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Plasma vs LCD TV
- Find The Best HDTV For You

Plasma vs LCD TV is seen by many as the only choice when it comes to choosing flat screen TVs.

Actually, the our guide to HDTV shows us there are actually other ways to watch high-definition television that are worth considering. However, plasma and LCD TVs are still the front-runners in the HDTV market for many people.

Elsewhere on the site, we have looked in detail at both flat screen LCD TVs and plasmas, and have discussed the various pros and cons of the two technologies.

However, here we will break it down to a simple head to head battle between the two in order to make the comparison easier.

The main thing to remember is that there isn't always a clear "this is better than that" answer. The two technologies will both give you an excellent picture, but if you want to narrow it down to the very best choice for you, then these are the main areas to look out for.

So what are we looking for when we try to compare these flat panel TVs?

Screen size

LCD TVs are available in smaller sizes than plasma, so an LCD wins if you want a TV smaller than 37 inches.

You can get a small LCD TV starting at around 10 inches - and going up to a whopping 70 inch LCD.

Flat screen TV screen size

The smallest plasma TV starts at around 37 inches and goes up to about 65 inches (although Panasonic do make one that is 103 inches - but that's not really a realistic choice for your average home theater!).

However, plasma TVs are generally cheaper than LCD TVs at larger screen sizes.

 Winner: Plasma (larger screens) LCD (smaller screens)

Thickness and weight

The thickness and weight of LCD TVs and plasma TVs are broadly similar (for a comparable screen size).

However, in a straight choice of plasma vs LCD, you would expect an LCD screen to be slightly thinner and lighter than its plasma counterpart - which may make it easier to install in your room.

An LCD screen will be in the range of 2-6 inches thick, while a plasma will be more like 4-8 inches thick.

However, an LCD TV that has an LED backlight (which is becoming more common), will definitely be thinner than a plasma TV.

Samsung's LED 7000 Series LED TVs are about one inch thick.

Around the 40 inch screen size range, LCDs are generally lighter than plasmas - but as the screen size increases to the 50 inch range, the isn't much to choose between the two in terms of weight.

 Winner: LCD

Contrast ratio

The contrast ratio is the difference between how dark the blacks are, and how bright the whites are in a TV picture.

A higher contrast ratio will appear to give a better image that will seem more natural to the human eye.

Plasma TVs have always provided an excellent contrast ratio due to the nature of the technology - therefore a plasma TV has always been well thought of for the quality of the image.

Flat screen LCD TVs have always had issues with contrast ratios because the image is created by using a light from behind the screen. This makes it difficult to get very dark blacks, and this will more noticeable with dark images on the screen than with a light image - or with an image that has a mixture of bright and dark parts at the same time.

As with every issue here, LCD manufacturers are constantly trying to improve the technology to get better contrast ratios - and the major brands are much better than they used to be.

However, it's best to take all the manufacturers quoted contrast ratios with a pinch of salt, and go and have a look for yourself. That's the best way to see which technology you prefer.

An added complication to this issue is the ambient light in a room.

An LCD TV screen will reflect less light from the room - and screen reflection has always been a problem for plasma TVs.

Therefore, no matter how good the contrast ratio is for a plasma TV, if it is in a very bright room then the image will probably look worse than on an LCD TV.

 Winner: Plasma (for normal and low-light conditions) LCD (for bright rooms

Colour spectrum

This argument is very similar to that of the contrast ratio.

A plasma TV has the ability to accurately show over 16 million colours, and it has always been highly regarded when comparing the colour reproduction to that of LCD TVs.

When the superb colour reproduction is coupled with the excellent contrast ratio, many people agree that the picture of a plasma TV has the edge over an LCD screen when they are compared side by side. Although that is not the same as saying the LCD TV will produce a bad picture!

However, when we also take into account the issues with ambient room lighting that we mentioned in the section on contrast ratio - then the answer is the same.

The LCD TV picture will often appear better in light rooms as it doesn't reflect light off the screen in the same way as a plasma TV.

 Winner: Plasma (for normal and low-light conditions) LCD (for bright rooms

Refresh rates

Both LCD and plasma TVs will offer high refresh rates such as 100Hz (PAL image) or 120Hz (NTSC image).

Newer models may claim even faster refresh rates using various digital image processing techniques.

High refresh rates can help to eliminate motion blur in fast-moving images, similar to the issues related to response times.

This is a tie, as both types will offer similar features.

 Winner: Tie

Viewing angle

By viewing angle I mean, can you still see a good picture if you are sat to one side of the screen while watching it?

Due to different room shapes and sizes, it is not always possible for everybody to be sat directly in front of the TV.

A plasma TV has traditionally held the edge in this regard.

The way plasma technology works means that you will see an excellent picture at pretty much any angle you are positioned at. This is because the plasma cells in the screen emit light directly from each cell.

90 degree TV viewing angle 90 Degree TV Viewing Angle

With LCD TVs, the light is emitted from a point behind each pixel, therefore LCD TVs have always had issues with losing contrast and colour when viewed at an angle.

Beyond a 90 degree viewing angle you can often start to lose contrast and colour.

Many new LCD models will now quote viewing angles comparable with plasma TVs, so it's an area the manufacturers have been trying to improve.

However, for this type of issue, it is something I would rather check out for myself in a store, rather than rely on numbers quoted by manufacturers.

It's easy enough to check - just wander around the LCD TV department at your local audio-visual store and keep an eye on the picture (try not to attract the attention of the security guard!).

 Winner: Plasma (but LCD is improving)

Power consumption

These days, power conservation and eco-friendly products are becoming more and more important.

Therefore, the amount of power drawn by our TVs as they get larger and larger in size is definitely an issue to think about.

Firstly, plasma and LCD TVs will both have different settings where you can change the amount of power they use.

There will usually be an 'eco-mode' which will use less power, and it is not usually necessary to use 'dynamic' or 'shop' modes in your home as these are really only meant for displaying the TV in audio-visual showrooms (with lots of bright fluorescent lights).

However, a plasma TV will generally have a higher power rating than an equivalent LCD TV - and so the LCD TV should prove slightly cheaper to run.

Be careful when comparing power ratings however, as a plasma TV will use a different amount of power depending on the type of image it is showing (more for bright images, less for dark images), whereas an LCD TV will draw a fixed amount of power.

Therefore, the average power use over time may be closer than the power rating may suggest.

 Winner: LCD

Response time

The response time refers to how quickly a pixel in a display can change from one colour to another.

If the response time is too slow, then with fast moving images, you may see a slight blurring of the image as the pixels cannot change colour quickly enough to show the movement.

This effect is often called motion blur.

Plasma TV technology has always been better than LCD TVs in this respect as the plasma cells are able to change colours quicker than with a backlit LCD pixel.

For everyday TV viewing there will be little difference between the two technologies.

However, if you are watching fast-moving images like sporting events, or are playing video games with graphic intensive images - then a plasma TV is likely to have the edge in performance over an LCD screen.

 Winner: Plasma

Screen burn

Screen burn is caused by leaving a static image on a TV screen for a length of time.

This image can be retained by the screen (or 'burnt-in') even after the TV is switched off - and it could then be visible while viewing other TV images.

LCD screens have never been prone to screen burn - this is a phenomenon that affects only plasma TVs due to the way the plasma technology works.

New plasma TV technology has tried to stop this effect from happening - and you will find it is nowhere near the problem it used to be a few years ago.

However, it is still wise to be careful with a new plasma TV - and a plasma may not be the right choice for you if plan on using your TV screen as a computer monitor.

 Winner: LCD

Plasma vs LCD TV Summary

So who is the winner here, plasma or LCD TV?

Well, the answer is neither is 'better', but you can see that there is a difference between the two.

You will hear many different reasons why you should buy one or the other.

The main thing to remember is that flat screen LCD TVs and plasmas will both give you a pretty darn good picture. So don't lose too much sleep over this choice. Much will depend on how critical you are over the details.

If you compare the two side by side, and can't really tell much difference - then that's fine. It's not a competition!

However, the differences between the two are there if you really want to find exactly the right choice for you - but in many cases the best choice may come down to the room you are putting it in, or the way you will be watching it, rather than the TV technology itself.

Hopefully this look at plasma vs LCD TV has given you an idea of some things that you can look out for when choosing a flat screen television.

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