Flat-panel HDTVs have taken over the television market. However, which type of flat-panel HDTV should you choose: LCD or plasma? Screens come in many different sizes, with the largest consumer panel topping out at about 70 inches. In this tutorial, we'll discuss which format works best for your living space.
Best value under 42 inches: LCD
The most common LCD HDTVs are no larger than 42-inch diagonal in screen size (although 52-inchers are becoming more popular). Avoid LCDs under 32 inches for hi-def playback, they are too small to offer noticeable performance advantages over the non-HD models. LCDs have the best value proposition in terms of quality, size and price for small to midsize sets under 42 inches. They are best suited to small apartments and bedrooms.
Best value over 42 inches: Plasma
Plasma HDTVs are available in sizes from roughly 40 to 60 inches. For panels 50 inches and up, plasmas generally provide better value dollar per inch. These TVs will work best in large rooms which can be easily darkened -- this is due to plasmas being typically more reflective than LCDs. The best options for display sizes over 52-inches are home theatre projectors and rear-projection TVs. However, rear-pros have been phased by most vendors here in Australia.
Plasma display composition
LCD uses sheets of sandwiched liquid crystal to form its display, with illumination provided by a fluorescent or LED backlight. Plasmas, on the other hand, activate tiny tubes of self-illuminating neon gas -- much like CRTs. This produces visible differences in picture quality, including deeper blacks, when compared to LCD HDTVs.
LCDs are thinner, lighter and easier to wall-mount, have adjustable backlighting, and are available in 1080p resolution at smaller sizes. Also, they better fill the spaces between pixels, avoiding plasma's screen-door effect.
Another advantage is that they generally more energy-efficient, thus easier on the electricity bill. However, this also depends on size, brand and standby-mode power consumption.
LCD's biggest flaw is motion blurring caused by slow-moving liquid crystals, although this is less of a problem now with ultra-fast response time and frame-rate doubling technologies (called 100Hz). Compared to plasmas, LCDs also have limited viewing angles and greyish reproduction of blacks.
Because they don't use backlighting, plasma's have superior black-level reproduction. This provides more numerous shades of grey and makes dark colours more realistic. Plasma also looks good from just about any viewing angle.
Plasma's biggest weakness is the screen door effect (i.e. noticeable space between pixels). Some models may also emit an audible buzz during normal viewing.
Although not seen as often in recent models, they can also suffer from burn-in or image retention. This occurs when a sharp defined graphics remains permanently onscreen even after changing channels.