Wednesday, September 9, 2009

LCD vs. Plasma TV's

Many people come to me for advice about general electronics purchases. One of the common questions I receive is "Which is better, LCD or Plasma?" My answer? It depends on how you are going to use it. The arguments below are based on my research on the subject from sources like Sound & Vision, Consumer Reports, Cnet, and others.

The argument for LCD
  1. LCDs are brighter than plasma and their screens are less reflective. This means they'll look better in a bright room or even outside if you are creating an outdoor lounge.
  2. LCDs typically use less power, but the difference is probably not significant unless you leave your LCD on for long periods of time, like for use as a computer monitor.
  3. LCDs are less susceptible to burn-in. This remains true, although testing has shown that the new plasmas have many features to make it a very low risk for your TV. However, if you want to use it as a computer monitor or for video games where there are fixed images displayed for prolonged periods of time, LCD is probably still the way to go.
  4. Plasma TVs seem to be going by the wayside which means LCDs will probably be in the marketplace much longer and your LCD TV will still be worth something if you want to sell it down the road because you want to upgrade to the latest technology.
The argument for Plasma
  1. You get more TV for your money with a Plasma TV. A 50" 1080p plasma may cost $1000 while a 52" 1080p LCD may cost $1500. The price gap is getting smaller, however, and will continue to get more competitive over time.
  2. Plasma TVs are better than LCD at displaying the deep blacks and have better contrast which creates more realistic and natural images especially in dim lighting. This means they'll look better in dark rooms like a home theater or when watching movies with the lights turned low or off.
  3. Plasmas also produce fast motion images without blurring much better than LCD. They say 120Hz and greater LCDs are showing improvement in that area, but are still subpar compared to plasma. So if you'll be watching a lot of sports and action movies, you're better off with plasma.
  4. Plasma TVs have a virtually unlimited viewing angle. You'll want a plasma if you are planning a Super Bowl party or having a bunch of friends over to watch a movie and not everyone will be able to sit front & center.
The myth of longevity

Many people will try and tell you that the life expectancy of an LCD is 2-3 times greater than a Plasma. That may have been true with early models but is now no longer an advantage exclusively held by LCD technology. An example demonstrating the effective life expectancy of plasma televisions I read about is the use of the Panasonic Tau plasma by In Motion Pictures at major airports around the country. Although most of the earlier Tau models have now been replaced by a newer model, these plasma displays were used for 5 years and were the first generation of plasma displays to go a considerable distance. The TVs were run from 6AM until 10PM daily (16 hours), putting them in use by for about 30,000 hours. 30,000 hours equates to a life expectancy of about 25 years for a home owner that watches 3 hours of television per day.

If you still have qualms about the longevity of a plasma, remember the adage "you pay for what you get". Not all plasmas are created equal, and not all LCDs are created equal. If you want a TV that you can feel good about the quality of the product and how long you think it will last, pay a little more and you usually won't regret it.