Who invented the Plasma TV? (Invention Timeline Explained)

It’s a little hard to believe that plasma TVs aren’t nearly as commonplace these days as they used to be. There was a time when the plasma TV was the ideal way to experience monitor displays, but that’s modern tech for you! There’s always going to be a new kid on the block looking to take things by storm.

That said, just because the plasma TV’s no longer in production for most big brands doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big step in the right direction. The plasma TV’s a crucial part of the history of monitor displays, and — like most cool inventions — has a fascinating history. Here’s a little look into the timeline and evolution of the plasma TV.

Who invented the plasma TV?

The very first plasma display TV was a co-invention in the University of Illinois. Don Blitzer, Robert Wilson, and H. Gene Slottow are all credited with the creation of the plasma TV. The plasma monitor was made specifically for the PLATO computer system. 

The plasma TV’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Kálmán Tihanyi
    The first person to put the plasma TV design on paper

    Before the plasma display TV was invented, Kálmán Tihanyi, an engineer from Hungary, described a flat-screen plasma display in a paper back in 1936.

  • Don Blitzer, Robert Wilson, and H. Gene Slottow
    Inventors of the plasma TV display

    The trio credited for the invention of the plasma TV created it for the PLATO computer system.

  • Burroughs Corporation
    The Panaplex display

    The Panaplex display developed by the Burroughs Corporation for adding machines and various other devices, is remarkable for how closely the design resembles the more modern plasma TVs.

  • IBM
    Orange-on-black monochrome display

    IBM’s introduction of the orange-on-black monochrome display resulted in a decade of various computers using the plasma display.

  • Fujitsu
    Developers of the first large screen full-color display

    The very first large full-color display Fujitsu created was a 21-inch display. They then would outdo themselves with the 42-inch display plasma TV.

When was the plasma TV invented?

The plasma TV was invented in 1964 thanks to the combined efforts of Don Blitzer, Robert Wilson, and H. Gene Slottow. While the plans for the plasma TV was developed much earlier, the aforementioned three are credited for inventing the first plasma TV.

A brief history of the plasma TV

Since the invention of the first CRT in 1897, there have always been efforts to try to make the most out of a display screen. It went from electrons lighting up the fluorescent screen, to geometric patterns, to advanced text and graphics. That said, the plasma TV was the next big step, and the plans for a flat-screen plasma display began as early as 1936. Kálmán Tihanyi described his plans in a paper that year, and it would be almost thirty years later when the plasma TV would finally be invented.

The first plasma TV was a co-invention between Don Blitzer, Robert Wilson, and H. Gene Slottow, primarily for the PLATO computer system. Most plasma display creations during this time were used for computers and similar machines. For example, the Burroughs Corporation started picking up steam in the early 1970s for the introduction of the Panaplex display. This plasma display was so popular that IBM would eventually develop the orange-on-black monochrome display that would be used in various computers throughout the 1980s.

Fujitsu was the first company to introduce a large screen (for the time) full-color plasma display. The very first model was the 21-inch display, which was incredible for the time it was released in 1992. That said, in 1995 Fujitsu would outdo themselves by introducing the world to the 42-inch display plasma TV.

Plasma TVs would continue to be a staple until the 2010s. While it might no longer be the most popular choice, it doesn’t change the contribution plasma TVs have made to the tech behind display screens.

The plasma TV timeline

  1. 1936
    The plan for the plasma TV

    Kálmán Tihanyi writes about plans for the flat-screen plasma display in a paper around 1936. It would be almost thirty years later when the design would see the light of day.

  2. 1964
    The invention of the first plasma TV.

    The first plasma TV is invented courtesy of Don Blitzer, Robert Wilson, and H. Gene Slottow. The first plasma TV, while somewhat primitive, is groundbreaking enough to spark worldwide interest.

  3. 1970s
    The Panaplex display

    Developed by the Burroughs Corporation, the Panaplex display was notable for having technology similar to more modern day plasma TVs.

  4. 1983
    IBM’s orange-to-black monochrome display

    The fascinating thing about IBMs plasma display is how it was popular enough for so many high-quality computers to use the orange-to-black monochrome display.

  5. 1990s
    Fujitsu blazing the trail

    The development of plasma TVs went into full swing thanks to the effort of the people behind Fujitsu. Thanks to Fujitsu, the first large screen full-color plasma display was released. Fujitsu would continue to push the envelope.

Where was the plasma TV invented?

The first plasma TV was invented in Illinois — specifically, in the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

The importance of the plasma TV

  • An important stepping stone of progress

    Without the development of the plasma TV, the road to advanced monitors and displays would likely have taken much longer. From LEDs to 4K, the plasma TV is a crucial stepping stone of progress.

  • The right competition needed for things to evolve

    The CRT monitor was the first display, and helped pave the way for creations such as the plasma and LED displays. That said, the competition between LED and plasma was the reason why technology evolved so quickly. Nothing says progress quite like competition.

  • Affordable and accessible

    While LED displays were known to be slimmer, they were also much more expensive. On the other hand plasma TVs offered a similar quality without costing an arm and a leg in the process.

  • Facts about the gas used in plasma TVs

    There’s constant speculation about the types of gas used in plasma TV, and how they can be harmful to one’s health. Fortunately, all of these are falls, as the gas is not harmful whether individual or combined.

The plasma TV by the numbers

  • 14,999The price in dollars of the Fujitsu 42-inch plasma screen TV when it was first released. It also includes the in-home installation.
  • 30,000The half-life average of early plasma TVs. The screen starts to degrade after 30,000 hours of watching, though it can take twice as long for the plasma TV to finally break down.
  • 1920×1080The resolution of plasma displays for TVs around 42-103 (!) inches.
  • 2014The year when plasma TVs were discontinued by many major brands due to the rise of 4K.

Five facts about the plasma TV

  • High energy consumption

    Did you know that the 42-inch plasma TV can consume more energy than a regular-sized refrigerator? While you might get a top-quality display and a crisp screen, it’s undoubtedly an expensive piece of entertainment history.

  • Slimmer is better

    One of the reasons why the LED screen was the biggest competitor of the plasma TV was due to its slim design. Companies have put a lot of money over the years developing slim plasma TV designs.

  • A focus on color accuracy and saturation

    Plasma TVs have the distinction of being one of the best displays available when it comes to color accuracy and saturation.

  • The biggest plasma display manufacturer

    Up until all of the big brands finally ceased the production of plasma TVs, Panasonic was known as the biggest plasma display manufacturer.

  • Similar color reproduction with CRT

    The phosphors used in plasma TVs are the same (or at least similar) to the ones used in CRT monitors. It’s the reason why the color reproductions of the two are so similar.

FAQ about the plasma TV

  • Is plasma TV technology dead?

    Unfortunately, when Panasonic and the rest ceased production it had effectively killed the technology, at least for the moment. Despite that, the tech behind plasma displays is still a crucial part of history.

  • What’s the biggest advantage of plasma TVs over its competitors?

    The quality of the image in terms of color and contrast was unrivaled back when plasma TVs were still hugely popular. It also helped that plasma TVs were less expensive than similar LED variants.

  • Do plasma TVs still hold value these days?

    Outside of selling your plasma TV to collectors, the overall consensus is that plasma TVs don’t hold too much value. That said, plasma TVs can still produce fantastic results, and they last quite long provided you take care of them. There’s no need to sell or give away a perfectly good plasma display TV or monitor.

  • What type of TV eventually outperformed plasma?

    LCD TVs and 4k resolution was what effectively outperformed the plasma TV. When it comes to LCD, technology had gotten to the point where it was being priced much lower.

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