Advantages of LCD over plasma?
September 10, 2009 11:03 PM   Subscribe

For what reason would one buy an LCD TV?

I've finally talked myself into getting one of them fancy digital TVs. So about the first thing I did was research the respective benefits of Plasma and LCD TVs. Here's what I've come up with:

Plasma: Cheaper, wider viewing angle, deeper blacks (i.e. better contrast).

LCD: ??

Supposedly, plasmas were once subject to burn-in, but evidently that's not an issue anymore; and also, plasma screens tend to have a bit more glare in bright rooms. But can't you just close the curtains?

Can anyone tell me why I would want an LCD?

Bonus question: I heard that for some reason, a plasma screen won't display "true" HD (whatever that means) unless the screen is 50" or more. Is that true?
posted by Alaska Jack to Technology (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: LCDs
- have a longer lifespan
- are brighter
- never had the [same severity] of burn-in issue
- are significantly lighter, thus safer / easier to mount on walls, etc.
- still have such a wide viewing angle these days that the difference from LCD to plasma is negligible

At the end of the day, it's really a matter of preference. What do you think looks better at the store, and which one fits your needs the best?

LCDs get brighter, which is more pleasing to the average eye. Videophile "purists" feel that it doesn't look good, and prefer plasma, or LCDs with less brightness.

Also, LCDs are catching up to plasmas in the areas where plasmas once had a distinct advantage. LED-backlit LCD TVs have contrast that rivals that of plasma, for example.

To answer your bonus question: You probably misheard, or heard from someone who misheard... it sounds like what someone was trying to say was this:

1080p, the "highest" HD resolution out there (and progressive, not interlaced, which is 1080i), is not discernable to the vast majority of humans' eyes from lower resolutions unless the TV is amply large and you are sitting amply close. engadget breaks it down quite nicely...
posted by twiggy at 11:11 PM on September 10, 2009

Plasmas are subject to more colour-bleed between dots and they typically use more power than LCDs.

LCDs had a bit of motion blur in the past but this is mostly solved now, and - as you say - their blacks aren't as good. They are however crisp and they use less power, and if you can find a 100Hz LCD that will solve the motion blur problem.

As for "true" HD: HD means either 1080 or 720 vertical lines on a screen, and so "true" HD probably means 1080 vertical lines. The "p" or "i" on the end (eg, 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 720i) means progressive or interlaced, which means that progressive draws every vertical line one after another whereas interlaced means it draws every second line and then goes back to draw the others. Progressive is better.

Unless you can find a bargain plasma then LCDs are better.

(I've made a few generalisations in this post, sorry)
posted by holloway at 11:15 PM on September 10, 2009

The fundamental technology behind LCD permits smaller pixels than plasma, which is to say higher pixel density. That can mean a smoother looking picture, and it means you can fit 1080 vertical lines onto a smaller display with LCD.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:17 PM on September 10, 2009

Best answer: LCDs used to be cheaper, I think they just got the distinction of being "HDTVs". For weird reasons, I ende dup owning a 42" LCD Samsung one year and a 42" Plasma Samsung the next. The Plasma seemed to have a clearer picture and better colors, but that could have been confirmation bias. Honestly, I doubt I could have told the difference in a 'blind' test. We just got a killer deal on the Plasma.

At this point in time most of Plasma' traditional benefits have largely been eroded by the major R&D focus on LCDs. Get whichever is cheaper.
posted by GilloD at 11:17 PM on September 10, 2009

Plasma TVs can put out a lot of heat, which isn't as much of a problem with LCDs or if you live above a certain latitude.

Plasma screens have smoother movement, mostly only going to notice this if you're a video gamer.

LCDs use less power.
posted by Locobot at 11:24 PM on September 10, 2009

More efficient
Screen not distractingly reflective
posted by bjrubble at 11:34 PM on September 10, 2009

Best answer: I heard that for some reason, a plasma screen won't display "true" HD (whatever that means) unless the screen is 50" or more. Is that true?

False - it's just traditionally 1080p plasmas weren't made <>
Picture wise - there is no advantage to LCD. The technology isn't there. Until LCD can have per pixel backlight control, it will never have as good picture quality.

It's all about applying "fixes" to compete - 120hz, LED backlight, edge-lit LED, and now local dimmed LED.

Otherwise, its all non-picture advantages.

LCD: Lighter, thinner, less heat, lower power, come in smaller sizes.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:54 PM on September 10, 2009

err: *traditionally 1080p plasmas weren't made under 50", there are plenty now.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:55 PM on September 10, 2009

LCDs are cheaper here I think. Personally I prefer Plasmas visually, but most modern TV fuck with the picture far too much for my liking. This is especially true of Plasma, LCD and (now) OLED, because they have to process the image to deal with interlaced video on a progressive display... Along the way they dynamically alter the colour, apply edge enhancement, reduce overscan... And other things that are incredibly annoying when you spend all day everyday trying your hardest to make TV progams look good! </rant>
posted by sycophant at 12:29 AM on September 11, 2009

I haven't bought a TV in a while, but it used to be that LCDs were significantly cheaper. That's why you tolerated all their less-good aspects.
posted by gjc at 2:19 AM on September 11, 2009

Are you going to hook up your X-Box etc.? Those things can burn in an image on a plasma, although not so much on the newer ones. Plasma is still probably better in a room with bright sun, but its performance issues over LCD have greatly diminished as of late. I wouldn't go shopping looking for a particular format as much as getting your best TV all things considered.
posted by caddis at 3:53 AM on September 11, 2009

My sister, who works for a major electronics retailer here in the US, gave me this advice when I was pondering the same question - if the room is dark, get a plasma TV. If the room has any light that would reflect on the TV itself (windows, room lighting, etc), get an LCD.

Since our TV is in a well lit room, we got a 1080p 120Hz Sharp LCD with a Blu-ray player, and have been more than happy with the results. One of my cousins has a dark room for his home theater setup with a plasma TV, and in that setting it is spectacular. But the plasma TV in his well-lit den has a lot of reflection on the screen and is not as spectacular in comparison.
posted by ralan at 5:15 AM on September 11, 2009

If Europe is anything to go by (and we had widescreen first, digital TV first, cellphone first..) then plasmas are pretty much going to die. Plasmas are woefully unpopular here. Plasma might be better in a number of ways - and so was Betamax - but not by enough to make it worthwhile.

The people (and there seem to be plenty of them in LCD vs Plasma articles) saying that HD is pointless on TVs under 42" or so are idiots. You can easily see the difference between SD and HD on even a 32" screen (where LCDs easily outdo plasmas).

I'd say that if you want a > 42" screen, plasma has enough benefits to perhaps make it worthwhile, but lower than that, LCD holds strong advantages.
posted by wackybrit at 5:27 AM on September 11, 2009

For what it is worth, a friend of mine works on the production side of TV. He was set on a LCD. Then he researched the technical pros and cons of LCDs and Plasma. He ended up agreeing with sycophant and bought a plasma. At least in his expert opinion, LCDs are not a good buy in the US.
posted by vincele at 5:36 AM on September 11, 2009

Not to be picky, but the 720/1080 thing is horizontal lines... there aren't any vertical lines on a TV... horizontal lines spaced vertically.
posted by FauxScot at 5:46 AM on September 11, 2009

LCDs look better. Please don't buy a plasma.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:14 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

One vote here for plasma (I have a recent Panasonic model). Natural looking picture, with fewer visual artifacts that the average over-processed LCD, good colour reproduction with very deep blacks. Reflection is not a problem - I think they use glass that's less reflective than previous models.
posted by leebree at 6:21 AM on September 11, 2009

turkeyphant, and others: Plasmas have a higher maximum power consumption, but the thing to keep in mind is that ACTUAL plasma TV power consumption is based on the average brightness of the image currently being displayed.

This is not the case with LCDs - they use a constant amount of power all the time, because their backlight is always on. Plasmas don't have a backlight, they individually light each pixel. So if you're watching a dark movie, plasma power consumption tends to be less than even LCD. But for normal day-to-day viewing, they are pretty equal.
posted by lohmannn at 6:33 AM on September 11, 2009

Furthermore, that scary-looking graph linked by turkeyphant is pretty stupid. My plasma uses less than 1 watt in standby mode, as any other new model will.
posted by lohmannn at 6:35 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think plasma looks much better, for all the reasons leebree mentioned. And burn-in is really not an issue anymore these days unless you're displaying a static image for eight hours a day.

And regarding power consumption, why not let the individual decide whether or not they want to spend the extra money on their electric bill? Ours hasn't gone up by much since we got the plasma.
posted by joshrholloway at 7:00 AM on September 11, 2009

Get plasma if you have a 2-year old that might take a hairbrush to the screen...
posted by zeikka at 7:11 AM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: Wow so many great comments! After going through them, I'm inclined to think that frankly, I'd be perfectly happy with either one -- that's it more about how much I like an individual model than whether it's plasma or LCD. Thank you all very much!

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 7:18 AM on September 11, 2009

If you want a smaller TV (<42"), you have no choice but LCD. LCD displays generally use less power than plasma. LCD's may be better in a bright room, since they tend to be brighter than plasmas, and many LCD's also come with a matte, anti-glare screen that can show fewer reflections than a plasma's glass screen.
posted by andrewraff at 7:18 AM on September 11, 2009

It all depends on which lcd panel your compairing a plasma to. C cheap lcd panel like a vizio a plasma will win all the time.

Now a tv like the Samsung 6000 series edge lit a lot of comparisons pretty much put them equal. Plasma better for blacks and other things the 6000 and above is better at.

It all comes down to how much you have to spend. at the $2000 price point and above with new models the led (edge and back lit) are now compairable to plasmas.

If you dont have a lot to spend then get a plasma. Just beware of burn in. I have seen even new plasmas get horrible burn in.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:37 AM on September 11, 2009

I have seen the end-result of burn-in on a plasma TV. Imagine watching TV and seeing the HUD from your favorite video game translucent and overlaid on the picture. I have no idea if/how this issue has been addressed in newer models, but it is something you should learn about before committing to plasma. Anything with a static display would do it back in the day: video games, cable box menus, channels with static info like the Weather Channel or news channels with their little ticker boxes, etc.

I've had an LCD TV for about 3 years now and it is still working great. It is comparable in picture quality to all my friends HDTVs, including their plasmas and even one CRT. Being LCD I use it as a computer monitor as well without fear of burn-in. (Nothing quite like WoW, Unreal Tourney, or Civ on a giant arse TV!) At the time of purchase I did a lot of research and here is a good rule of thumb: For TVs under 40" 720p is fine, if you plan on getting something over 40" go for 1080p. And if you watch a lot of sports something with a 120Hz+ refresh rate is probably the way to go.

Side note: If you are looking for a Bluray player there is no reason not to get a PS3. Most people don't realize that amongst its many features is the ability to stream video from a remote computer on your home network. Really nice and at the same price as a decent stand-alone player it is hard to pass up.
posted by Gainesvillain at 8:15 AM on September 11, 2009

Just wanted to chime in that when I've gone comparison-viewing in stores, one thing I sometimes see on LCDs that I never see in plasmas is the anti-alias "jaggies" on fonts and lettering. (Like, where the curve of a "D" has noticeable stairstep effect.) I haven't seen that on all LCDs - mostly on lesser known brands and less expensive models - but I've definitely never seen it happen on a plasma.
posted by dnash at 8:23 AM on September 11, 2009

To add- the in-unit processing is a big part of the issue too. Good processing can overcome the LCD motion artifacts. Bad processing can make any tv look terrible. (Like the $499 1080p LCD- it WILL look awful on everything.)

Go to the Best Buy or wherever and watch the wall of TVs when they are all playing the same thing. Note that some TVs are a few frames ahead or behind the others. And note the differences in smoothness and edges and anti-aliasing and so forth. I've seen big differences that really didn't track to price or size or even technology. It was more manufacturer based- the Samsungs were yucky, but the Panasonics were beautiful. (And there was, inexplicably, a Polaroid that looked the best.)

Another thing to watch for is how the TV upscales/downscales content that isn't in its native format. Not sure if it's still an issue, but there used to be a problem where some "1080" displays were really 1050 or something. You had two options- losing those 30 lines, or a horrible, awful, ugly rescale of the image that made it look like mud. Similarly, a cheaper TV might look great displaying a 1080 image, but turn to vomit on any other format. Better units will use better processors that make it look better.

Burn-in- still an issue. A friend on mine got one recently and after a few weeks of use, there was a slight burn-in of pillar bars from watching 4:3 unstretched.

And the anti-aliasing is an issue, but I think that's dependent on the specific panel that is used. A really large panel won't look very good close up, generally.

(I'm really sad that the ol' three chip DLP machines didn't get more popular. I always thought they had a really nice picture, especially for the price...)
posted by gjc at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2009

I spent a long time deciding on a big screen HDTV 2 years ago. I ended up with a 52" Sony Bravia LCD (W3000). I love it. At the time, 120Hz was the newest technology, claiming to make the motion smoother. But, comparing them at the stores, I didn't see any huge benefit for the cost. Now, most LCDs are incorporating this technology.

After two years of use, I rarely see a motion blur, and only in very darkest of scenes. As far as contrast is concerned... my $2500 TV has better contrast than my friends' newer $6000 65" plasma. Our viewing areas are very similar when it comes to lighting. Samsungs seem to have very good contrast as well. And LCD's have only gotten better with contrast. My friend's plasma supposedly has the anti-burn-in feature, but you can still see a ghosting/burning effect for a couple seconds after an static image disappears.

I think the average person would be happy with about any new HDTV these days. If you're as picky as me, you should probably just go to stores and compare the TVs with your own eyes. Write down the model, and then search for the best deal.
posted by Swede78 at 9:18 AM on September 11, 2009

I would like to add a few comments (I own a 42" Panasonic Plasma):

Burn-in: Be careful not to confuse burn-in with image retention. Basically, image retention is temporary (a few seconds to several minutes), and burn-in is permanent. I have seen both LCDs and Plasmas suffer from image retention, and it isn't a big deal at all. Basically, if you leave a static image up for a long time, and then go to an all-white screen or something, you can see a faint outline of the image that fades after a few minutes. Not a big deal.

Burn-in can be serious, and most enthusiasts seem to recommend that during the first 100 hours of use, you avoid static displays. I don't know if this is even an issue anymore at all with new sets, I can tell you that my roommate passed out drunk and left a menu on the screen overnight, with no ill effects. But I watch a mix of 4:3 content (black bars on either side) and true widescreen, which fills the display.

Contrast: Not sure what specific sets Swede78 is referring to above, but in general, plasmas dominate LCDs when it comes to real contrast (as well as accurate color reproduction), specifically in being able to show deep blacks. Be wary of stated contrast, they use tricky things like dynamic contrast and other nonsense. I'm not sure that contrast measurements across brands and technologies are consistant.

gjc brings up several great points about resolution. I would check to see the output resolution of whatever device will be feeding your TV the most, and make sure your TV can match it exactly. You will want to try and feed the display with whatever is its native resolution, just like an LCD monitor for your computer. Doing that can avoid many of the processing and scaling issues that people are complaining about above.

I'm sure you'll be happy with whatever you end up getting, the technologies are both pretty advanced at this point. Be sure to check out for more information than you could read in a lifetime about all of these issues and more.
posted by lohmannn at 9:47 AM on September 11, 2009

Good points above. Also, when I was researching this a few years ago, the consensus was that plasmas were not as energy efficient as LCDs.
posted by uaudio at 10:17 AM on September 11, 2009

They recently remodeled the lobby at work and installed new 50"+ plasma displays (Samsungs, IIRC). I can actually feel the heat coming off the displays as I walk past them, which doesn't speak well for the amount of power they're consuming.
posted by Lazlo at 1:11 PM on September 11, 2009

Seriously, the latest generation of LCDs is so good that it hardly makes a difference. Get a good Sony or Sharp, don't sweat it, and you will love it.

I'm sure that plasmas will look better in some situations, but it's hardly worth the extra power consumption. I think the quality difference is pretty small these days.

BTW, you can't really reliably compare TVs by looking at them in the store. Usually the brightness and color are pumped up to look good in the store, or are otherwise set up in an unrealistic way.You can tell the really bad ones and the really good ones, but that's about it.

Be sure to set aside some money for a Blu-ray player, they really are worth it.
posted by kenliu at 7:25 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, many more great comments!

Mostly I've been looking at Samsungs. My local Fred Meyer was just featuring the 50" plasma 550 ($900) and 560s ($1000) at big discounts. HOWEVER ... I passed. I'm going to wait and see what Costco does over black friday and the first part of December. I mean, it's not like waiting is going to kill me.

And to tell the truth, 50" is really overkill for me. My CRT is 29". I'd be more comfortable with something in the 42-46" Range.

Thanks again for all the help!

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 9:44 PM on September 11, 2009

Not to be picky, but the 720/1080 thing is horizontal lines... there aren't any vertical lines on a TV... horizontal lines spaced vertically.

Actually in digital video there is absolute measurements in both dimensions. Digital displays aren't drawn on a line-by-line basis like CRTs. There are no lines, vertical or horizontal, just pixels.

But we express the resolution in horizontal lines (vertical resolution basically), because in analgue television there isn't really any fixed horizontal resolution in an analogue signal, although modulation frequencies of various television systems impose a maximum definition (or resolution).
posted by sycophant at 11:57 PM on September 11, 2009

If you intend to watch captioning, don’t buy a plasma, because it will burn in.
posted by joeclark at 12:17 PM on September 12, 2009

Response by poster: @joeclark

Yikes - really? My wife turns on the captions all the time!
posted by Alaska Jack at 11:29 PM on September 17, 2009

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