Plasma or LCD TV: Which TV is For You?

Plasma or LCD TVs

Plasma or LCD TV, which is the best choice for you? HDTV is all the rage these days. But how do you decide which is the best for you?

But what may be best for me might not be best for you. You may decide that you want something now, whereas I’d prefer to save my money a little longer and get the most “gee-whiz-bang” for my money in a couple months. I’ll set my sights on what I want, and then save to obtain it. But, if the TV you have now is on its last legs — or transistors, as the case may be — you may not have the luxury of being able to wait.

If you’re looking to upgrade to HDTV, you will be asked if you want a plasma or LCD TV. I’m going to lay out the basics of how LCD and plasma TVs work, as well as the major differences. First, I’ll give a little background on what exactly HDTV is.

Plasma or LCD TVs - Which is for You?
Photo Credit: Shanghai Daddy

What Exactly is High Definition TV?

In a single sentence: High Definition TV (also known as High-Def) is a type of television signal that, coupled with the proper processing circuitry in the television is capable of displaying a television picture with a clarity that resembles real life — what your eyes see in the world around you. That’s the hugely oversimplified definition. Technically, High-Def encompasses both the resolution and the aspect ratio of the broadcast and displayed image.

Resolution is the number of lines of information that the TV uses to display the televised image. The TVs we were used to up to the late 90s or so displayed images with 480 lines of resolution. The lines are horizontal across the TV and arranged vertically. Minimum resolution for High-Def is 720 lines, with 1080 being the best — so far.

Standard resolution TVs interlace their video images. Interlacing effectively doubles the frame rate (video frames per second) without using up extra bandwidth. The reason for this is that only the parts of the image that have changed from one frame to the next are changed. HighDef uses progressive scanning to deliver a much higher quality image. However, it takes up almost double the bandwidth. This is because the whole image is redrawn for each frame and the information for the whole image must be sent.

Standard resolution television displays images with an aspect ratio of four to three (4:3). In other words, for every four inches of horizontal image, the TV displays three inches of vertical image. HDTV uses an aspect ratio of 16 to nine (16:9). This means that for every 16 inches of horizontal image, there are nine inches of vertical image displayed. This aspect ratio more closely resembles a full-size movie screen. This is why you see black areas above and below the video when watching a movie in widescreen format.

This is also why you see the older TVs (also known as cathode ray tube, CRT TVs) with screens that are almost perfect squares, whereas the newer LCD, LED, and plasma screens are rectangular in shape.

What are Plasma or LCD TVs?

If you have either a digital watch or calculator, you know what an LCD is. LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. An LCD TV utilizes a light source behind the screen that is selectively filtered to produce the image with the filtration medium usually being sandwiched between two pieces of glass. There are better and more technical descriptions of how an LCD TV works, but I think that this Wiki page that I found makes the explanation more understandable for the average reader, while still being 100 percent factually accurate.

Plasma TVs are so-named because they make use of a technology that utilizes small cells that contain ionized gases that are charged electrically — in other words, plasma. Plasma TVs have the advantage of being brighter and the technology supports larger screen sizes. This enhanced brightness doesn’t come at the cost of increased power consumption, and it also provides crisper colors and blacker blacks. Manufacturers are also rating them for up to 100,000 hours of use. Plasmas also aren’t as susceptible to picture loss when the viewer gets horizontally too far away from the center of the screen, which does sometimes happen with an LCD screen.

Price-wise, the progression goes as such:

  • Old-school CRTs are the cheapest. Of course, they also offer the lowest picture quality.
  • LCD displays offer an excellent picture at a lower price — however the trade-off is a smaller screen size.
  • Plasma TVs offer you the opportunity to approach movie screen size and quality — but you pay big for it.

If you want the movie theater experience from every viewing position in the room, plasma is the best option. If, like me, you’re simply looking for a bigger computer screen, LCD is the ideal choice. Now you’ve got the information you need to make an informed decision. Is it going to be plasma or LCD TV tonight?

Photo Credit: Johannes Freund