The xenon and neon gas in a plasma television is contained in hundreds of thousands of tiny cells positioned between two plates of glass. Long electrodes are also sandwiched between the glass plates, on both sides of the cells. The address electrodes sit behind the cells, along the rear glass plate. The transparent display electrodes, which are surrounded by an insulating dielectric material and covered by a magnesium oxide protective layer, are mounted above the cell, along the front glass plate.
Both sets of electrodes extend across the entire screen. The display electrodes are arranged in horizontal rows along the screen and the address electrodes are arranged in vertical columns. As you can see in the diagram below, the vertical and horizontal electrodes form a basic grid.
To ionize the gas in a particular cell, the plasma display's computer charges the electrodes that intersect at that cell. It does this thousands of times in a small fraction of a second, charging each cell in turn.
When the intersecting electrodes are charged (with a voltage difference between them), an electric current flows through the gas in the cell. As we saw in the last section, the current creates a rapid flow of charged particles, which stimulates the gas atoms to release ultraviolet photons.
The released ultraviolet photons interact with phosphor material coated on the inside wall of the cell. Phosphors are substances that give off light when they are exposed to other light. When an ultraviolet photon hits a phosphor atom in the cell, one of the phosphor's electrons jumps to a higher energy level and the atom heats up. When the electron falls back to its normal level, it releases energy in the form of a visible light photon.
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The phosphors in a plasma display give off colored light when they are excited. Every pixel is made up of three separate subpixel cells, each with different colored phosphors. One subpixel has a red light phosphor, one subpixel has a green light phosphor and one subpixel has a blue light phosphor. These colors blend together to create the overall color of the pixel.
By varying the pulses of current flowing through the different cells, the control system can increase or decrease the intensity of each subpixel color to create hundreds of different combinations of red, green and blue. In this way, the control system can produce colors across the entire spectrum.
The main advantage of plasma display technology is that you can produce a very wide screen using extremely thin materials. And because each pixel is lit individually, the image is very bright and looks good from almost every angle. The image quality isn't quite up to the standards of the best cathode ray tube sets, but it certainly meets most people's expectations.
The biggest drawback of this technology has been the price. However, falling prices and advances in technology mean that the plasma display may soon edge out the old CRT sets.
To learn more about plasma displays, as well as other television technologies, check out the links on the next page.