LED vs LCD vs Plasma: What’s the Diff?

LED vs LCD vs Plasma

When shopping for a flat-screen TV, the question is — LED vs LCD vs plasma: Who wins? The specifications and science behind each option is rarely explained, even though all three options have been in place for years now. This makes it tricky to pick between them for the average consumer. So instead of picking the newest option or the one that looks the best after a casual glance under storefront lights, learn a little about each technology, so you can pick out the best one for your entertainment system today.

LED vs LCD vs Plasma: Pick Your Pleasure!

Plasma: The First Flat Screen

Plasma screens use cells, with each cell filled with a mixture of xenon and neon gases. That massive layer of cells is trapped between two panes of glass. These gas cells work naturally well on large-screen TVs and were one of the first big flat-screen TV options. Because the gases themselves glow when they are charged with electrical currents, the TV does not need any backlighting and modern plasma screens tend to offer crisp, fast-moving images.

Plasma screens have distinct advantages and distinct issues. On the side of the advantages, plasmas are able to effortlessly produce deep black colors that options such as LCDs simply cannot match, which is great for heightened realism.

Plasmas also work well with quick action seen in sports and the more dynamic movies. However, on the negative side, plasma screens tend to be a bit bulkier than other flat screens and take more power to run. They also have a limited lifespan and picture quality degrades very quickly compared to the more popular options. Older plasmas had similar issues with burn-in and image retention problems. Strangely enough, the gas-cell method also experiences problems in higher altitudes because of the differences in air pressure, so plasmas must be rated for a specific elevation.

LCD: The Affordable Liquid Crystal Display

LCD screens are made from a liquid crystal fluid that is carefully caught between two polarizing panes. When an electrical current is channeled through the liquid, the crystals shift to align in specific patterns, refracting light in specific, predictable ways. HDTVs that use LCD technology use an active matrix that can easily produce a variety of colors. However, the LCD screen on its own does not produce any light — it needs an exterior source of light behind it shining through the liquid. For these reasons, LCD TVs have a background bar of light, typically along the top or sides of the TV.

LCD was a technology developed after plasma televisions came out. LCD screens are so versatile they are seen in a wide variety of electronics. They are easy to produce and tend to cost less than equivalent plasma TVs. They last longer than plasma TVs and are less subject to problems – not to mention more lightweight and easier to hang from the wall. However, LCDs do have a few problems of their own.

Their viewing angles are not great — you really need to be sitting in front of the TV to get a good picture. Also, LCD displays struggle to handle contrasts and black shades well. Often, blacks look more like grays compared to the deep blacks of plasma TVs.

LED: Light Emitting Diodes for Energy Savings

LED technology sends an electrical current through a special diode that is doped with a specific mixture of elements. In most diodes, the resistance the electricity encounters, as it passes through, turns into heat. The special formula of LEDs turns that resistance into light instead. As far as the display goes, it uses precisely the same technology as LCD TVs, with one specific difference: Those top and side bar-shaped lights are replaced with a full LED panel. This relatively recent creation ensures that light passes evenly through the LCD panel at all points.

In the LED vs LCD vs plasma battle, the LED panel is the newest entrant, and adds several advantages. It costs less energy than both plasma and traditional LCD displays, while increasing image quality and making the TV even thinner and more lightweight. The light level can also be controlled based on the darkness of the room. The LED light also solves many of the contrast problems of the traditional LCD format, creating deeper blacks more comparable to plasma displays. The viewing angle, however, remains narrow.

So Which is Best? A Closer Look

Cost: HDTVs range broadly in costs based on size and quality. Shelling out several thousand dollars for a high-quality TV is a safe bet no matter which option you choose. However, LCD TVs tend to be the cheapest, unless you go for an older plasma model. LED TVs tend to be the most expensive by a significant margin.

Performance: If the choice is between a plasma and an LCD TV, choose the plasma for performance and picture quality. If the choice is between an LCD and LED TV, choose LED. Plasmas and LED TVs have very similar picture quality. Plasma enthusiasts will say that modern plasmas still offer deeper blacks and better motion control, but it is a difficult detail to notice casually.

Energy and Space: LED TVs win in this category, using less energy and taking up less space than either other option. Plasma TVs fare the worst, with LCD TVs falling somewhere in the middle.

The LED vs LCD vs plasma discussion will continue for several years until they are bypassed by new technology, or one becomes significantly better and cheaper.

Photo Credit: LGEPR