One of the biggest questions shoppers are often faced with is whether to go with LCD or plasma, the two dominant flat-panel technologies available today. As with anything else, there are advantages to each, and we’ll look at those a little more in depth…
Plasmas were made available from 1997 onwards, and made a big splash post-2000 because they were thin enough to hang on the wall and outrageously priced as well, to the point that only celebrities bought them at the time. At that time, plasma TVs only lasted a short period of time before either needing a recharge of plasma or reaching the end of their life. Plasma TVs are quite different now, in terms of quality, lifespan and price.
Better blacks – A lot of the time, plasma TVs have much better black levels than competing LCD models.
Uniformity – Even when they don’t have better black levels, the uniformity of the screen on plasmas is superior to that of LCDs, so even if the screen is a tad more gray, there aren’t any bright or hot spots that can detract from the experience. The backlight on LCDs will pretty much always be brighter in some areas than others, and this can be quite noticeable in darker scenes.
Viewing Angles – Unlike LCDs, plasmas don’t encounter a shift in the contrast, brightness or color of the image when viewed from a different angle. They’re pretty much like your old CRT sets in this regard.
More Natural Color – Technically, LCDs can be as, or more accurate with colors than plasmas, but experts almost always prefer the image of a plasma to that of an LCD, and one of the factors is more natural-looking color. Plasmas look more like CRTs than LCDs in the way they handle color, and LCDs have been accused of giving people a “clay face.” This may be in part to incorrect gamma, bad image processing, or a number of other things, but what it boils down to is that most of the time, video & film look a little more natural on plasmas.
Pixel Response Time – Plasmas are able to refresh their pixels almost instantaneously, so ghosting is not something that is common on a plasma. For those not in the know, ghosting is where the pixels on a TV don’t change fast enough for the content, usually first-person shooter games. The result, ghosting, appears to show trails and ghosts of objects that have already moved out of view.
Cheaper In Larger Sizes – Plasmas are quite a bit cheaper than LCDs in larger sizes.
LCD TVs came to the market later than plasma, but caught on much faster. They are based on the same ideas as your computer monitor, but are designed to provide significantly better contrast, and look better with film and video content.
No Image Retention or Burn-In – Unlike plasma TVs, LCDs are not susceptible to image retention or burn-in. Image retention is where the pixels hold a static image, such as the logo of a TV channel, even after it is gone. It goes away after a little while, but if it doesn’t go away at all, it’s referred to as burn-in. In the early days of plasma, burn-in was fairly common, but today, it basically doesn’t happen. Image retention still exists on most plasmas, but not at all on LCDs. Even with modern plasmas, one needs to be careful, as even watching 4:3 content with black bars on the sides can have image retention, as the area where the black bars are doesn’t get used, and appears dimmer for a while.
No Buzz or Flicker – Plasma TVs all have a bit of flicker, which may or may not be noticeable to someone. It’s just the way they display their image, but images on an LCD are different, as the pixel is not refreshed until the image has a change. This can look unnatural to some, as backgrounds that aren’t moving can look a little fake, but it’s a personal preference! Some plasmas have a bit of a buzz too, but usually, this is so faint that it is inaudible unless you have your ear an inch away from the screen.
Better Bright – Environment Performance – LCDs can get very bright, and this works to their advantage in bright rooms. Lots of sunlight or even normal indoor lighting can wash out some plasma TVs, but LCDs can display the full color and brightness spectrum in such an environment. They certainly lose out to the best plasmas in dark environments, but in a brightly-lit family scenario, LCDs take the win.
Cheaper In Smaller Sizes – LCDs are cheaper in smaller sizes than plasmas, and also more available too.
Constant Progress – LCDs are continually being improved and the gap between plasma and LCD image quality continues to close.
Plasmas have typically enjoyed better contrast, which is the number one factor in image quality, but the latest LCDs really bring a lot of competition to the game!
It basically comes down to what type of environment you are buying for. If you have a space that has some element of light control, a good plasma is a better bet for you. If you can afford it, a Pioneer plasma is basically the best HDTV available today as well, which doesn’t suffer from most of the drawbacks associated with plasmas, and offers the best possible image quality.
If you have a space that has a fair bit of natural light, and you have a lot of family usage where you don’t want to worry about image retention (your 4-year old probably wouldn’t remember to stretch the image every time), an LCD is the way to go. If you can afford them, LED-backlit LCD TVs such as the Sony KDL-55XBR8 are the best of the breed currently, and are better than most plasmas in image quality as well, but they cost a pretty penny!
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