Plasma TV Burn-In

Plasma Burn-In was a somewhat serious problem with the first plasma display models. However, in the past years, great improvements have been made to the technology, the latest flat-panel plasma TVs being very resistant to the burn-in phenomenon. Today’s plasma TVs are not burn-in proof though, the risk to develop this annoying problem existing in all displays based on phosphors.

However, the chance to get permanent burn-in on the latest TVs is slim to none if you don’t abuse it. You don’t have to retain yourself from playing games on your plasma nor do you have to switch the channel every five minutes. You can use your TV as you like, and you don’t even have to think about the chance of getting plasma burn-in as long as you follow a few common-sense rules.

What Exactly is Burn-In

TV Burn-InPlasma TV burn-in is a permanent disfigurement of the screen, visible in one or more places. It is caused by differential aging of the pixels, some of them producing brighter light than others. Burn-in usually appears when the same picture is displayed on the screen for long periods of time.

As you see, burn-in has to do with pixel aging – some pixels age much more than others. Let me explain that. Any TV or screen ages in time. Its colors become more faded and its brightness decreases. Because this is a very slow process you don’t get to realize it. Since all pixels “work” the same amount of time, in order for them to age at a different pace, some must “work” more than others. The darker a pixel is, the less work it does and the less it ages.

The brighter the pixel is, the more work it performs and the more it ages. This aging happens because the phosphor inside the pixel consumes itself when producing light. In a way, the pixel is like a matchstick. You light it and for a while, it makes a big flame, then the flame decreases in intensity, and eventually it “dies”. You don’t have to worry that your plasma TV will age and the picture will disappear.

The average lifespan of a plasma TV is 60,000 hours. And the lifespan is the time until the screen reaches half its original intensity. You’re very likely to change your TV with a new one way before it gets “tired”.

With this in mind, imagine a white square being displayed in the middle of the screen while the rest is black. The pixels that make the white square will “fire” at maximum intensity, consuming themselves faster than the black pixels. After a number of days, they will be more aged than the black pixels and they will produce less light than they did initially.

If at this point you would display a normal image, like a photo, or a movie on the screen, the square area in the middle would be more faded. That is burn-in. If you replace the white square in the middle with a channel logo, the whole situation remains the same. Also, it can happen the other way around too – a black square on a white background. That’s also burn-in. Even if most of the screen is aged more than a small portion of it, the result appears the same.

Burn-in vs Image Retention

Sometimes both terms are used to describe the same thing, other times they are used to describe the same thing. Most of the time, plasma TV manufacturers use “image retention” over burn-in. I won’t start a polemic regarding which is correct when, but I will tell you there are two types of burn-in or image retention.

Permanent vs Temporary

It is very likely that a plasma TV will have temporary image retention. This is most likely to happen when the TV is new and the pixels are fresh. However, if you display something else on the screen for a while, the retained image will disappear. This is mistaken by many with permanent burn-in. It is however something that should not warry you at all. It is absolutely normal.

A real permanent burn-in is the one that is very visible and disturbing and does not disappear after displaying a different content for a long period of time. If you managed to get this type of burn-in with a plasma TV from the latest generations, you did something very wrong with that TV. So don’t blame the TV or the manufacturer, but yourself.

Use the Anti-Burn-In Features

Most of the modern plasma TVs have anti-burn-in features. One of the most important ones is called “pixel orbiter”. Its purpose is to prevent burn-in from appearing in the first place, and it is pretty effective at doing this. Turn it off, and you are the only one to blame when you get a nasty burn-in. With the modern, top-of-the-line plasma TV models (like the ones made by Pioneer, Panasonic, Samsung) the chances to develop burn-in with the pixel orbiter in action are close to none. I have knowledge of only one case when a Pioneer Kuro developed burn-in, and it happened when the pixel orbiter was off.

Another useful anti-burn-in feature is the one that makes the color of the sidebars of 4:3 content gray instead of black. It is recommended that you select this option when watching 4:3 content. Some people don’t like the lighter color on the sides though, so they leave them black. I haven’t heard of many cases where burn-in occurred from this. If you don’t watch 4:3 content the majority of the time, you can probably leave them black without risking burn-in.

Whitewash, is another anti-burn in feature. Less important than the ones above because its role is to fix not to prevent. And it is not very effective either. It acts by moving a white or light gray bar across the screen, performing a uniformly accelerated aging of the pixels, and trying to level out their brightness. While it is great to eliminate temporary image retention, against a serious permanent burn-in it has little effect. You should not bother using this every time you notice small signs of temporary image retention, since variating the content you are watching is equally effective.

Computer Use

Plasma TVs should not be used exclusively as computer monitors. No matter how great a plasma TV is at resisting burn-in, if you use it mostly as a computer monitor you will get permanent burn-in. This happens because it will always display the same thing in certain areas (like the taskbar of your operating system).

Another reason why using it as a computer monitor is bad has to do with the fact that windows have white backgrounds, wearing up the pixels at maximum speed compared to other areas like the title bars, taskbar, menubars, etc. If however you just want to use it a few hours a day as a computer monitor and you also watch movies and TV, in other words, you mix the content, it won’t be a problem.

Playing games on a plasma TV is also possible without risking getting burn-in. Many owners hook up a PS2, Xbox, PC, and play games without getting permanent burn-in. If you play all day long the same game, you might get some slight image retention but after watching a movie or TV it is likely to go away.

Plasma TV Break-In

Break-in consists of a set of steps you should make right after you bought your plasma TV. Its purpose is to slowly prepare the TV for regular watching. During the break-in period, you will have to limit yourself a bit in regard to how you use your plasma TV. The break-in should be performed for the first 100-200 hours of operation. You can perform it exclusively or integrate it between your regular TV watching hours. During these 100-200 hours, the plasma TV is prone to accelerated burn-in because the pixels are fresh and fire at maximum intensity.

  • Select the appropriate mode when you first power up your plasma TV. Most modern plasma TVs ask if you are going to use them in a store or in your home. In “store” they are in “torch mode” having maximum contrast and brightness to overcome the extreme lighting and look good.
  • Calibrate them or use the appropriate picture mode. Some of the models have a picture mode in which they offer best picture quality. Others need to be calibrated manually to obtain best picture. Whether you select just the picture mode or you calibrate them, the brightness and contrast should not be maximum but around 50-60%.
  • Watch only full-screen content. Avoid watching 4:3 content or use the zoom function to make it fill the screen. Same for cinemascope content which is shorter than the screen and puts black bars at top and bottom of the picture. If you have to watch non full-screen content at least make the sidebars or top and bottom bars gray instead of black.
  • Don’t play games on it and don’t use it as a computer monitor.
  • Mix the content. If you are watching programs that have logo, news ticker or any other static elements don’t leave the TV on the same channel for more than an hour. Ideally avoid watching such programs in the first hours.
  • Don’t pause for long times, don’t leave your DVD menu paused on screen, etc.

You can use the whitewash function, if present, for the first few hours in order to wear out the pixels a bit. Then you can watch regular content, sticking to the rules described above. You can perform the break-in in one continuous run for the first 100-200 hours if you are patient enough.

If you don’t however, watch regular content whenever you want and when you’re not in front of the TV (eating, sleeping, away) leave on the whitewash or a full-screen program/movie without a logo or other static content. Note that if using the whitewash function, you should do so for less time than the recommended 100-200 hours since it wears out the pixels at an accelerated pace and it accomplishes the same thing faster. Ideally, you should use the whitewash for the first hour, and after that watch regular full-screen content without static parts.

The break-in process is recommended. However, not everybody does it. Most people probably don’t bother with it and still don’t get permanent burn-in. It is however an extra safety measure, and I think it’s worth doing it.

This article was last updated on August 27, 2021 .

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By Adam

The Display Blog staff account. We know display.