December 26, 2007

Plasma or LCD - Which TV to buy !

If you're in the market for a flat screen television for a home theater, then you
probably have one million dollar question you want answered: Plasma OR LCD, which
TV is right for me?

The two different camps of flat panel display standard will, of
course, gladly spruik the advantages of their own standard and the
deficiencies of the other. But which type of display, plasma or LCD, is
better? And which will give you more bang for your buck?

1. Ok Lets check whats the difference between Plasma and LCD first?

Plasma and LCD panels may look similar, but the flat screen and
thin profile is where the similarities end. Plasma screens, as its name
suggests, uses a matrix of tiny gas plasma cells charged by precise
electrical voltages to create a picture. LCD screens (liquid crystal
display) are in layman's terms sandwiches made up of liquid crystal
pushed in the space between two glass plates. Images are created by
varying the amount electrical charge applied to the crystals. Each
technology has its strengths and weaknesses, as you'll read below.

2. Now, how do plasma and LCD screens give a different picture quality than normal CRT TVs?

It's not what's happening behind the screen that's important - it's
how the screen performs as a television that matters the most. In that
regard, both plasma and LCD sets produce excellent pictures, although
many home entertainment specialists and gamers still say CRTs produce
the best overall images (although the latest plasmas are particularly good, and LCD sets are quickly catching up in terms of quality).

Those same home entertainment specialists will tell you that for
basic home theatre-like usage, plasma screens have a slight edge over
LCDs. This is because plasma screens can display blacks more accurately
than LCDs can, which means better contrast and detail in dark-coloured
television or movie scenes. The nature of LCD technology, where a
backlight shines through the LCD layer, means it's hard for it to
achieve true blacks because there's always some light leakage from
between pixels. This is steadily improving with every new generation of
LCD, however.

3. Advantages of plasma over LCD

Apart from better contrast due to its ability to show deeper
blacks, plasma screens typically have better viewing angles than LCD.
Viewing angles are how far you can sit on either side of a screen
before the picture's quality is affected. You tend to see some
brightness and colour shift when you're on too far of an angle with
LCDs, while a plasma's picture remains fairly solid. This is steadily
changing, however, with more and more LCDs entering the market with
viewing angles equal to or greater than some plasmas. Plasmas can also
produce a brighter colour, once again due to light leakage on an LCD
affecting its colour saturation.

The contrast is equivalent to the best CRT TVs. The main
reason for that is the high quality of the blacks: A pixel that's
switched off emits no light at all, contrary to the way an LCD pixel
works. Plasma TVs also have better brightness performance than CRT
monitors, achieving values of 900 to 1000 nits.

Also note that plasma displays can have very large diagonal
measurements (32 to 50 inches) with minimal thickness. That's a
decisive advantage over CRTs, which as you know get very bulky in
larger sizes.

Plasma gurus will also tell you that some LCD screens
have a tendency to blur images, particularly during fast moving scenes
in movies or in sports. While that was true for older generation LCD
screens, newer models have improved significantly -- so much so that
the differences in performance between LCDs and plasmas in this regard
is almost negligible (here's a tip -- if you're shopping for LCDs,
check the pixel response time, measured in ms. The lower it is, the
better the image quality in fast moving scenes).

Traditionally, the biggest advantage plasmas have had over their LCD
cousins is price, particularly in the large screen end of the market.
In the past 12 months, this has changed, with LCDs matching or even
beating plasmas in both resolution and price.

LCDs, on the other hand, generally top out around the 52-inch mark but are incredibly competitive with similar-sized plasmas.

4. Advantages of LCD over plasma

Apart from being price competitive, LCD has the edge over plasma in several other key areas. LCDs tend to have higher native resolution than plasmas of similar size, which means more pixels on a screen.

LCDs also tend to consume less power than plasma screens, with
some estimates ranging that power saving at up to 30 per cent less than
plasma. LCDs are also generally lighter than similar sized plasmas,
making it easier to move around or wall mount.

LCD gurus also point to the fact that LCDs have a longer
lifespan than plasma screens. This was true of earlier plasma models,
which would lose half of their brightness after more than 20,000 hours
of viewing. Later plasma generations have bumped that up to anything
between 30,000 and 60,000 hours. LCDs, on the other hand, are
guaranteed for 60,000 hours.

You might have also heard that plasmas suffer from screen burn in,
an affliction not as commonly associated with LCDs. Screen burn in
occurs when an image is left too long on a screen, resulting in a ghost
of that image burned in permanently. Newer plasmas are less susceptible
to this thanks to improved technology and features such as screen
savers, but burn-in is still a problem. But after a few days of use
most burnt-in images will fade -- they are no longer permanent.

In general, LCD-based solutions are less expensive than plasma TVs,
but naturally, market factors have to be taken into account. When
there's a shortage of panels, even lower-cost technologies can reach
exorbitant prices. We saw that happen a little over a year ago.

In terms of image quality, LCDs offer better brightness than CRT
displays. And LCD pixels don't flicker, which means they can be used
close up, creating a better immersion experience.

LCD TVs have exceptional image stability, meaning you can sit close
and not experience eye fatigue. In addition, the brightness is
excellent and the image is perfectly sharp. Add to that the reasonable
production price - barring shortages - and reduced footprint, and you
can see that LCD has a lot going for it.

5. The answer to the million dollar question - Which is better value for me right now: plasma or LCD?

If you're in the market for a big screen television -- and we're
talking 50-inches and above -- then we'd suggest plasma as a safe bet.
Plasmas give you more bang for your buck at the big end of town, and
while LCDs can give you better resolution, plasma still has the edge in
terms of picture quality. One other thing to look for, whether you opt
for plasma or LCD, is an integrated tuner -- many TVs still have
analogue tuners, which look pretty terrible on a large screen. Try to
get a model with an inbuilt HD tuner if you can.

At the smaller end of things (15" to 42" TVs), LCD is the only way
to go if you want something slim and tasteful. And the best thing is
that LCDs are getting cheaper all the time.

6. Do I need to buy 1080p?

If you're a true high-def junkie who's keen to see every pixel of a
high-res 1080i/p image reproduced pixel-by-pixel (providing you have a
source that high, of course), then LCDs are seemingly the way to go.
However, top-of-the line plasmas will also display 1080p content, so
the choice isn't as easy as it once was.

Despite the current HD Buzz, there is still very little content available in 1080p -- especially
compared to the infinite amount of SD content like TV programs and
DVDs. Though buying 1080p now may mean you get some degree of
futureproofing, you may not be getting the best picture. It's not all
about the resolution. For example, one of the best TVs we've seen yet
is only 720p (HD) compliant and yet 1080p content still looks better on it than on any LCD you
could name. Unless you measure your screen size in metres, 1368 x 768
resolution could still be enough for your needs.