Although having a seemingly endless array of flat-panel options is a nice problem to have, that doesn't make the TV selection process any less confusing. Between plasma, LCD and LED LCD, you have three core technologies with multiple additional considerations such as room placement, connectivity, size and core picture quality strengths for each. Understanding these issues prior to going shopping helps you make a fast and sure decision on your next television.
Plasma, LCD and LED LCD each offer their own strengths and weaknesses. Plasma sets use phosphor, the same material used to illuminate tube-based televisions for decades. Plasma televisions are usually heavier and less energy-efficient than LCD or LED LCD. However, plasma televisions tend to be less expensive overall compared to alternatives. LCD and LED LCD use liquid crystal panels that twist and untwist depending on the level of current passing through it. Although the core technology is the same between the two iterations, the primary difference lies with backlighting: LCD uses rows of fluorescent lamps and LED LCD uses long-lasting light emitting diodes.
LCD flat panels normally have a matte, glare-resistant screen. Some LED-based LCDs do have a more glossy screen protector over the matte screen and have a diffusive coating, but the effect is similar to the screens found on plasma sets. Although these coatings are reasonably effective, rooms with bright artificial lighting or large windows are best served with an LCD set featuring a matte, satin-like screen. However, these screens are more susceptible to damage because they have no protective shield. If most viewing is done with controlled lighting, the deep blacks and accurate colors offered by plasma offset the non-reflective screen and higher brightness levels offered by LCD technology.
In the past, LCD and plasma sets suffered from what is commonly referred to as the "screen-door effect," a result of too few pixels on screens 50 inches and above. As you moved further away, this effect was minimized. With either LCD or plasma technologies, 1080p resolution on sets 42 inches and above do not suffer from this issue, with the exception found on mammoth and expensive 100-inch or greater displays. The advantage of this densely packed image is you can choose the set that fits your aesthetic room requirements, personal taste and viewing comfort without unsightly picture artifact side-effects.
Black Level and Color Accuracy
Plasma televisions offer a level of black unmatched by current LCD technology. Since all colors are influenced by black, white and the grayscale in between, this in theory means more accurate color. LCD televisions do offer a generally brighter image. Secondary backlighting in LCD sets, whether sourced from fluorescent lamps or LEDs, cause blacks and colors to shift when viewed off-axis. To the viewer, blacks become increasingly purple, with colors appearing to drift orange. Plasma color and blacks remain uniform when viewed at all angles.
All flat panels offer a comprehensive suite of audio/video connections, including component video and HDMI. Ethernet and USB ports offer additional Internet and network-based entertainment avenues. Connecting your flat panel to your network allows streaming of Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and a host of other applications. Also offered by these sets are weather, world time and gaming apps, similar to the type found on your smartphone. You can also stream content from your PC, including home movies, pictures and music.
Refresh Rate and 3D Technology
Much ado is made about refresh rate, specifically on LCD technology. The reason is early versions of the technology made fast motion almost unwatchable, suffering from blurred images and stuttering scrolling text. Increasing the refresh rate from 60 Hz to 120 Hz, 240 Hz and 480 Hz solved many of these issues, but sometimes imparts a "home movie" look to the images. Plasma technology routinely operates at 600 Hz, never really having a severe problem with fast on-screen motion. LCD crystal response time has ironically improved concurrently with the evolution of video frame refresh, making better 60 Hz sets very watchable. If the high refresh effect bothers you, you can turn it off in the user menu. Sets featuring 3-D technology also offer higher refresh rates, in addition to the increased image depth offered when used with the set's proprietary glasses.
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