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How Neon Works: Plasma TVs

April 24, 2015 3 min read

When we think about neon, usually the first thing that springs to mind are bright, over-the-top, multi-coloured illuminations used in signs and festival type accent lighting in some of the most illuminated cities over the world. Today, neon is used in far more than just the bright lights of Vegas or NYC; in fact you more than likely have neon technology right in your own home (other than the neon ‘BAR’ sign in your entertainment space).

As we have discussed in a previous post, plasma displays have been around for some time now and have proved to be an extremely popular option for home televisions due to its crystal clear picture and dazzling colour display. However, with Panasonic declaring that they will no longer be producing plasma displays as LCD & LED is now more preferred, this leaves only two leading manufacturers in LG and Samsung producing them. So, we already know the applications of neon in plasma TVs, but how does it actually work?

Plasma Display Composition

The power behind this innovative technology is in the composition, which is comprised of millions of tiny phosphor coated plasma cells (containing a mixture of xenon and neon gas) that are positioned in between 2 glass plates and a dielectric layer with long electrodes on the inside.

The address electrodes sit behind cells along the rear glass plate. Transparent electrodes are surrounded by an insulating dielectric material that is covered by a protective layer of magnesium oxide, which is mounted above the cell along the glass plate.

How do they work?

Both sets of these electrodes span across the entire screen and are arranged in horizontal and vertical columns to form a basic grid. In this grid, each tiny compartment contains a mixture of noble gases and a small amount of mercury, which forms a plasma when a high voltage is applied across the cell.

With the electricity flowing across the cell, the noble gases collide with mercury molecules as they pass through the plasma and will increase in energy until it is shed. This energy is lost as UV photons, which strike the phosphor coating on the inside of each cell, raising the energy of the electrons causing them to move into an unstable state. In order for the phosphor molecules to return to their stable state, the excess energy must be shed as a photon again, but this time it’s is at an energy level that is 40% within the visible spectrum. As such, much of what we see on our TVs is based on a foundation of the primary colours blue, green and red, and the picture formed on the screen is from the illumination of different cells across the screen.

Did you know?

Most of the first plasma displays on the market were not technically televisions because they did not have a TV tuner. Like the LCD monitors, plasma displays were nothing more than just monitors that displayed a standard video signal and required a separate television tuner (such as a DVD, VCR cable or digital antenna). Today however most plasma TV’s come with the digital television tuners built in, and some even come with a paradise integrated into it!

Don’t hold us to that…

However, since the emergence of LCD, LED and now even 4K TVs available on the market, it seems that other leading manufacturers may follow Panasonic and cease production on these in the very near future. Perhaps time is finally up for plasma TV!