January Project: How to Pick a TV (LCD v. Plasma)

Let’s face it: CRT TVs (Cathode Ray Tube) are out and HDTVs are in. They are smaller, other better picture and superior performance. But with all of the different kinds of technologies available, unless you work at Best Buy or invented them yourself are all just the same to you. The big comparison comes down to Plasma vs LCD.

*Note- LED TVs are still LCD TVs, the difference being LCDs filter or subtract light from a CCFL to produce the image while LEDs use a slimmer LED backlight.

Part 1: Size and Price
Both technologies nowadays are playing on level ground regarding the popular 40-50 inch size range. There are more plasma choices for TV sizes greater than 55 inches but LCD is your only option for anything 40 inches or less.

Plasma holds the advantage regarding price, although the gap is shrinking (not so much so for LEDs). At 54 inches and larger plasma holds a significant price advantage, but that gap closes as you work from 50 inches down to 42.

Part 2: Picture Considerations
Plasma gets the advantage here with their ability to produce deep blacks, thus enjoying better contrast and detail in images when dark and light content is shown simultaneously. The latest LED TVs with full array local dimming can be argued to exhibit deep blacks as well but these effects, in addition to perceived image contrast and color saturation fall sharply with LED TVs’ restricted viewing angles.

Given that Plasma TVs produce images via gas cells that produce their own light, plasmas enjoy better screen brightness uniformity than LCDs and especially LEDs.

For those looking for 3D, plasma TVs provide a better 3D experience with hardly any image cross between the images intended for the left and right eye thanks to the faster pixel response of plasma TVs.

ALSO KEEP IN MIND… While plasma color richness and naturalness will generally prevail in rooms with controlled low to normal light levels, LCDs will perform better in brightly lit rooms mainly due to their inherent anti-glare technology and a brighter image with respect to most plasma TVs.

As briefly mentioned, plasmas enjoy a wider viewing angle than LCDs, but that gap is closing. LED TVs tend to exhibit poorer viewing angles than their CCFL-based counterparts, but they still support a wide enough viewing angle for most home entertainment applications.

Viewing distance is the same for both technologies so long as you are within proper viewing distance (the viewing distance should be 1.5-2 times the TV’s diagonal screen size). However, as LCDs have less visible pixel structure, they tend to be better suited for closer viewing applications such as for computer screens.

Picture resolution is the same for both technologies, as both are available with full 1080p resolution at screen sizes down to about 40-inch. Under 40 inches there are fewer choices, with 720p LCD TVs being almost non-existent above 37-inch.

Part 3: Functional Issues
LCDs hold an advantage in Image Retention, as they are not prone to burn-in. This means they can display a bright image for any length of time without worry. Instead, LCDs can suffer from image sticking, but this is usually completely reversible and unlikely to ever take place under normal home use. Likewise, plasmas don’t have as big a problem with burn-in as they used to.

The lifetime of both technologies is a non-issue. Both TVs come with quoted lifetimes of 100,000 hours, and if you were to watch 7.5 hours of TV a day for the next 15 years- that would only be 40,000 hours.

Plasma has a definite advantage when it comes to bad pixels because even though some manufacturers offer a zero bad pixel policy with their LCD TVs, they still have a higher tendency to develop bad pixels over time.

Image Blurring and Pixel Response Time is another advantage of plasma, because even though LCD technology has improved to the point that this is less of an issue, LCDs still have some way to go to achieve the same level of pixel response times and complete blur-free images as phosphor-based displays. This also partly explains why plasma TVs perform better in 3D TV applications.

Panel Noise is an advantage for LCD as all plasmas produce a soft buzzing noise, although this is hardly audible with the sound turned off unless you put your ear up to the screen.

Energy efficiency is a definite LCD advantage. Power requirements largely depend on picture settings, but LCDs carry an advantage especially as you move up the size scale. Recent energy-efficient plasma models have made significant improvements over previous models, however, CCFL LCDs still consume at least 20% to 30% less power. Furthermore, LED TVs consume even less power, about 50% of the power a plasma TV uses.

Plasma gives you a bigger screen for your dollar, deeper blacks, better pixel response times, and better 3D performance.

LCD TVs do not suffer from burn-in, use less power - even less than the latest energy efficient plasma display panels, and for anything smaller than 42-inch, LCD is your only way forward if what you want is something slim and stylish.

In the end, picking the right TV comes down to knowing what your needs are with respect to the limitations of the space in which you will be setting up said TV.

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