Skip to Content

Plasma Displays

Plasma displays produce extraordinarily crisp TV images using hundreds of thousands of xenon-filled cells.

Plasma displays are wide enough, thin enough and light enough to hang on the wall as art. And though consumers have historically been reluctant to dole out the $15,000 to $25,000 it takes to buy a 127- to 160-centimeter unit, prices are starting to fall. Fujitsu Hitachi Plasma Display (a joint venture between the two Japanese giants) recently announced it would begin selling 81- and 94-centimeter versions for $4,500-not cheap, but not far from the price of top-of-the-line projection TVs used for home theater systems.

The sources of such high-quality images are hundreds of thousands of tiny, xenon-gas-filled cells sandwiched between two layers of glass embedded with rows of electrodes. Transparent electrodes in the top layer of glass run perpendicular to address electrodes in the bottom layer. Each cell is lined with either a red, green or blue phosphor, a material that glows when exposed to radiation. Application of an alternating current to two electrodes (via a third auxiliary electrode) produces an electric field in the xenon cell between them. The field energizes the xenon atoms, knocking loose electrons. This creates a plasma, or cloud of electrons and positively charged xenon ions. Within microseconds, some of the electrons fall back into orbit around xenon atoms and relinquish their energy in the form of ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light strikes the cell’s phosphor lining, stimulating it to glow brightly in its characteristic color.

Three cells-one red, one blue and one green-combine to produce one pixel. Different intensities of the three primary colors blend to create more than 16 million different colors-a long way from the 1964 prototype designed by electrical engineers Donald Bitzer and H. Gene Slottow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which projected monochromatic points of orange light and shapes. Because each pixel is illuminated, the image is perfectly focused across the screen, offering viewers a 160-degree viewing angle-instead of the 120-degree angle afforded by projection televisions-and a chance to spread out across the living room for more comfy seats.

Got a new technology you’d like to see explained in Visualize? Send your ideas to visualize@technologyreview.com.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other
conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other

Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love

Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.