bright image “sticks” on screen after it is supposed to fade away.

As the phosphors age, it becomes harder and harder to cause image retention. As I covered in my Is plasma burn-in a problem? article, image retention is the precursor to the much-feared “burn in.” The difference is that image retention isn’t permanent, while burn in basically is.

Knowing that phosphors get more obedient with age, and fearing the terrifying specter of burn in, some on the Interwebs have fabricated all sorts of bizarre rituals to break in a plasma. Look, if dancing around your TV while it shows Roadhouse on repeat is your idea of a good time, and/or it puts your mind at ease regarding burn in, go for it. Chances are, your family and pets probably already think you’re pretty weird (welcome to the club, we have T-shirts).

The truth is, unless you plan on doing something abnormal with your TV right as you get it, you don’t need to do anything special to break in a plasma. Just watch the thing. That’s it. Watching regular content will age the TV perfectly well, and after 100 or 200 hours, the TV should be “broken in” plenty enough that you shouldn’t have to think anything else about other than how awesome it is.

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What constitutes “abnormal?” Well, only watching 2.35:1 movies, only 4:3 TV shows, or only playing one video game would do it. In each of these cases, you’re not using the entire screen equally. The black bars on 2.35:1 movies (top and bottom) and 4:3 TV shows (sides) aren’t using those black phosphors. So the center image will burn in at a different rate, i.e. it will become slightly dimmer than where the black bars were. The trick? Don’t watch only one aspect ratio. Yep, that simple. Watch some full-screen HD. Watch a DVD. Worst case, stretch out that TV or movie so it fills the screen (oh, the horror, I know). And again, this is just for the first month or so.

This also constitutes abnormal.

Video games are another problem. While the game itself is a lot of varied motion and brightness, the user interface at the bottom of the screen (the HUD if you will) is static. Static is bad. So if you just bought a new plasma so you can play 50 hours straight of Mists of Pandaria, your Panda love might lead to some severe image retention.

If that happens, watch something else for a while. I’m not going to recommend specific test patterns or any such nonsense. It’s not needed, and borders on OCD. Just watch the TV like a TV. Simple.

Bottom lineTalk of burn in is largely fear mongering. I review plasma TVs all the time, and never have a problem, despite playing games on them. That said, I also know all the details of how they work, so I know not to only play games or only watch 2.35:1 movies. So for the first 100 hours or so (less than a month for most people), don’t just watch one thing. It’s that easy.

The reality is, modern plasmas are significantly more resilient than old models. So when you hear someone freaking out about plasma “burn in,” ask them when was the last time they owned a plasma. I played some Day Z on a high-end plasma I recently reviewed just a few hours after taking the TV out of the box, and even after several hours of play, I saw no signs of image retention. They’ve gotten that good, or at least some have.

Like I mentioned in the burn in article, you’re going to see image retention long before it’s a serious issue. So stop worrying you’re going to ruin your new plasma TV and just be happy it has a better contrast ratio than your friend’s “LED” TV.

One last word of advice. If you’re planning on having your TV calibrated, I’d wait for 200 hours or so. Let those phosphors settle in and get nice and comfy before you ask them to be really accurate. This is what DavidTy, myself, and other TV reviewers do before we calibrate the TVs we have under test.

Got a question for Geoff? Click “Geoffrey Morrison” below then click the E-mail link in the upper right to e-mail, wait for it…Geoffrey Morrison! If it’s witty, amusing, and/or a good question, you may just see it in a post just like this one. No, I won’t tell you what TV to buy. Yes, I’ll probably truncate and/or clean up your e-mail. You can also send me a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.

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