The prices of high-definition television (HDTV) have fallen in recent years, while the technology has improved. Whether a shopper is interested in a liquid crystal display (LCD) or plasma HDTV, the choices are plentiful and the pictures are beautiful. There are some key differences, however, that might sway individual consumers one way or the other.
In the past, there were a number of key advantages in buying plasma over LCD HDTV. It was less expensive in larger screen sizes, produced far better blacks than LCD technology, and was considered better for sports fans because action remained clear and crisp. LCD provided a sharper static picture, but it was confined to smaller screen sizes and tended to blur slow panning shots or action. Today’s quality LCD HDTVs have largely corrected these problems while remaining competitively priced through the 55-inch (140-cm) screen size. In many ways, the comparison is a draw and might come down to just one or two points that make one technology or the other the better choice for personal needs.
With the rising cost of electricity, a major plus of LCD HDTV is that it takes less power to run than plasma. One popular 52-inch (132-cm) LCD HDTV model available today uses 219 watts of power, while a comparable 52-inch (132-cm) plasma uses up to 695 watts. If the HDTV will get minimal use, this might not be a factor. For households that will be watching TV day and night, a three-fold difference in electricity can add up.
Another factor is reflection or glare. LCD TV features a plastic screen that is non-reflective, making it ideal for brightly lit rooms like kitchens. It’s also a good choice for living rooms or dens that have windows, sliders, or doors that tend to reflect on the screen. Even lamp placement can cause reflections. When it’s not desirable to rearrange furniture, consider the LCD. Plasma TVs are better suited to low-lit viewing rooms, though manufacturers have countered this LCD advantage by adding non-reflective coatings to some models.
For fast action and sports, plasma continues to hold a slight advantage over LCD, though this isn’t the deciding factor it once was. Plasma displays moving images, fast action and slow pans with equal clarity. Some LCD models feature a 120 Hz refresh rate, intended to eliminate blur in fast images by repainting the screen twice as many times per second as the standard 60 Hz refresh rate. Models with this feature are generally more expensive and some critics claim the difference is negligible, but even without the 120 Hz feature, LCD has improved in this area.
Plasma still wins the prize for better overall static contrast ratios with the ability to produce deeper blacks and brighter whites at the same time within the same scene. LCD has come a long way in this regard, however, and better quality HDTVs with good static contrast ratio specifications will probably more than satisfy most consumers on this point. Plasma is also known for "more natural" coloring, while LCD reds and greens can tend towards hot. A past problem with plasmas was burn in — residual imaging from a static network logo or game counsel, though this has been all but eliminated.
Plasma sets emit more heat than LCDs and most have an internal fan to cool the set when needed. Additionally, they are also heavier than a comparable LCD.
In terms of longevity, both HDTVs will last long enough to satisfy most consumers. Plasma sets have manufacturer ratings of about 60,000 hours to half-life. This represents the point at which the television picture has dimmed to half of its original brightness — but still watchable. LCDs are also rated at about 60,000 hours, but rather than half-life, this is the point where the costly backlight will likely burn out. It will take 27 years to get to the 60,000 hour mark watching TV six hours a day. For someone who might have a set on from morning until bedtime, a plasma will not need replacement in ten years.
When comparing HDTV prices, shoppers should be sure to take into account the resolution of the set. HDTVs with 720p resolutions will be less expensive than comparable models with 1080p. An HDTV with 1080p can display the full resolution of HD DVD and Blu-ray™ discs, while a lower resolution set will down-convert Blu-ray™ or HD DVD to display it at the lesser resolution native to the television. The 720p sets will also downconvert 1080i broadcast signals.
Both types of HDTVs have a lot to offer. For many consumers, the choice will come down to the best bargain one can find for a picture that personally satisfies.