Plasma TVs used to cost a fortune. Then, after a while, only the big ones cost a fortune. And now we've finally reached the point where only the crazy-big ones cost a fortune — even reasonably big ones like Vizio's 60-inch VM60P are within reach of most people. This XL set costs a cool $2,500 (list), making it a viable purchase, or even a gift, for many who merely dreamed in 60-inch HD a few years ago.
So what's the deal with this dramatic drop in plasma-TV pricing? Is it purely market forces at work, or are the manufacturers cutting a few corners where they weren't before? And if they are, does it really matter? I made the incredible sacrifice of living with the Vizio for a few months to find out. Hit continue to see my assessment of what you miss out on if you opt to spend $2.5k on a 60-inch plasma HDTV instead of 10 grand.
First Sacrifice: A bit of picture quality
No question, 60 inches of screen is some nice plasma beefcake — more than enough for most rooms. HD video, especially stuff like Blu-ray movies and off-air broadcasts, looks especially crisp on it. But it's still not a 1080p set; the pixel count is 1,366 x 768. That's not something you'd necessarily notice, but it also means the set performs a conversion on every signal that goes into it. The processor doing that conversion was clearly inferior to, say, a top-line LCD panel from Mitsubishi, since there was occasional pixelation during fast motion and screen wipes. Said pixelation was not serious, disappearing quickly, but it's something that pricier sets would be a lot more embarrassed about.
Second Sacrifice: Help
Forget any onscreen guides, forget a decent quick start manual (see "update" note below) — you jump in the deep end with no lifejacket with the Vizio. In the age of HDMI, where hooking up your cable box takes just one wire, that's not actually so bad. But you may need to ask your techie friend what format you should set your cable box to, and other mysteries like that.
Third Sacrifice: Some engineering
Within a couple of months of using the Vizio, it developed a mildly distracting dead pixel, meaning there was a very small white dot present in the same spot during most viewing. Before you panic, Vizio has a "no dead pixel" guarantee for their sets, so if yours is still under warranty and a pixel expires, it'll just mean some phone calls and delivery pains. But those pains actually might be inconvenient enough for some people not to bother. Also, the frame on this thing isn't that pretty. I'm just saying.
Fourth Sacrifice: Your back
The sheer mass of the Vizio — almost 200 pounds — is enough to make you think twice about getting it. Moving this hulk around is definitely a two-man job, at least (which made me wonder why Vizio sent only one guy to pick it up). As long as it's serving in a spot where it doesn't need to move, you're OK. But make sure your stand can roll, since the built-in stand doesn't swivel, or it'll be a chore whenever you switch connectors.
Bottom line, you trade a few things for value by going with Vizio's bargain plasma, but I imagine most people will be able to live with their choice once they immerse themselves in those 60 inches. And the TV schools pricier sets in a few areas: The off-air tuner works great, HDMI jacks are plentiful (four), and the remote control is excellent. If you're like me — you like your video big and think 1080p is an overrated spec — this baby is what you're looking for.
UPDATE: Vizio reps maintain that, contrary to my observations above, they provide four-color packaging and a poster-sized “quick-start” guide with the set. In addition, they say they offer one year of free in-home service for parts and labor and lifetime tech support via phone or e-mail. I take Vizio's word to be accurate — it's entirely possible my particular unit didn't have the manuals, or that I misplaced them during unpacking. However, I still maintain that the TV itself offers little help in setup, while some other brands have more extensive onscreen guides.