The war between plasma and LCD flat-panel TVs rages on, and no doubt you've heard the propaganda from both camps. While LCD has traditionally been more expensive than plasma at the larger sizes, that gap is diminishing -making other factors such as performance and features more significant. We'll take you through the pros and cons of each technology to help you make the important decision: whether to buy a plasma or LCD television?
Plasma Flat Panels
• Better contrast and deeper blacks. Plasma displays are known for their deep, inky-black levels, which result in better contrast and a more three-dimensional picture. Panasonic and Pioneer are especially well known for their sets' high-quality black levels, setting the standard for all other plasma sets.
By comparison, LCDs have a more difficult time "turning off" their backlighting mechanisms for a truly dark image. On the other hand, they are generally brighter than plasma displays, and therefore perform better in situations where there is a lot of ambient light (more on that later).
• Don't suffer from motion blur on action. Due to technical reasons we won't get into here, LCDs are often victims of motion blur- aka image smearing - which results in fast-action or sports footage looking blurry or smeared across the screen. In a very bad case, if a golf ball is flying through the sky, you might see a comet-like trail behind it.
• Unlimited viewing angle. Unlike LCDs, off-axis viewing of a plasma set will look the same as if you were looking at the plasma sitting directly in front of it. In short, image quality is consistent from any seat in the house.
• Cost slightly less than LCD sets. While the difference in price is shrinking, plasmas are slightly less expensive than LCDs, especially at larger sizes. However, this doesn't necessarily apply to top-end models.
• Short-term image retention a possibility. Plasmas have always gotten a bad rap for burn-in or image retention: When an image, such as a station logo or stock ticker, remains on the screen for too long, you may see a faint ghost of the image after it disappears. For most good plasma displays though, this is a non-issue, and any ghosting that appears should quickly go away. A lot of manufacturers use screen savers if an image is paused for too long to prevent image retention.
• Screens can suffer from glare in bright rooms. Plasma TVs' glass panels are known to reflect light and make them harder to watch in a bright room. Many manufacturers are using special techniques to minimize reflections, however, and some of them, such as Panasonic's anti-reflective filter, minimize these reflections and improve performance in brighter rooms. Look for antiglare options when you are shopping for a plasma TV.
• Use slightly more power than LCD displays per square inch.
• Fewer choices. LCD panels are everywhere and come in a wider variety of sizes. There is a little less variety to choose from when it comes to picking a plasma display.
The bottom line:
While we could take the stance that both technologies are equally good, and the choice is up to your personal preference, we won't go for the easy cop-out. The fact is, plasmas have a slight edge when it comes to a truly cinematic picture. If you are a cinephile who likes to watch a lot of different film sources such as Blu-ray discs or DVDs, plasma is your best bet - especially if you have some control over ambient light. The technology's deeper blacks, sharper contrast and absence of motion blur make it ideal for almost any application. Just watch out for image glare on untreated plasma displays, and make sure your plasma can stand up to the amount of uncontrollable light in your room.
• Brighter images. LCD panels offer brighter pictures than plasma, making them great models for viewing in a well-lit room.
• No screen reflection. LCD televisions' matte screens don't fall prey to screen glare like plasma displays do. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, so be on the lookout for that errant non-matte screen when shopping for an LCD.
• No risk of image retention. Unlike plasma, there is absolutely no fear of image retention on an LCD display.
• Slightly lower power consumption. In a world that is becoming more energy-conscious with every passing day, consuming less power is a strong selling point. However, almost every manufacturer-plasma and LCD- is incorporating special energy-saving modes into their sets. Check power-consumption ratings and features before you buy.
• Limited viewing angle. LCD TVs' viewing angles are not as wide as plasmas. This means that if you are sitting off to the sides of the TV (or below it), the image may appear somewhat off in terms of color, contrast, and brightness.
• Blacks are not as deep as plasmas. LCDs don't begin to compare with plasmas in the black-level department. However, there are some new LCDs that use light emitting diode technology (LED) to more effectively "turn off" the black parts of the image during dark moments. These models are relatively expensive, however.
• Can suffer from motion blur. While motion blur or image smearing can be a factor when watching fast-moving action on an LCD, most manufacturers have introduced frame-interpolation technology into their LCD sets that add frames to double or even quadruple LCD's 60Hz frame rate. If motion blur is a concern, demo the LCD using sports source material. Most consumers won't notice motion blur on a screen with frame-interpolation technology.
The bottom line
While LCDs have a slight disadvantage when it comes to watching cinematic content, they do have their benefits. They can stand up to almost any viewing environment, such as watching a football game during broad daylight in a room flooded with natural light. If this sounds like your viewing space, LCD may be the way to go. Additionally, if you are looking for an HDTV at a smaller screen size, then LCD is the only way to go, as plasmas are not manufactured below 42 inches. You have a lot more choice when it comes to picking an LCD panel, and most of them are quite good, especially those from Samsung, Sony, and Sharp.[u][u]