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Plasma Vs. LCD: Which Panel is Right for You?

LCD Television

You’re ready to take the plunge. Whether it’s a desire to save space, add a sexy new look to a room or you just can’t resist have the latest gadgets, you want a flat screen television.

Like many consumers, you’ve looked around, compared prices and talked to the staff at the local box electronic stores. However, you're still stuck, what is right for me, LCD or Plasma?

This article will give you a basic grasp of the strengths and weaknesses for each technology and how you can apply it to your situation.

Cost

Plasmas, inch for inch, are cheaper than their LCD counterparts, with comparably sized plasmas as little as half the cost of an LCD. This gap is steadily narrowing, but even so, plasmas will most likely be the cheaper alternative for some time to come.

Black Levels and Saturation

The picture quality of LCD has historically suffered from poorer black levels, but the latest generations of panels have greatly improved. LCDs cannot yet achieve a "true black" as there's always some light leaking through the pixels. Colour saturation is also generally inferior to plasma, again as a result of the inability to completely blacken or turn off the pixels. This light leakage also affects the purity of the colour displayed.

Size Matters

LCD TV’s offer a much wider variety of panel sizes, plasmas typically start out at 40-42" and achieving sizes typically of 68" (at the time of this article). LCDs are more flexible ranging in sizes from 15" to 70” (at the time of this article). If you're looking for a small flat panel (bedroom, kitchen etc.) then LCD is your choice.

Native Resolution

On average LCD panels tend to have a higher native resolution next to a similar sized plasma. You native resolution is the actual number of fixed pixels in the panel. You'll want to check the specs on this as there are a few resolutions considered HD, most commonly 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels or 720 vertical lines) or 1080i/1080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels or 1,080 vertical lines). You may also encounter resolutions such as 1024x768 in some panels. That will not give you a true 16x9 aspect ratio and is not recommended.

 

Image Retention

Plasma technology has a tendency for image retention also known as "ghosting, image shadowing or burn in." This is when a static image remaining on the screen too long may remain slightly visible temporarily or even permanently. The damaged or "burned in" pixels have developed a sort of "memory" of the color information that was repeatedly fed to it in a static manner over a period of time. That phosphor color information has actually become etched into the plasma TV’s glass. Once these phosphors are damaged, they cannot give the same output as the other phosphors around them do. A common occurrence for this are network logos or “bugs” in the corner of your screen, computer icons on a desktop or screen interfaces from video games.

Recent advances have come a long way to combat this issue. Most modern sets have technology that periodically moves the screen image slightly (invisible to the human eye) to combat this issue. Many broadcasters have become aware of this and move their logos and other static imagery in a similar manner. Next generation console gaming is also sensitive to the issue with many games having various option to remove static elements from the display or contain other methods to reduce the occurrence of burn in.

The largest concern for burn in is still the first 100-200 hours of viewing when the phosphors are still fresh. So take extra caution for the first month or two of viewing.

Life span

Although the gap is steadily closing, plasmas are subject to something called a half-life when performance is rated. This is how many hours of estimated viewing you can achieve before the brightness is reduced by half. Early plasma panels had half-lives of only several thousand hours, but modern panels boast anywhere from 30,000-60,000 hours which is on par with current LCDs lamp life ratings.

Screen Glare

It's surprising how little this issue can come up when comparing the two technologies. Where plasmas excel in darker rooms with their deeper blacks and higher contrast, they are less effective in very brightly lit rooms. The plasma panels tend to be of a reflective nature, which means the reflections in the glass can affect your viewing, much the same way an old CRT could. An LCD panel is not reflective, and does not suffer from the same issue, providing a better alternative in rooms with large amounts of light, especially natural light.

That BUZZING Noise

As a last note, it’s been reported that plasma has an issue in very high altitudes where air-pressure differential can cause the sets to emit an annoying "buzzing: noise. Some manufacturers claim to have compensated for this, however, if you live in a high altitude, keep it in mind when examining sets at your local retailer.

The Low Down

As every person’s demands and viewing situations are different, it's impossible to say what technology is a clear winner. All you can do is evaluate your needs and make the most educated choice. Either way, it's hard to believe you will be disappointed.

Below is a quick reference and summary for each technology.

PLASMAS

-Lower Cost
-Better average viewing angles
-Typically higher contrast ratios and deeper black levels
-Typically better colour saturation

LCDs

-Little to no chance of image retention
-Better range of sizes
-Typically lighter weight
-Better in room with large amounts of light (artificial or natural)
-Arguably longer life span

 

 


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