LCD vs. Plasma- The Pros and Cons

November 27th, 2006 · 84 Comments · LCD Flat Panel, Plasma

Large screen high-definition flat panels make the top ten list in “must purchase” surveys this year-and for good reason. They bring a Jetsons-like future to the present, with the best models delivering bright, clear, sharp high-definition pictures with deep colors and rich life like sound, while they take up less space in the home. This guide will help you clear through confusing technical jargon and find a flat-panel TV that suits your viewing habits and lifestyle.Weighing the Pros and Cons
Many people become confused by what type of flat-panel TV—plasma or LCD—they should purchase. The technology you pick will depend on a number of factors, including screen size, viewing conditions, price and, ultimately, your perception of which one looks the best.In terms of size, LCD flat-panels start as small as 10 inches and go up to 65 inches. Sets above 52 inches, however, can get expensive. Unlike smaller LCD TVs which typically have old-style 4:3 aspect ratios, all plasmas are widescreen. Plasmas start at 37 inches and go up to 103 inches.

LCD Pros and Cons
LCDs are available in smaller sizes, allowing them to go where a 37-inch plasma will not fit. They also provide incredibly bright images when viewed on center. If you plan on watching your TV in a room with a lot of light, LCD has the edge over plasma, both with its bright picture and its special surface coatings that reduce room reflections.

LCDs generally have slower video response times than plasmas, which is noticeable primarily on sports and fast action scenes. They also have a narrower viewing angle, meaning that as you move off center, the image contrast and brightness drop off. Most LCD panels (as well as plasmas) are factory preset to stand out in the very bright lighting at most stores. When you get them home and out of the box, however, they are way too intense. You should change the menu setting from factory preset (usually Vivid) to Movie, Cinema or Standard (depending on your set) and lower the contrast (also called Picture Control) to the halfway point for the best picture.

If your television is going to be in room with normal lighting, plasma will provide superb image quality, dark blacks and bright whites over the widest viewing angle. However, if you need a screen below 37 inches, LCD is really the only choice available. Enclosed patios, really bright rooms with skylights or untreated windows, and sunny kitchens are all excellent spots for LCD displays of all sizes.

Plasma Pros and Cons
Plasmas have wide viewing angles, meaning you can sit off-center and still see a very good picture. They have high contrast ratios, excellent color, deep blacks, fast response times for viewing scenes with a lot of motion such as sports, and generally lower prices than LCDs above 42 inches. Today’s plasmas have a long life expectancy. Many of the top tier brands are now rated at 60,000 hours, which is equal to over 16 years of use when operating the set 10 hours a day, every day.

Plasma disadvantages are few. In the early days, the most common criticism was that they suffered from “burn-in,” meaning that when a static image such as a video game logo is on the screen for too long, its shadow may linger even after it’s gone. Burn-in really is the uneven wear of the phosphors within the plasma panel. The risk of burn in has been greatly reduced by the set makers and can be minimized with a simple precaution. Like with LCD, upon unpacking and connecting the set, change the “picture mode setting” from factory preset (usually Vivid) to Movie, Cinema or Standard (depending on the TV) and lower the contrast (also called the “picture control”) to about one half level for the best picture.

Choosing The Proper Size Panel
In the age of High Definition TV size matters most. What many shoppers and salesmen don’t realize, buying a screen that is too small or sitting too far away from the display will rob you from seeing all the high definition the set has to offer, thereby wasting your money. HDTV provides a more immersive viewing experience than old style 4:3 standard definition TV, as well more picture detail than you have ever seen on a home display. In order to fully resolve all the detail within HDTV, you must sit in the optimum viewing range. Sit further and your eyes will not be able discern all the detail within the image. There are three levels of resolution for flat TVs. The first level is not HDTV; it is called Enhanced Definition at 480 vertical lines. The two classes of HDTV grade displays are 720p/768p with the display showing either 720 lines (or 768 lines) of resolution from top to bottom and 1080 (i or p), the highest quality HDTV display, with 1080 lines of resolution. For ED sets you can sit as far as 3.4 times the screen diagonal to see all detail. This means up to 142.8 inches (just under 12 feet) from an ED (480p) 42” set. Using the same size screen a 720p/768p you need to be at a viewing distance of at 2.3 times the screen size or closer, which is equal to 96.6 inches or eight feet. With a 1080 (i or p) 42inch set you should at no more than 1.55 times the screen size or 65.1 inches (just under 5½ ft.) to distinguish ever pixel within the image.

(See the HD Guru’s seating chart for the optimum viewing distances with different screen sizes)

Understanding the Features
Monitor or Integrated HDTV
There are a number of high-definition LCD and plasma displays that are sold without tuners. These are called “HD monitors,” and, like a computer monitor, they are useless without a signal source. Most monitors come with speakers, but some do not. With an HD monitor, you must connect it to a high-definition source to receive a true high-definition picture. You have three good high def options— over-the-air tuner box, cable box and satellite. Do not confuse “digital cable” for high definition. Make sure your cable provider is supplying you with a high-definition signal. An integrated HDTV has a built-in digital tuner and can receive over-the-air HD broadcasts.

CableCARD – for cable subscribers a provider leased CableCARD slides into the back of the integrated HDTV. The TV with a CableCARD slot is called DCR for Digital Cable Ready. The CableCARD allows wall hanging of the HDTV without the need of an external cable box. The TV will receive all the SD and HD channels that you subscribe to including the premium ones (HBO, Showtime etc.) and tunes them in using the TVs supplied remote control. A bonus, the lease of the CableCARD is around $1.25-3.95 a month (depending on the cable provider), much less than the cost of leasing a high definition cablebox (around $7-13 month). In tests a CableCARD produced a sharper image than the leased cable boxes the HD Guru has sampled.

TV Guide On Screen (TVGOS) – CableCARD can not pass interactive cable programming, specifically impulse pay-per-view (you will have to call you cable provider to get Wrestlemaniaâ„¢), video on demand or your provider’s interactive program guide. TVGOS provides a full eight-day guide to all the shows and movies including specific program information. It’s free, there’s no subscription and the latest version works flawlessly. It is available on most major cable systems. It also allows automatic recording to a VCR or disc recorder, like a TiVo.

Signal Processing – One of the toughest jobs a HDTV has to do is to convert standard definition and high definition programming to the set’s native resolution, which is fixed at single matrix (such as 1366 x 768p). All standard definition (480i) and most high definition broadcasts (1080i) are interlaced (alternating lines of resolution are broadcast sequentially) but virtually all HDTV panels are progressive (all lines broadcast at the same time).

Sets that don’t properly deinterlace 1080i signals will drop up to one-half of the picture resolution off the screen, providing you far less detail than you paid for. A number of manufacturer recognize how important good signal processing (including proper deinterlacing) to provide the clearest image with all program material. All JVC, Hitachi and Pioneer sets properly deinterlace 1080i content. Some other vendors also include good scalers and you can find out which ones by reading the HD Guru’s test of 61 HDTVs with an in depth technical explanation at http://www.hometheatermag.com/hookmeup/1106hook/

(The HD Guru will be posting test results of another 15 HDTVs very soon)

IEEE 1394/ FireWire – Is the only two-way interface that allows one to record HDTV signals. There are DVHS HD tape recorders from JVC and RCA hard disc drive (HDD) recorder available to archive HDTV broadcast or cable signals, (all leased HD cableboxes must have an active IEEE1394 port according to FCC regulations). Next year HD DVD and Blu-ray recorders are expected to arrive. You will need IEEE 1394 to record a HDTV signal to a disc in high definition.

Myths and Cautions
LCD – The big myth, the liquid will leak out of LCD panels. This is not true; all LCD panels are sealed and never need to be refilled. You should always handle the panel by its frame, never lie the panel face down and never press on the screen. The front glass is very thin (much thinner than the front glass found on Plasma TVs) and cracks quite easily.

Plasma – The big myth, the Plasma gas will leak and need to be recharged. Like LCD, plasma panels are factory sealed and won’t leak or ever need to have the internal gases refilled.

Another myth, Plasma TVs consume more electricity than LCD. Fact, in recent HD GURU tests, plasma TVs used fewer watts of electricity than comparably sized LCD flat panel televisions.

Parts of this article appear with permission from Best Magazine.

© 2006 HD Guru all rights reserved

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84 Comments so far ↓

  • roger

    will having a plasma in freezing temps, affect your tv My plasma is in storage and the temps are below freeezing, will this affect my Plasma

  • Lou

    Hi…nice site. Can you advise me which is a better quality tv – Panasonic RC-P58V10 Flat 58″ plasma or Sharp Aquos lc60E77U 60″ LCD. I want the best… Pls. advise ASAP.
    Thx.

  • Lauren Marz

    Randomly stumbled on this site & very informative. My bf just bought a Panasonic 42′ Viera & it’s a good thing I saw about adjusting the settings since he plays video games sometimes on it. I live on the 2nd level of a condo unit & besides the plasma we have a Samsung 32′ LCD. The 1st Samsung LCD we had made a buzzing sound so we took it back & got a new one. The 2nd one’s been fine so far. My questions to you are…

    1. I have the LCD in the bedroom on a tall stand angled by my window. Will buzzing occur over time if I keep it in this spot?

    2. I am afraid that the Plasma might develop a buzzing over time. Could this happen since I’m on a 2nd level condo unit? Please let me know. Thanks.

  • william

    Hi I am looking at getting a Panosonic Plasma tv.
    It’s a 65″ 1080p, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio 600hz
    Have you heard anything on Panosonic?
    Would this be good purchase?

  • Smokee the Bear

    I am looking to buy a new flat screen and b4 looking at your site had been putting the plasmas a side not even considering them because i had been told that i would get a short lifespan with a plasma. But it seems like i was just misinformed. My last 29″ sylvania Tv from sears is about to go out and that just lasted me 7-8 yrs so if i can get a good quality picture that last 5-6 yrs or more, it would make me a happy man. I think im going to start looking into a plasma, thanks for the info.
    good day

  • WLCH

    sorry guys, missed out the plasma spec. Between TH-P42S10K and PQ30R (LG 42″),which one is better?

  • WLCH

    Hai Guru,

    Just discovering this great site, thanks for your great info and the response from all the readers.

    I’m planning to purchase a 42″ plasma TV between Panasonic and LG in the same price. Which one is better? By the way,
    1) what is the difference of Panasonic 42″ plasma G, S and X series (TH-P42@10K)?
    2) How to diffentiate PDP with Lead and Lead-free?
    3) Heard from the Panasonic sales man saying that the above series had already overcome the burn in mark with “auto white wash” feature, is that true?

    I’m so looking forward Guru or anyone there who can help on my questionaires. Appreciate so much.

    Thank you.

  • Annette

    I am looking at getting a 32″ LCD TV. I saw an RCA model that said it had a built in HDTV tuner. How does that work? I have digital cable hooked up. Would I have to order HDTV from my cable company but not get their HDTV box because the TV already has a tuner? Should I not get that TV because I will have to go thru my cable company anyway and they will give me the proper equipment?
    Thank you for taking the time to help me.
    Annette

  • sherri

    I purchased a Magnavox 42″ Plasma HD TV in March of 2008. This past May while watching TV heard a small pop and what looked like an ink blot started to spread across the screen from the upper left corner and the picture soon vanished although it was not dark. A large crack was visible–but not on the outside. The company first offered to replace the Tv but has sinced said they cannot and will “buy back” the TV instead. They first had a local repair shop pick it up to examine. They concluded it could not be repaired and reported that to Phillips. I am stil waiting for the “buy back” and would like to understand what happened, why and what type TV I should purchase. Is this a common problem, a fluke, caused by any conditions in my cable service or home?

  • Chris

    Hey Guru,
    I recently purchased a 1080p Panny plasma 42 in. t.v. I love the picture in HD and blue-ray movies are great! The only thing i am worried about is playing video games. When i turn the contrast down below 50 or so, the picture quality is not that great. Is there anything i can do to prevent burn in other than turning down the contrast so much? If i limit the playing time will that help? Thank you for your help!

  • Jean-Louis

    Hi HD Guru!

    I just stumbled on your site and am impressed with the quality and thoroughness of your responses. Keep up the good work!

    Shopping for a bigger screen (40-42″?)for our bedroom and seek your advice.

    First, our viewing habits/conditions:

    – Mostly SD cable and some DVD
    – 80% at night in dark room
    – Set placement: 6 to 15 feet from the bed
    – budget is around 800-1000 USD but would love less

    We currently reside on the exotic island of Madagascar, which is VERY far away from any CAPABLE technicians, thus we need a proven set that presents MINIMUM risk of problems (sending out for repairs would involve major hassles).

    Excellent quality and reliability are thus paramount! Decent sound would also be nice.

    Thanks a million!

    Jean-Louis

  • etype2

    Richard, I agree with you and the Guru, that plasma has a a small technical advantage. You need a dedicated home theater with a darkened room. LCD looks better in real world conditions with higher ambient light conditions in your viewing room. The truth be told, plasma is a dying tech. Only 3 manufactures are left to support plasma, Panasonic, Samsung, and LG. Correct me if I am wrong. Right now, LG is considering bailing out of plasma production. Panasonic is holding back on a new plasma plant. Plasma is just not doing well, globely and loseing money. Do you want to invest in plasma? ( It’s like the question with General Motors, do you want to buy a GM product, when a real possibility of GM going bankrupt?) Remember the old story of beta versus VHS? Beta was superior to VHS but lost, why, I won’t get in to it here. That’s another story. Plasma is a hard sell right now. I owned a plasma which failed prematurely. Happy owner of LCD products. The truth be told, the future is in OLED!

  • Richard

    I bought a 42″ Panasonic Plasma EDTV about 6 years ago and have never regretted the fact that it cost me around $6k at the time. It has been a wonderful 6 years of movie and sports viewing. Now its time to update and move the old Plasma to the bedroom.

    I was at Costco today noticed that the only large screen plasma’s still on display were Panasonics. There were a lot of LCD’s on display. While standing there viewing both types, the signal was showing a skydiver who jumped off a cliff and on the LCD screens you could see the pixel problems on the cliffs behind the skydiver. The LCD could not handle the fast moving motion of the background retative to the camera fixated on the falling skydiver. The background on the Plasma was crisp and clear.

    This just reinforces my decision to upgrade to another Panasonic Plasma. I frankly don’t understand why more people are choosing LCD. They just don’t measure up to Plasma sets. I think most people are less well informed on the difference between the two and have been bying the bias toward LCD being pushed by the ad departments of the LCD makers.

    It’s a shame that people are so influenced by false advertising claims when the truth is easy to see in a side by side comparison.

  • Rob

    I must say i learned a lot today reading your info.
    I still have a Hitache 37″ tube (about 16 years old). I was recently thinking of buckling and buying lcd or plasma. However, I’m using standard cable(no HD). I was told by a salesman that in my situation, sticking with my tube would be best. Is this true? Also sooner or later i’ll have to buy one anyway…what’s better for a standard cable plasma or lcd? (42″ to 46″)
    Thanks

  • Vekx

    Where do you all live that the LCD cost LESS than the Plasma tv’s? Possibly it’s different for sizes of 46″ or greater?

  • George

    I have a question: We have a Panasonic 37″ plasma in the living room, and a Sony 46″ LCD Bravia in the entertainment room. They both play good HD pictures. My concern is that while some DVD players produce 2 black side bars when playing a 4:3 movie, some others play with 2 white bars. My Panasonic DMP-BD55K can setup with either black or white side bars. In order to avoid the burn-in happening to the screen, and/or save engergy, should I setup white bars with the SONY LCD, and black bars with the Panasonic Plasma, or the opposite–white with plasma, and black with LCD? HD Guru or anyone else, please tell me. Thanks a lot!!

  • allen

    Please explain if the Samsung anti glare technology is good. I am planning to purchase a 50inch plasma 450 and using it in a well lit room with many windows. The price is great but I am concerened with glare.

  • Jerry

    I have a seven(7) yr. old Panasonic tv CT-32HX40 that poped would never tun on again.What tv would you recommend for replacment? Iset approx.10ft.from the set.

  • David Johnson

    I want to buy a plasma screen because it is alittle cheeper than the LCD. but i live at 6300 ft. I want to know if it will work it is a samsung 50″. or should i just buy the LCD it is $500 more?

  • Joshua

    What do you suggest I purchase for my home? I have a regular lit living room and want the biggest tv possible for under $1200. We don’t watch sports, no video games and have Dish network and a blueray disk player. It would be used for movies and regular dish watching basically. I have tried asking around and local stores but I get such a varied response from salesman becuase they are just pushing their own brands. I neeed an ubiased yet educated opinion.

  • scorpi0

    Ants,

    For your specific purpose, I would recommend an LCD. Because:
    – LCDs usually have higher resolutions relative to Plasma displays of the same size.
    – They don’t have the burn-in problem which might be an issue with still images

    Regards..

  • Ants

    Hi Guru,

    I’m considering using an HDTV (Plasma or LCD) as an ‘expensive’, but versatile picture frame! I know – weird, but there is is.

    So I wish to plug in my USB meory stick with a selection of photos (reduced by photo editing software to match the resolution of the TV), and just let the display scroll gently through them.

    I’m looking at 42″ in particular.

    Any comments or advice and how do I choose between LCD or Plasma?

  • max

    I am looking forward to seeing some commentary from you!

    max
    http://www.thundercardgames.com

  • julia

    Oh yes.. . I am enjoying your other posts too. good coverage dude!

  • chris

    Hi, I was wondering if you know of a TV screen testing DVD. A DVD I could drop in a player hooked up to screens in the store or at a friend’s that would cycle it through colors and quick changes and other tests to evaluate the screen? You know, put it through the paces for comparison… Thanks

  • Markus

    I’m still caught up in the LCD vs Plasma debate. I’m looking at the

    VIZIO VP322 – 32″ Class Plasma HDTV
    and the
    VIZIO VO32L – 32″ Class LCD HDTV

    They are both prized the same just under $600, which is what I can afford. I’m not a video gamer …. just want to use it as a TV. Which would you recommend? And how much is “burn-in” of an issue?

  • Joe Calzone

    Hi,
    May an LCD TV be left in very cold, (-30 f), weather for the winter season?
    wE ARE SEASONAL.
    jOE

  • Gavin Darwin

    Brilliant Website Guru.
    I’m in the market for a new family tv. From all my research I believe the Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A Plasma to the one for me. Yesterday after work I did the huge shop around and after all the advice (mostly consistent) I remain confident that this is the machine for us. Have you tested this model? If so, did you recommend it?
    Many thanks,
    Gavin

  • Ken

    I have bought a playstation 3 and nintendo Wii for my kids. We have about 2-4 old, old TV’s and 1 12 year old 31″ mitsubishi,I would assume that none of them are really any good for gaming and hdtv movies or bluray. So I need some help in buying a new lcd or plasma, the size range i want is 32″-42″
    my price range is under $800. the best I have found so far is 32″ 720p lcd at best buy for $499, 32″ 1080p lcd(memorex) at sears for $549, 37″ 720p lcd at staples, 42 ” plasma 720p at cicuit city for $749, and Iam still looking….plasma or lcd?? what should I look for and does it matter alot on the brand?

  • Karl

    What effect if any will very cold shipping temperatures (-40) have on a plazma TV

  • Jay

    I am trying to decide between these 2 TVs:
    1) 46 Sharp Aquos 1080p LCD HDTV w/NTSC/ATSC/QAM with 10,000:1 contrast ratio for $170 more expensive.
    2) 50″ Samsung Plasma HPT5044 720p w/NTSC/ATSC/QAM with 150000:1 contrast ratio and is $170 less expensive.
    I like big TV and keep it on 15 hours/day in fair light condition. I like sporting events…and currently have standard cable. Which do you reccommend?

  • JSpeedo

    I am truly vacillating back and forth after a month of research. I will sit about 10 – 12 ft away in a two story great room that I will have to place blinds over windows on south side with lots of light coming in, based on your chart and then one from a home theater site I think I need at least a 58″ screen – I was considering a SONYKDL52xbr5 but now it is between Panasonic 58″ TH-58PZ700U or TH-58PZ750U or Sony RPTV Sony KDS-60A3000 (more screen for a whole lot less money). Any advice?

  • Renil

    Dear Guru,
    I had recently purchased sony kdl 40xbr4 and subscribed dishnetwork hd tv. My tv is not performing with sports, movie and also sd programms. Picture is very cloudy, lack of blackness and blurry even with the 120hz feature. I am very upset and confused because of blunder I made. Can you suggest any brand/technology like plasma/dlp over the lcd. Actually I had planned to buy panasonic 42 plasma. What is your opinion of buying good quality hdtv.

  • Judy

    I am interested in buying a 15″ LCD TV with HD. What brand(s) would you recommend and why? I’m having a hard time finding them in my local stores.

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