When deciding to upgrade your television, consumers now have a plethora of options at their local retailer beyond the conventional ‘big screen’ TV. Today's most fashionable televisions are super-thin, flat-panel TVs, available in two varieties: LCD and Plasma. LCD (liquid crystal display) sets appear to be brighter, cheaper in smaller screen sizes, and consume less power at first glance. Plasma (gas-pocket illuminated) flat-panel sets have rich colour reproduction, a wonderfully smooth picture and maintain their image quality better when viewed from an extreme (off-axis) angle.
These luxury television technologies are now becoming more affordable than ever with everyday Australians now considering the value of these products when upgrading their home entertainment setup. Yet, the alluring style and performance of these television units has also brought its challenges – Which technology offers better performance? How long will the television units last? Is there really a television technology that reigns supreme?
According to a report released by the NSW Department of Fair Trading in November 2004, around 30 percent of salespeople surveyed failed to perform to an acceptable level when providing information to customers when making their plasma purchase. Now more than ever, customers need the right information when making such a significant investment in their home entertainment technology.
Following is some information that will better equip customers when making these purchase decisions to ‘separate the fact from the fiction’ in the LCD vs Plasma debate.
The main areas are:
3- Picture Quality
4- Natural Motion
5- Power Consumption
Plasma panels have an average of around 60,000 hours use, before they can be expected to be performing at around half of their original brightness.
Current models have around twice the brightness of those available three years ago. This means that after an average of 60,000 hours use, latest plasma models will still have around the same brightness as a new model from three years ago.
A caution with all plasma displays is to avoid viewing static images for extended periods – that is, avoid viewing paused DVDs, static TV station logos, video games, computer displays, etc over extended periods without a screen saver.
Unbeknownst to many, the same situation also applies to normal CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) TVs (the sets that we’ve been using in Australia since the 1950s), but it takes longer for image retention (screen burn) to occur on those models than on plasma and rear projection TVs.
Although some LCD panels are now also rated at up to 60,000 hours of life, others may still only offer around 20,000 to 30,000 hours.
LCD panels use integrated fluorescent backlights that rely on phosphors to generate light, just as normal CRT TVs and plasma displays use phosphors to generate the picture. The backlight is a major component in an LCD display and many LCD TVs now use a number of smaller backlights to provide more even lighting and reduce backlight replacement costs.
Due to the ongoing rapid price erosion and improvements in LCD technology, it might be preferable to replace the entire LCD with an up-to-date model than to fit a new backlight after many years of use.
Pixel Burn Out / Drop Out
There is a common misconception that both plasma and LCD pixels (picture elements) somehow "burn out" or "drop out". Whilst high precision technology is used in the making of plasma and LCD panels, users sometimes find bright, dark or partially lit spots on the screen. This is a normal limitation of the technologies and manufacturing processes involved. Such pixels are kept to a minimum through strict quality control and are usually not noticeable when viewing normal screen images. These do not indicate a malfunction.
NOTE: Mishandling, twisting, or moving a plasma panel whilst horizontal may cause pixel defects. Damage due to such mishandling is NOT covered by warranty.
Gas Leakage / Wear Out
There is also a common misconception that the gases within a plasma panel somehow leak or wear out over time. This is totally false. As with a conventional CRT TV, the screen phosphors simply wear out over time.
Plasma panels offer a wider range of colours than LCD panels latest models offer up 68.6 billion colours. Plasmas provide wider viewing angles (over 170 degrees) with consistent colour and reproduce deeper blacks since only the required parts of an image are lit, resulting in more dynamic and natural images.
Conventional LCD panels suffer from narrow viewing angles, where colour is often washed out when pictures are viewed from the sides. Since LCD televisions need to block out the bright backlight for any dark areas of an image, they typically do not reproduce blacks quite as well as plasma displays.
The latest LCD televisions also offer up to 1 billion colours, for excellent image quality.
Big screen viewing is best enjoyed when viewing a major sporting event or blockbuster movie. Yet few are aware of the impact their television technologies can have on the quality of their viewing experience.
Plasma displays use phosphors (just like a conventional CRT TV) to provide rapid, natural moving images. This makes plasma displays superior for watching movies or sports action.
While LCD TVs can provide high-resolution images, most cannot provide the natural motion of plasma TVs. Conventional LCD TVs tend to suffer from slow display speeds (response times), often causing ‘dragging’ or ‘ghosting’ of fast moving images, resulting in poor picture quality.
Caution should be taken when comparing power consumption figures.
Plasma displays only emit light where necessary, consuming less power on average when displaying moving images than their peak power ratings indicate. This results in plasma displays being more economical for television viewing, offering lower yearly power consumption in large screen TVs.
Although some LCDs quote lower peak power ratings than similar sized plasma displays, they constantly keep a bright backlight on regardless of the image being displayed. LCD power consumption is always at around the same level, consuming more power on average than high performance plasmas when viewing moving images.
Large screen LCD TVs are currently more expensive than similar sized plasma TVs.
Buyers should beware of apparent bargain-priced plasma displays. These typically offer lower video quality and shorter life. Some models do not even include a television tuner as standard. Remember, not all plasmas are created equal.
Like making any other major purchase, consumers looking to buy a new plasma or LCD television are best advised to research costs in conjunction with the features and performance of each respective television technology.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
We suggest viewing the range of LCD and plasma televisions at a reseller near you and comparing the picture quality with a suitable HDTV source.