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Technology Showcase: Plasma Screens in Houses of Worship

Jan 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

Flatpanels display spiritual messages.

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NEC PlasmaSync 42XP10

NEC PlasmaSync 42XP10

To express the glory of their congregations' faith, the interiors of houses of worship have traditionally been adorned with visual splendor. Today, the impact of that splendor is often enhanced by suspended flatpanel video displays hovering over the congregation, dispersed among the aisles, or installed in ancillary overflow and teaching rooms. Even digital signage is becoming a more common sight in the foyers and vestibules of houses of worship that use it to convey event scheduling and community activities to the penitent as they enter or leave. A growing number of church, synagogue, or temple members are even endowing their houses of worship with the latest video-presentation screens — just as people in past years used to donate stained-glass windows or murals that reflected their commitment to their faith.

Although there are several options for flatpanel displays and digital-projection systems these days, many feel the imagery seen on a plasma screen is best suited for moving video when brightness under ambient light and deep blacks in the contrast scale are of prime concern. New technologies that reduce concern over pixel burn-in are even making plasma displays appropriate for data and text, useful for presenting the lyrics of hymns or the words of a pastor's presentation.

The increased interest in plasma displays is reflected in the overall growth of plasma sales. The market research firm iSuppli reports that the 288,351 unit sales of plasma screens in North America in 2005 grew to 344,468 in 2006, and at press time it predicted sales would top 426,000 plasma units in 2007. TFCinfo is a firm that concentrates on analyzing specific distribution channels of the advanced display market segment both by tracking monthly sales of advanced display products through wholesale distributors and by conducting custom market-research projects for display-industry participants. In its 2007 survey of American churches, TFCinfo reports that 29.9 percent of the electronic displays employed in houses of worship with more than 1,000 seats are plasma screens, a percentage not much smaller than the 34.8 percent of the displays using LCD technology. When churches already using sophisticated AV equipment were asked whether they were exploring purchasing or adding video equipment to their current systems, 46.7 percent expressed interest in plasma displays compared to 36.1 percent looking at LCDs (excluding computer monitors).

Much of this trend can be attributed to the growing popularity of very large displays that are making their way into home theaters and commercial venues such as major hotels, sports bars, shopping malls, and airports. Alfred Poor, senior research associate with Pacific Media Associates, says, “The 50in.-to-54in. segment of the plasma market is still holding onto its share for the most part, as LCDs do not yet have a cost advantage in this size range. LCDs do have an advantage in the consumer space in that they can produce true 1080p resolution more easily than plasma can, but for the professional [commercial] markets, this higher resolution is not as important. For example, for digital signage or presentations, lower-resolution displays are totally adequate for the application.”

Ever since Donald L. Bitzer, H. Gene Slottow, and graduate student Robert Willson invented plasma-display technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1964, the growth of this type of display has been rapid, with some of the biggest advances happening quite recently. Fujitsu claimed the world's first 21in. full-color plasma display in 1992, and Pioneer started selling the first plasma television to the public as recently as 1997. By the end of 2007, although manufacturers such as Toshiba and Philips had dropped out of the plasma market entirely, the remaining proponents of this technology had expanded their scope all the way up to the 103in. plasma display manufactured by Matsushita Electrical Industries and sold in the United States by Panasonic, and all the way down to new 32in. models intended as CRT replacements. Many plasma displays even have built-in matrix capabilities so they can be used in videowall configurations to present an image large enough to be seen from the rear pews.

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