If you’re looking to buy a flat-screen television, you probably have already asked yourself which is better, Plasma or LCD. We shall attempt to shed some light on this subject for you.
Nuts and Bolts – The technology of LCD and Plasma Systems
While both Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and Plasma panels look similar there is a fundamental difference in the way they work. Both use precise electrical charges to control a matrix of cells to produce a picture. However, in the case of plasma screens the cell contains plasma gas while the LCD cell is a fine layer of liquid crystal held between two layers of glass. This fundamental difference produces differing results which have advantages and disadvantages depending on their application. So let’s try and find out which system is best for your needs.
Picture This – Comparing Image Quality
If this article was about Flat Screens verses Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TV sets there would be no contest. Both Plasma and LCD screens produce far superior and accurate images than the older CRT technology can hope to – with a greatly reduced footprint. But here we are interested in the the relative merits of flat screens. There used to be an easy quality distinction to make between LCD and plasma screens based on the amount of light each system produces from its cells. Plasma used to have the advantage of producing a brighter image due to the inherent property of its cells to produce their own light. In order to produce a visible image LCD cells have to be lit from behind – traditionally by fluorescent tubes. This has the disadvantage that even black cells have a little light bleeding through them which reduces contrast. However, backlight technology for LCD has improved significantly in recent years with the introduction of LED banks replacing the older fluorescent tube system. The result is that there is negligible difference in the quality of blacks between the two systems – although purists will still tell you that Plasma rules this roost.
Cooking with Gas – The advantages of Plasma
We have covered the advantage of better contrast control with Plasma’s ability to produce blacks that are deeper and more true. Another advantage of gas over crystal is that it reacts to electrical stimuli faster. In ordinary terms this means that it can turn on and off faster. This speed advantage reduces the blurring effect that some flat screens produce when displaying fast moving images. As with the backlight technology issue, advances in LCD technology has reduced the millisecond response gap between Plasma and LCD cells to such a minimal level so as to be almost indistinguishable. Of course our purist friends will continue to argue the toss and will be more than happy to produce millisecond response charts to prove their point. For us mere mortals the difference would be hard to find with the naked eye.
Plasma enthusiasts are quick to point out that their preferred system has a better image fidelity at wider viewing angles. We’ve all seen the effect on flat screen pictures as we move farther to the side of the panel. The brightness and contrast begin to significantly deteriorate and eventually we experience what some describe as a ‘solarising effect’ where the darker end of the image spectrum inverts and all sorts of weird effects are produced. Historically this was always more problematic in LCD systems with plasma being able to produce a far more true image at far greater angles. But, we are going to have to say it again; advances in LCD technology…well, you know the rest.
Crystal Clear – The Advantages of LCD
The major advantage of LCD over plasma is that the system is far more compact and individual cells can be faithfully reproduced at smaller sizes. Another advantage is that LCD screens can make use of plastic where Plasma uses glass. What does this mean? It means that you can get more pixels into a smaller screen size, which means better resolution the amount of space you have. It also means that the units are less bulky, lighter and produce smaller footprints. Need to save space? Need a TV for your caravan? Buy LCD.
Fans of LCD will be more than happy to point out that Plasma screens experience something called ‘screen burn-in’, something unassociated with LCD screens. This phenomenon is caused when a single image is left on screen for a long period which burns a ‘ghost’ of that image into the plasma cells. In the past this became such an issue on computer monitors that it gave rise the ‘screensaver’, which is now more a novelty than a system for actually saving your screen from burn-in. Plasma had made huge advances in reducing this effect, it is now hardly an issue worth worrying about.
Are you an eco-warrior? Do you check that every appliance is turned off at night? Then LCD may be for you. LCD screens consume far less power than their Plasma cousins and produce less heat. LCD screens also have a longer life span lasting up to three times the number of hours it takes to loose half their brightness than Plasma screens. This not only gives Liquid Crystal the moral high ground in the green debate but also makes LCD screens more economical to run with less power demands and longer periods between renewals.
Pocket the difference – What about cost?
Plasma has an increasing cost advantage as the screen size gets bigger, so much so that the price of LCDs beyond the 50 inch mark become almost ludicrous. This is why plasma has become synonymous with large screen entertainment. At the small screen end of the market it becomes a much harder fight with LCD units producing good economic results especially when taking into account their longer lifespan and reduce energy consumption.
Skip to the end – Which is best for me?
If you are turning your front room into your own sports bar and fill you wall with premiership footy or perhaps you’re trying to recreate the golden age of cinema; then plasma is probably for you. Unless you are seriously loaded LCD is simply far to costly for screens over 50 inches to be viable for most pockets.
If you are after something sleek, elegant and compact to compliment your minimalist living arrangements or just need to conserve space on your narrow boat then LCD is more likely to suit your needs. And, you can say you’re saving the planet at the same time.
Another consideration is light. Do you live in a dark dungeon with only candles to light your way or do you live in a glass solarium surrounded by blinding sunlight? The argument over which platform performs best in strong light goes back and forth with each new generation of screen and each new technological advance. Plasma used to have an edge in the light until LCD produced LED backlighting. There was also the issue of Plasma screens being glass as opposed to LCD plastics so you’d have to worry about the position of possible ref elections but then Pioneer brought out their non-reflective Kuro plasma range and we are back where we started. The answer is that it is much of a muchness, but if you have the opportunity to test and compare the two systems in a similar environment to your chosen location then take advantage of this and decide for yourself which best suits your environment.
Finally there is the HD issue. At the moment there is little HD content available to take advantage of LCDs dominance in the resolution stakes but 1080p will eventually become the standard signal resolution. If it were the case now then we would recommend LCD for its native ability to apply pixel for pixel resolutions at lower cost. However plasma manufacturers are producing ever higher resolution screens at ever smaller sizes and will be able to produce screens that don’t require ‘scalers’ to watch HD. By the time HD becomes the norm, we predict there will be little to choose between the two platforms in this regard.
If you’re a dedicated techie and simply have to know that you are seeing every pixel, get the LCD. If you don’t mind a bit of scaling but just want your picture really big stick with the plasma.
Source by Stuart Raw