When deciding which HDTV to buy, it is important to understand the quality, power consumption and price of Plasma and LCD/LED TVs. Plasma TVs have an edge over LCD TVs in terms of overall picture quality but LCDs are catching up with improvements like LED backlighting. The main difference lies in the display technology. Plasma displays uses a matrix of tiny gas plasma cells that are charged by precise electrical voltages to emit light and create the picture image. In other words, each picture element in a plasma TV display acts as a miniature light source.

Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) panels - work by trapping a liquid crystal solution between two sheets of polarized glass. When an electric current passes through the liquid crystals, they rotate causing a change in the polarization of the light passing through them in response to the applied voltage. This results in more or less light passing through the polarized glass to reach the face of the display. LCD panels do not generate light - rather they filter or subtract light produced by a backlight source to create the image on the panel surface.

Comparison chart

LCD TV versus Plasma TV comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartLCD TVPlasma TV
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Thickness Minimum 1 inch Minimum 1.2 inches
Power consumption Requires less power to operate when compared to plasma, but more than OLED TVs Consumes slightly more power than an LCD TV. Modern plasma displays receive high Energy Star (US) ratings.
Screen size 13 - 57 inches 42 inches and above
Burn-in Not an issue Burn-in is rare on newer plasma TVs with anti-burn-in features, but was somewhat common on old plasma TVs.
Cost Much cheaper Cheaper than LED-lit TVs
Life span 50,000 - 100, 000 hours Around 20, 000 – 60,000 hours
Viewing angle Up to 165°, Picture suffers from the side Plasma TVs look the same from almost any angle
Backlight Yes No
LCD TV

Difference in Picture Quality

Here is how LCD and Plasma TVs stack up in terms of all the various elements that determine picture quality.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio is a measure to compare the darkest black with the whitest white. Plasma TVs score well on this parameter with a contrast ratio of up to 3000:1. LCD TVs have a contrast ratio of up to 1000:1; however, this metric is calculated differently for LCDs so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Plasma TVs, in general, offer a better contrast than LCDs.

Burn-in

Older models of Plasma TVs can suffer from burn-in produced by static images. After extended periods, stationary images 'burn in' the screen and produce an after-image ghost which remains permanently on the screen. This no longer affects new Plasma displays, as they continually shift the image around to prevent the image from being stationary.

LCD TVs do not suffer from burn-in. However, it is possible for individual pixels on an LCD screen to burn out. This causes small, visible, black or white dots to appear on the screen.

Deeper Blacks in Plasma TVs

Plasma TVs are capable of displaying deeper blacks. Improved black levels help render better those difficult-to-define quality attributes like picture depth, scene detail - especially in television and movie scenes where lots of dark and light content is shown simultaneously, and color richness. Indirectly, a better black level also leads to better rendering of picture contrast.

In comparison, the nature of LCD technology – where a backlight shines through the LCD layer – makes it hard for it to achieve true blacks, i.e. true absence of light. There is always some light leakage from adjacent picture elements in an LCD panel.

Color in Plasma vs. LCD screens

LCD TV displays reproduce colours by manipulating light waves and subtracting colours from white light. This makes it more difficult for maintaining colour accuracy and vibrancy. But, LCD TVs have colour information benefits from the higher-than-average number of pixels per square inch found in their displays.

In plasma TVs, each pixel contains red, green, and blue elements, which work in conjunction to create 16.77 million colours. Colour information is more accurately reproduced with plasma TV technology than it is with any other display technology, including LCD TVs.

Screen Refresh Rates

Plasma TV displays refresh and handle rapid movements in video about as well as normal CRT TVs. LCD TVs were originally designed for computer data displays, and not video. Refresh rates are therefore not as good, but LCD TVs are fast catching up.

Readiness for HDTV

Most LCD televisions already have built-in standard TV tuners (HDTV tuners are usually built in these days as well, but not in all of them)

Differences in Life span

LCD TVs life span is typically 50,000-60,000 hours, which equates to about 6 years of 24/7 use. However, LCD TVs will actually last as long as its backlight does, and those bulbs can be replaced - so in essence there's nothing which can wear out.

The life span for Plasma TVs is 25,000 to 30,000 hours, which equates to about 3 years of 24/7 usage before the TV fades to half the original brightness.

Mercury Use

Plasma TVs do not use Mercury while LCD TVs do in their CCFL backlight. However, this issue is a red herring. Most common high-efficieny phosphorescent lamps use mercury and it is not a big deal. The amount of mercury used in LCD TVs is very small and besides, the user never comes in contact with it.

Videos explaining the differences

Here are some more YouTube videos that explain the differences between LCD and Plasma TVs.

Where to buy

Most electronics retailers carry both LCD and Plasma TVs, including Best Buy, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, Dell, Target, P.C. Richard & Son, Sears, Costco and hhgregg.com.

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