Do I want to buy a Plasma, LCD or LED TV?

This seems to be the biggest debate amongst consumers and also TV sales people these days – what technology to buy? First off before I get started, I want to set something straight regarding LED TVs. They are not a new television technology, LED TVs are just LCD TVs using LED lights, which we’ve all come to know as being more energy efficient in this time of going green – keep in mind that you’re going to pay for it though. You’ll discover quickly I’m a big fan of plasma, for numerous reasons that you will see below.

Let’s get into the technologies:
LCD/LED – LCD televisions can deliver a great image in screen sizes upwards of 70″, but are really best suited for screens under 42″. The basic way LCD TVs work is that they have a backlight behind the screen that consists of long CCFL or LED light bulbs – some will be on the edge of the screen, these are known as Edge-Lit screens. In front of the bulbs are a series of what we’ll call ribbons of Red, Green and Blue Liquid Crystal that act like “shutters” in front of the lights. These shutters open and close together to allow various shades of light to come through at a given time on the screen. To create white they open all the way; to create black they completely close. This is where I have a problem with the LCD/LED technologies – the motion that occurs from the opening and closing of the LCD panels themselves is not as sharp or clear as other technologies. Yes, they can deliver an amazing picture, but if you’re a sports fan or hardcore movie buff then the LCD screen may not be best for you. Also, due to the before mentioned lighting and shutter technology implemented in LCDs you will also see that the viewing angles on LCDs are not as strong as Plasma sets – currently its not that big of a deal, but when 3D products start hitting the market this summer that will be a huge deal. I realize that LCDs are outselling plasmas at a high pace, but this is also do to the fact that there are hundreds of companies making LCDs in screen sizes from 7″ to 70″. For smaller screen sizes LCDs are great because the motion blur that occurs is more difficult to see, and because its the only technology you can get at this point. LCD televisions are also having to add a lot more “gimmicks” to the sets to keep up with the picture quality of plasma, and even DLP screens. When you see 120 Hz, 240 Hz, and Vizio is even claiming a 480 Hz screen, this is all something that the companies are adding to “enhance” the picture to meet the speed that plasma offers. Anytime you see these numbers in the LCD specs it comes from an adding of frames that aren’t actually there to either double, or in some cases quadruple the frame rate on the screen. This is also why the motion on LCD sets can look a little cartoonish at times because you are seeing created frames.

Benefits of LCD:
- Screen sizes that are available 7″ – 70″
- Price points available – with the amount of third and fourth tier companies making LCDs these days prices are bottoming out
- LCD/LED products are slightly more energy efficient than some plasma brands
- Small enough to put in a kids room or office to be used as a TV and a Computer Monitor
- Extremely bright (only really beneficial on the sales floor, you’re not going to watch it in vivid mode at home)
- Matte Screen tends to absorb light instead of reflect it. However, many of the LCD products are adding a shiny/plexi type screen to enhance the contrast – this creates a ton of glare.
- 50,000 – 60,000 Hour Life Expectancy (6 Hours per day will give you about 15 years of life)

Negatives of LCD -
- Larger screen sizes get very expensive
- Motion blur can make it difficult to watch favorite events
- Viewing from an angle will cause colors to change
- Response times are 1/4 as fast as 5 year old DLP and Plasma sets (important for gamers)
- Cost more to operate than some plasma brands once you get around 46″ and up
- Screens are very easy to damage – if you have kids, large dogs, or a Wii of which I have all this can be very important
- Are also capable of having burn in – check the first page of every manual they all say don’t leave static images on screen for long periods of time, but let’s get something straight none of our TVs are being used as Airport monitors so burn-in isn’t going to be a problem unless you abuse your TV, or leave the menu from a DVD movie on screen for a week or so.

Plasma – I can’t believe how many misconceptions and myths are still out there regarding this technology. Think of a plasma TV as that CRT tube that you’ve had your entire life, only that it’s recently had gastric bypass surgery and lost a lot of weight. A plasma television is the replacement of the old CRT tubes in regards to delivering the best picture possible. A plasma TV image is created by the ignition of a plasma pixel by electricity. There are millions of red, green and blue pixels that make up a plasma screen that are lit up or turned off when necessary to create the colors of the image. To create a bright white every pixel is illuminated to full power, and to create black the opposite occurs. It is because of this that Plasmas create the best contrast of any TV out there today, and also part of the reason there is still so many myths as well. Most people see the power supply on these sets and think that they are constantly drawing a ton of power, and that’s simply not the case. This is one the aspects of plasma people are unaware of – the power of the set goes up and down based on what is occurring on the screen, unlike an LCD TV that uses 100% power all the time. So that I don’t spend a lot of time on this, just check out Consumer Reports or CNET or Home Theater Magazine for power ratings and you’ll see that the difference in price for yearly operation is $2-$10 difference for same size products and in a lot of cases the plasma screens from Panasonic are more energy efficient than LCDs that are smaller!
So moving on from power – let’s get into more aspects. Plasma sets come in at screen sizes of 42″ to 65″ for general consumer use, but can also get much larger. 2 years ago if you were to walk into a retail store you would see a plasma TV cost quite a bit more than a LCD of the same size, but now that’s not the case at all – you can save a dramatic amount by purchasing a plasma and get a much better picture. I mentioned earlier the way plasma works and how they can create a great black level and how the pixels are lit up when necessary, this also lends to the speed of the plasma sets themselves. You’ll see a few manufacturers saying 600 Hz for plasma – this isn’t a gimmick like LCD, its more of a push back at LCD companies clever marketing. Due to the response time of plasma screens being less than 1ms, adding frames is not necessary. So to explain the 600 Hz as easy as possible – the TVs do what is referred to as sub field processing. They take the one frame of signal that is 60 Hz and break it into tenths (1/10), then analyze each of the tenths at 60 Hz each, thus making 600 Hz. Its done just to clean up the picture even more, giving you the best picture possible. The other benefits of all this technology is an amazing picture for everything you’re watching, a fantastic viewing angle from anywhere in the room, great speed for gamers – especially if you play online (you’ll actually be ahead of other players on other technologies), and in the case of Panasonic very energy efficient. If you look at reviews from trusted sites like CNET.com, Home Theater Mag, Sound and Vision, and even Consumer Reports – they all recommend buying a plasma over an LCD.

Benefits of Plasma:
- Biggest Screens for the best price
- Fastest image creation for sports, movies and games
- Widest viewing angle with every person seeing the same image from everywhere in the room
- Very strong screens
- Anti-Reflective coating on some panels that reduce or eliminate reflections and glare
- Some brands are more energy efficient than LCD sets (primarily Panasonic as they are the industry leader in Plasma)
- Best contrast ratio of any technology
- Cost and Performance best of all technologies
- Have eliminated burn in concerns for everyday users

Negatives of Plasma:
- Still have a bad reputation from early generation companies that are no longer around
- A little heavier than similar sized LCD sets (5 – 15 pounds)
- Not all plasma sets are created equal – Panasonic, LG and Samsung are the only three making plasma. (Panasonic leads the way by far in all technologies – LG would be second, and Samsung really focuses on LCD products but also makes plasma)
- Can have issues with reflections in bright rooms (most people have blinds and/or curtains though)
- Do not come any smaller than 42″
- Not recommended to be used as digital signage or where the same image will be on screen all day for weeks at a time

As you can see, I definitely favor plasma as the best picture technology, and if you talk to anyone that really knows what’s going on in the market, and that understands the differences they will always recommend a plasma television to you. As a current owner of plasma and LCD sets, and a previous owner of DLP sets I can assure you that the best picture on my plasma screens, whether I’m playing games with the kids, watching a broadcast sitcom or a blu-ray disc.

I hope this helped a little with some of the questions that you may have had, and maybe to eliminate some of the misconceptions you may have had regarding plasma. Here’s a little food for thought: If you go into Best Buy right now, you can get the Panasonic TH-P50G10 (50″) for $1500 or less if its on sale (the TH-P58S1 for $2500), or you can pick up one of the comparable (feature wise) LED based LCDs from Samsung or Sony in a 46″ screen size for $2500 or 55″ for $3300. The only benefit of the LED product is that it will save you about $12 a year on your energy bill and will be a little thinner profile. It will take you up to 100 years to make up that cost difference!!!!

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